Z e t e o
Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

The Sixth Amendment, Jane Kelly, and The National Review

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR

Judge Jane Kelly 8th Circuit U.S. Court of AppealPublic defenders do not choose their clients (I know this firsthand; I have been one for almost ten years). Public defenders are assigned defendants who cannot afford to hire their own attorney, but who are nonetheless entitled to one. In turn, that attorney is required to provide a zealous defense. This entitlement is nothing less than a cornerstone of our American system. To criticize it is to criticize the Constitution and to question our collective right to liberty.

I am surprised, therefore, to read Carrie Severino’s piece in The National Review Online arguing that Judge Jane Kelly should have trouble being nominated to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court. Kelly is a federal judge from Iowa who spent many years as a public defender in that state. Severino takes issue with one instance in which Kelly represented her client, as she was required to do:

As the White House’s vetting process unfolds, they will probably find other facts that are significantly less convenient.  For example, when Kelly worked as a public defender she helped secure a plea deal for one Casey Frederiksen, a convicted child predator.

This, I believe, is lazy and disingenuous journalism. Carrie Severino is an accomplished and highly educated attorney who has, at the very least, some understanding of the sixth amendment. She is aware of defense attorneys’ sworn duties and of their place in the maintenance of our justice system. Nevertheless, she appears to suggest that advocacy for an accused (or convicted) criminal is akin to abetting in the crime itself:

[S]hortly after Frederiksen was indicted, Kelly ‘argued her client was not a threat to society,’ an odd assertion to make on behalf of a man who had previously been convicted of sexually molesting a different girl. This man went on to confess that ‘he was sexually aroused when changing Evelyn’s diapers’ and ‘told fellow inmates that he had sexually abused the girl since she was small.’  Kelly helped him negotiate a plea deal under which he pled guilty to three charges and received a sentence of 14 years in prison.

John Adams represented British soldiers accused of perpetrating the Boston Massacre (and secured their acquittals). Justice Thurgood Marshall represented multiple criminal defendants in his career. These were not scandalous or disqualifying actions; in fact, they were laudable and were an indication that both men took seriously the rights granted to the accused in this country. Jane Kelly takes those rights seriously, and that is anything but a stain on her record.

— Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

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