Is there a lawyer in the house ... for Derek Chauvin?

Court TV via AP, Pool

Shouldn’t there be? A jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on a number of charges, including second- and third-degree murder, in the death of George Floyd. Chauvin plans to appeal, but there’s one problem — his union won’t cover the costs:

Derek Chauvin said he intends to appeal on 14 grounds. Among them, he claims Judge Peter Cahill abused his discretion when he denied Chauvin’s request to move the trial out of Hennepin County due to pretrial publicity.

He also claimed the judge abused his discretion when he denied a request to sequester the jury for the duration of the trial, and when he denied requests to postpone the trial or grant a new one.

Many of these points came up during the trial, raised by Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson as well as observers and analysts in the media. The sequestration issue alone seems worthy of consideration, especially given the riot that broke out in nearby Brooklyn Center over another police shooting in the middle of Chauvin’s trial. A later state supreme court ruling has all but made the third-degree murder charge unsustainable, although that alone might not impact Chauvin’s sentence in the end. (Second-degree murder carries a longer sentence.)

Those points would make for a lively appeal — if Chauvin had a lawyer. Nelson either can’t or won’t represent him on appeal, and the court won’t provide Chauvin a public defender:

Chauvin had 90 days from his sentencing to file notice that he intends to appeal. In addition to his notice, he also filed a motion to put the appeals process on hold until the Supreme Court reviews an earlier decision to deny him a public defender to represent him in his appeal.

In an affidavit filed Thursday, Chauvin said he has no attorney in the appeals process, and has no income aside from nominal prison wages. His case before Cahill was funded by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association’s legal defense fund. Chauvin wrote: “I have been informed that their obligation to pay for my representation terminated upon my conviction and sentencing.”

One has to wonder why the MPPOA won’t fund his appeals. It’s an insurance issue, most likely, but the MPPOA has to know that a lack of testing of the trial in this case will eventually handicap other officers in later cases. It might also contribute to the attrition already under way at the Minneapolis PD.

My friend Scott Johnson, an attorney and one of the Power Line quartet, is appalled at that decision as well as the lack of response from the Twin Cities bar. What happened to “everyone deserves a legal defense,” Scott wonders:

This is a disgrace to the legal profession. Every big firm in town has skilled lawyers performing sophisticated work on a pro bono basis. At the Faegre firm where John and I worked, for example, some lawyers devoted themselves to setting aside death sentences around the United States outside Minnesota. (Minnesota has no death penalty.) Is Derek Chauvin beyond the pale?

If you polled Minnesota lawyers, half might say that were inspired to enter the profession by Atticus Finch and half by Clarence Darrow. In my case, it was Darrow. I just pulled down my copy of the 1964 Simon and Schuster paperback edition of Attorney for the Damned from the bookshelf. Edited by Arthur Weinberg, with a foreword by William O. Douglas, the book mostly compiles Darrow’s closing arguments and courtroom speeches on behalf of guilty clients (including himself). I’ve had it since I was 14. Now published by the University of Chicago Press, the book is still in print after all these years. …

Yet Derek Chauvin needs a lawyer. If you are in a position to step forward and offer your services, I should think the clerk’s office of the Minnesota appellate courts would be willing to serve as a middleman.

Scott isn’t exactly an unqualified defender of Chauvin, either. His first-person reporting on the trial was balanced and nuanced, and his analysis top notch. I’m less inclined than some others on the Right to think that the overall outcome for Chauvin was unjust, but that doesn’t mean that the trial itself was perfect or even good enough to withstand an appeal. And that matters in American justice and the rule of law, in which the ends cannot justify the means, ever.

Should Chauvin expect free legal assistance for his appeals? No, but then again, that’s not exactly what Scott’s arguing, either. Lawyers routinely take unpopular clients and causes, and public defenders especially, to ensure that the system works as it should. That’s why it’s foolish to blame lawyers for representing unsavory clients, or at least it was foolish until now. If lawyers start picking and choosing clients based on virtue, then they run the risk of being justly tarred by their associations in the future. Chauvin can certainly contribute to his defense in some manner, and attorneys in Minnesota should be eager to ensure that justice is done properly in their state — lest the next alleged injustice fall on a future client.

So is there a lawyer in the house, even for Chauvin? Or has the rule of popularity replaced the rule of law at the bar?