‘Killer’ T-shirt Catches Attorney by Surprise at Client’s Sentencing Hearing

Attorney Ian Friedman was caught by surprise when his client, T.J. Lane, the Ohio youth who pled guilty to shooting three high school students, removed his button down shirt at his murder sentencing hearing to reveal a t-shirt with the word ‘killer’ written in black marker. The same message was on the shirt he wore the day of the killings in February of 2012. Lane also made a “vile and unprintable” courtroom statement about what he did while remembering the shootings. Additionally, he flipped the bird, and said, “F— all of you.”

Before Lane made these statements, Friedman told the judge that he strongly urged his client to refrain from doing so. When asked if he would ever try such a case again, Friedman replied: “It’s this sort of case that needs a lawyer . . . if you allow the protections under the law to erode or not to be applied to a certain individual because of the heinous nature of the crime, then those laws are going not be in the place down the road potentially when there’s someone who really needs them, someone who is possibly innocent.”

Friedman’s explanation is supported by the legal ethics rules. Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct Preamble and Rule 1.3, which the Ohio Rules mirror in most respects, an attorney has the duty to act with diligence in the representation of his client. Comment 1 to Rule 1.3 makes clear that a lawyer must pursue his client’s matter “despite opposition, obstruction, or personal inconvenience to the lawyer.” Further, Rule 1.2(b) importantly recognizes that a lawyer’s representation of a client does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s actions or views.

Of course, the rules generally do not require a lawyer to pursue an unpopular case or represent  a client who the lawyer finds repugnant; however, Friedman’s suggestion that as lawyers, we all must uphold the rule of law, regardless of the identity of the accused and the alleged crime, is central to the role of the legal profession in a civilized society.

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