I was going to write about how the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) had hired Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin — perhaps the most experienced Supreme Court advocate in the country — to "study" the constitutionality of President Obama’s proposed tax on the big banks, which is really just code for "SIFMA hired Phillips to create grounds for a 5-4 Supreme Court decision invalidating the tax."
Then something funny happened.
When I typed "Carter Phillips" into Google News to find an article about the SIFMA representation, I saw another story posted around the same time, "Joe Arpaio’s Lawyer for Records Dispute Costing Taxpayers $990 — Per Hour."
The $990 per hour lawyer for Sheriff Joe Arpaio is, indeed, Carter Phillips.
For those of you who don’t know about Sheriff Joe Arpaio, here’s an introduction:
A federal grand jury is investigating Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff known for his aggressive stance on illegal immigration, for possible abuses of power in launching investigations of local officials who disagree with him, authorities said Friday.
Two Maricopa County officials have been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury to testify about Arpaio’s actions against county officials since they moved to cut his budget in late 2008.
Since then Arpaio and County Atty. Andrew Thomas, an ally, have filed criminal charges against two county supervisors, have said dozens of other county workers are under investigation and have filed a federal racketeering lawsuit accusing the entire county political structure of conspiring against them.
The United States Constitution rightly ensures criminal defendants the right to assistance of counsel. Common law in all fifty states rightly holds the attorney-client relationship to be as sacred and protected as any other. And we all have bills to pay, even Jay Leno, even top-drawer Supreme Court lawyers.
I’d understand if Phillips was part of Arpaio’s criminal defense team. But he’s not: Phillips represents Arpaio in a vindictive attempt to dig into Maricopa County judges’ and administrators’ emails following their investigation into his abuses. There’s no right to that.
We can’t judge a lawyer by their clients — consider public defenders, the unsung guardians of liberty — but a lawyer is only as good as the causes he or she represents.
No matter how effective Carter Phillips is as an advocate or counselor, he’ll never be a great lawyer.
Not while doing Joe Arpaio’s dirty work.