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Can a Good Lawyer be a Good Person? by Ronald Sullivan at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

Martin Luther King once said that the moral arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. I want to amend that a bit and say that the moral arc history is long, if people bend it toward justice, because justice is a thing that does not just fall out of the sky; justice is something that people do. Justice is something that people make happen. So, can a good lawyer be a good person? A good lawyer can and must be a good person because lawyers have to fight for justice, and fighting for justice sometimes even means fighting for those people whom they think are guilty.

Otherwise, there is nothing that would stop more and more innocent people being wrongly convicted. I want to end with this. We had a case in New York, where we looked at what seemed to be an open-and-shut case. There was a witness who testified that, “I saw the defendant and his group inside the vestibule of an apartment building. I saw the defendant pull a gun out, point-blank range, bum! And shoot the deceased. The deceased stumbled, walked down the stairs, fell down on his back, and regrettably, died.”

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The police got there, there was a big hole in the chest. They took the interviews, they arrested the person accused, that person spent two decades in jail. They asked me to review the case. And it didn’t take an Harvard Law Professor to figure out that there was a big problem.

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All I did was look at the autopsy. I looked at the autopsy report; you know the big hole that seemed consistent with somebody shooting them? That was an exit wound, my friends. There was a small hole in the back, that was an entry wound. There was also a bullet hole in the ankle. We took it to the medical examiner for the State of New York. They said two things, he said two things. One, that the person would have died instantly. Two, the ankle was broken, nobody was walking down any stairs and stumbling out like in a movie. It just wasn’t true, the way that it was described. Then I looked at the pictures.

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Again, it doesn’t take a Harvard Law Professor to do this, there was no blood inside the building. The person wasn’t shot inside that building. So after more investigation, we figured out that the complaining witness was not being truthful. And after about 20 years, we exonerated that poor person. But I bet you this, I don’t know this for sure, but I bet you that individual’s lawyer probably thought it was an open-and-shut case.

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He probably said, “This is a bad guy, this is a guilty guy. I’m going to just try this case with one hand tied behind my back.” An innocent soul spent two decades in jail because lawyers didn’t care enough. So I leave you with this, my friends. The law is not something that exists in the abstract. It is not some esoteric set of rules. The law is something that you and I create. The law is something that you and I must make real in the life experiences of our fellows. Then, and only then, can we have something that approximates justice. Thank you very much.

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By Pangambam S

I have been a Transcriber and Editor in the transcription industry for the past 15 years. Now I transcribe and edit at SingjuPost.com. If you have any questions or suggestions, please do let me know. And please do share this post if you liked it and help you in any way.