Editorial: Everyone has a right to a lawyer
Editorials March 6, 2013 5:28PM
Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st)
Updated: April 8, 2013 7:41AM
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) got it absolutely right this week when he said it’s not wrong for a lawyer to represent gang members.
But that’s not entirely the issue.
Brookins’ comment followed the revelation that even as he says the “clock is ticking” for Police Supt. Garry McCarthy because of continued street violence, Brookins has defended gang members in court. As reported by Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed, Brookins recently got gun charges dismissed against a 46-year-old man described in police reports as a member of the Gangster Disciples/Black P Stone nation.
The fairness of our criminal justice system depends on lawyers being willing to represent both sides in a case. Even an accused cop killer or rapist deserves a good lawyer, so Brookins’ other justification for defending the gang member — that his client was “innocent” of the gun charges — is beside the point.
What’s not beside the point, however, is that Brookins is an alderman whose job demands, among other duties, that he stand up to the gangs wreaking havoc in his ward. Folks might understandably wonder how he can fight the gang-bangers, on the one hand, and make money by representing them in court, on the other.
When we asked Brookins about that, he pointed out that it’s often not known if an accused is a suspected gang member until the case is well under way.
“The mothers and grandmothers who are footing the bills — they say: ‘Would you represent my son?’ ” Brookins said. “They don’t say: ‘Would you represent my gang-banger?’ ”
As a defense lawyer, Brookins is free to represent anyone he wishes to. But as an alderman, too, he’s walking a fine ethical line.
Let’s hope he never falls off.