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People’s Lawyer Goes to Jail

May 17, 2012 by  


By Karin Friedemann, TMO

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File:  Attorney Barry Wilson.

Boston–“The fiery attorney who represented former Boston city councilor Chuck Turner in his bribery trial is now headed to jail himself,” the Boston Globe reports.

Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady sentenced famed “people’s lawyer” Barry Wilson to 90 days in the South Bay House of Correction in Boston for contempt of court for being “loud, abusive, insulting and disruptive.”

On May 15, 2012, Wilson was escorted off to jail in front of a courthouse crowded with his supporters.

Attorney Wilson was attempting to ensure that his client, a 22-year-old African-American man on trial for his life, had a jury of his peers in a first degree murder trial. Wilson protested when the prosecutor struck off all young people and people of African-American descent from serving on the jury. Wilson then “went ballistic” after the judge then empaneled a white man who had worked many years for Homeland Security. David Boeri of WBUR reports that Wilson’s “pyrotechnics” went on for six minutes.

“You’re going to sit him. Lock me up now. Just lock me up, lock me up and declare a mistrial,” Wilson ranted. “That’s ridiculous. Fifteen years a federal agent and he’s going to be unbiased — are you kidding me?”

As Wilson strongly objected, the judge found him in contempt. The Judge then stayed the sentence until completion of the trial and ordered Attorney Wilson to proceed. As a result, Wilson said he was under the sword during the whole trial and therefore distracted from defending his client fully.

Two days after the jury found the defendant guilty of first degree murder, Judge Brady sentenced Attorney Wilson to ninety days in jail.

Barry Wilson has a 36 year long history of defending political activists, labor organizers, immigrants and minorities. He was lead counsel in the Plymouth 25, Marcus Jean and Amer Jubran cases, the first lawyer for the Boston School Bus Drivers, Steelworkers Local 8751 in the 1970s, and counsel for framed African-American City Councilor Chuck Turner. Wilson served six months in federal prison in 1985 for refusing to violate attorney-client privilege.

According to Wilson’s lawyer, Judge Brady had dropped “a nuclear bomb” without warning, “chilling the advocacy” of defense attorneys.

Associate Appeals Court Justice David Mills, in reviewing Wilson’s alleged misconduct, considered it a clear breach of decorum. “He screamed at the judge and made a scene,” Mills said.

“All I’m trying to do is stand up for my clients’ rights,” Wilson said. “You got to be in those pits to understand what you have to do.

You’re standing between your client and a jail cell. And you have an ethical, professional obligation to be a zealous advocate.”

On Thursday May 3, 2012, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied Attorney Wilson’s motion for further appellate review, thus upholding the Court of Appeal’s March 20, 2012 decision denying Attorney Wilson’s appeal. The Appeals Court called Wilson’s conduct “without parallel” in a 21-page rebuke.

During the contempt hearing, Wilson was defiant.

“Mr. Wilson, your behavior before me two weeks ago was atrocious,” said Suffolk Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady, calling Wilson’s conduct “the worst I’ve seen in 20 years on the bench.”

“I don’t think my conduct was egregious or out of line in terms of what occurred in court,” the criminal defense attorney replied to the judge in his well-known booming voice. “In 2011 an African-American man cannot get a fair trial.”

“Wilson has a right to his own opinions but he has no right to interrupt the proceedings and turn the courtroom into a platform from which to hurl disrespectful words at the judge and the criminal justice system because he did not agree with the judge’s ruling,” the Appeals Court concluded.

“This flagrantly reactionary repression — which comes from the same poisoned well that jailed people’s lawyer Lynne Stewart (who represented the blind Shaykh Omar Rahman) — is designed to send a threatening message to the progressive movement and to all defense lawyers who stand with it,” comments Kirshbaum in Workers World.

Larry Pinkney writes on BlackCommentator.com, “On February 10th, 2005, attorney Lynne Portia Stewart, after having been targeted for many years by the US Government for her vigorous defense of the rights of Black and other people of color, found herself convicted of a despicably and conspicuously bogus ‘conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism’ charge.”

This was “an obvious attempt by the U.S. government to silence dissent, curtail vigorous defense lawyers, and install fear in those who would fight against the U.S. government’s racism,” state her supporters.

Prior to sentencing, Stewart wrote a letter to the judge pleading for mercy: “What might have been legitimately tolerated in 2000-2001, was after 9/11, interpreted differently and considered criminal… The government disparages the idea of zealous advocacy because it has never practiced criminal defense law as I did, with heartfelt concern for my clients. I tested the limits of what the courts and law would allow for my clients because I believed I was, as criminal defense lawyers often say, “liberty’s last champion.”

Unfortunately the rules of ethics have moved away from excusing zealous or intemperate behavior and language. 90 days in the county jail for Wilson still seems quite extraordinary, when the customary penalty for an attorney’s contempt of court is normally a fine, but jail time for zealous attorneys seems to be occurring more frequently, especially in political cases.

Michigan criminal defense attorney Scott Milliard found himself in jail for four days after being held in contempt by District Court Judge Kenneth Post because he told a client at arraignment not to answer the judge’s questions about personal drug use because the client might incriminate himself.

Kentucky attorney Amelia Adams got 6 months in jail after she refused to disclose to District Judge Karem the name of her 17 year old client who had sought permission from the court to have an abortion without her parent’s consent.

Wilson told his supporters, “I’ll go do my 90 days, I’ll smile through the whole 90 days. I’ll go out the way I came in… No I don’t regret anything. I did what I was supposed to do.”
Wilson plans to retire after he does his time. “I’m gone,” Wilson says. “I don’t want any more part of this. Why would I want to do this job any more and be surrounded by judges who are idiots? I legitimized a bankrupt system, and I was very good at it. I achieved everything I ever wanted.”

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