Alberto Gonzales Named Lawyer of the Year by the ABA Journal

By Guest Columnist Dec 14, 2007

***UPDATE*** After our blog, the ABA Journal has changed its mind. When this article was posted online on December 12, 2007, it was titled “Lawyers of the Year 2007 and 2008.” The article defined that term as the year’s biggest legal newsmaker, identifying former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as the major newsmaker of 2007. The Journal regrets that we did not make this theme clear. We appreciate the feedback we’ve received, and we’re acting on it. So that there can be no confusion, the term “Lawyers of the Year” has been changed in the headline and story to “Newsmakers of the Year.” *** The ABA Journal, a magazine of the American Bar Association (ABA), read by half of the nation’s 1.1 million lawyers every month, has named former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, as 2007’s Lawyer of the Year. The American Bar Association calls itself the national representative of the legal profession. Needless to say, it holds itself out to be the voice of many. So what exactly does it say to the nation, when an organization that declares its mission is the promotion of justice, professional excellence and respect for the law, names lawyer of the year, an individual whose professionalism and integrity have repeatedly been called into question by the United States Congress and the American People? As one of over 400,000 members of the ABA, I am compelled to express the indignation I feel to be a member of an organization that has bestowed such recognition on an individual whom I associate with human rights violations carried out under U.S. laws. ABA Journal editor Edward Adams told the press that the selection was based on who was the most newsworthy lawyer. Lets go over together what made Mr. Gonzales so “newsworthy.” Gonzales came under serious attack when it was surfaced last January that the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys may have been politically motivated. The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee called out Mr. Gonzales for his involvement in the firing of a U.S. Attorney after he expressed reservations about a lawsuit that would have stripped many African-American voters from the rolls in Missouri. The Chairman also discussed the fact that despite receiving reports in 2005 and 2006 regarding violations in connection with the Patriot Act and abuses of National Security Letters, the Attorney General testified under oath before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the effectiveness of civil liberty safeguards. But there’s more. Many of us remember the shock expressed by Senators, human rights advocates, and others when the nation’s top justice official stated that he was not so clear that the technique of waterboarding amounted to torture. Human Rights Watch, a leading U.S. based human rights organization, says that “waterboarding,” a technique that induces the affects of being killed by drowning, constitutes torture and is therefore illegal according to the Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. signed. Gonzales spent his last day as Attorney General at the Bolling Air Force Base Hispanic Heritage Month Luncheon. On September 14, 2007, in his last public speech as attorney general, Gonzales remarks included the following: “When we see a child who has been hurt or exploited, we’re not interested in his race, or how nice a home he lives in. We see a hurt child…and everything inside of us wants to do whatever we can to take away his pain and bring him to justice. Yet every year, likely thousands of children are orphaned in the United States by the long-term detention of their parents and their deportation to other countries. Immigration laws carried out in the Attorney General’s name often allow for no consideration of the affect of deportations on the lives of children and babies who are left behind. So maybe what the former Attorney General meant to say was that when he sees a child that is hurt or exploited, he wants to bring justice to that child, unless that child is the son or daughter of immigrants. As a human rights lawyer working closely with those facing deportation and their families, I can’t help but remember the hundreds of families I have met over the last two years whose lives were torn apart unnecessarily by increased immigration raids carried out under Gonzales’ leadership. I worry about how those families will feel when they become aware that the nations’ leading legal organization has chosen to react to the former Attorney General’s now documented disrespect of the rule of law by bestowing an award upon that person. The editor of the ABA Journal stated in an interview: “Think about Time magazine’s Person of the Year” which he noted had recognized such figures as Hitler and Stalin. Is Mr. Adams suggesting that the American Bar Association owes no greater duty to its constituents and communities than does a popular magazine? The title “Lawyer of the Year” connotes a perception that the legal community is rewarding the conduct of that title’s recipient. As a member of the ABA, it is my expectation that the selection of Lawyer of the Year reflect, on behalf of its over 400,000 members, the Association’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of the legal profession. Sadly, the Journal’s selection reflects just the opposite. Raha Jorjani is a Staff Attorney in the Immigration Law Clinic at the UC Davis School of Law. The Clinic’s work includes providing legal assistance and representation to non-citizens in removal proceedings, including those who have been detained by the Department of Homeland Security. Prior to working with the Clinic, Raha was a staff attorney for two years with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, a non-profit organization providing legal assistance to thousands of detained immigrants in Arizona, and an organization on the cutting edge of detention and deportation defense.