The practice of threatening attorneys (May 22)

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Police apprehended Eric Holder, a 29-year-old aspiring rapper, after a two-day manhunt for the March murder of Grammy-nominated rap artist Nipsey Hussle. L.A. police chief Chris Michael Moore believes Holder is also a gang member, but the Hussle shooting had nothing to do with gang rivals. Holder was charged with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Holder pled not guilty and faces a lifetime conviction.

Chris Darden, the “Black prosecutor” made famous/infamous from the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial, became Holder’s defense attorney. Darden was asked why he took Holder as a client. Darden said, “I defend poor people. That’s all I do.” Darden started his own firm in 1999 specializing in criminal defense.

Darden recently announced his decision to step down from the Holder case because of death threats. Darden said, “After centuries of a history of Black men hung from trees without trial, or after the thousands of cases of Black men tried, convicted and executed without counsel…I can’t understand why in 2019 some people would deny a Black man his 6th amendment right to counsel of his choice, or why defending such a man should invite threats not only against me but against my children, too.”

Holder has been assigned a public defender.

Darden also said, “Just like they were in 1995 cowards never change. These days these cowards don’t send letters, instead they sit anonymously behind keyboards threatening a man’s mother and children.”

These threats were serious enough for Darden not to take the risk every attorney knows comes with the territory. Darden’s withdrawal made me wonder how often lesser-known attorneys have their lives endangered.

Stephen Kelson, an attorney, studies violence against the legal profession. A few years ago, Kelson finished a 10-year study of 22 states and found that 35.5 to 46.5 percent of registered attorneys have been assaulted, and threats against attorneys include phone calls, texts, letters, emails, stalking, online post, verbal threats of violence or death, and attempts to hire contract killers.

Kelson said, “Those in family and criminal law are at the highest risk.”

According to Kelson’s study, violence against attorneys or acts of intimidation mostly occurred at courthouses or in attorney’s offices, but some participants in the study mentioned they were targeted while traveling to jails or at their homes.

Kelson said assaults against attorneys are usually reported, but threats aren’t.

Why not?

Kelson stated the attorneys don’t feel threatened most of the time, but in some states it’s due to a distrust of law enforcement. Other times, Kelson added, attorneys don’t want to give the impression that they can’t “take it.” Joan Bibelhausen, executive director of Lawyers Concerned For Lawyers, a nonprofit that provides counseling for attorneys, stated the law is combative and no attorney wants a perceived personal weakness to impact their case. Bibelhausen stressed, “It’s difficult for lawyers to admit any vulnerability. There’s a stigma against letting people know something gets to you.”

Bibelhausen lamented there’s also limited public sympathy for attorneys. There seems to be none for Chris Darden.

A famous Shakespeare line goes, “the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers,” but death threats are just as effective.

(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)


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