Fifteen years ago, Monroe H. Freedman -- then a George Washington University law professor -- caused an uproar when he suggested that confidential lawyer-client relationship was so sacred that a criminal defense attorney could ethically proceed with a case, even if the lawyer knew the client intended to commit perjury.
Many in the legal community, including several federal judges (one was then U.S. Appeals Court Judge Warren E. Burger) attempted to get Freedom fired from his teaching position and disbarred.
When Freedman, now a professor at Hofstra, was invited to speak at last Friday's ethics session of the D.C. Judicial Conference, the annual get-together of Washington's judges, lawyers and other court officials, there were some outraged spectators.
None was more outraged than Superior Court Judge Tim Murphy, who resigned from the conference organizing committee to protest Freedman's invitation, issued a statement regarding his opposition and, finally, walked out of the ethics session just before Freedman spoke. Two D.C. appeals court judges -- Frank Q. Nebeker and John W. Kern III -- wrote private memos of protest.
"His views . . . are contrary to me personal views of ethics and appalling to me as a trial judge," Murphy said in a statement read by D.C. Appeals Court Chief Judge Theodore R. Newman Jr. to scattered applause by the several hundred spectators.
"He'd be all right at an American Bar Association meeting or an academic meeting," said one senior trial judge. "But he shouldn't be on a panel approved by the judges."
"I thought my controversial days were over," Freedman said.
The issue of how far a lawyer should go to protect a client's confidences still causes anxiety to liberals and conservatives in the legal community. On the one hand, some lawyers argue that the public is fed up with legal chicanery and that the legal profession has a broader responsibility to the public interest, even where it could conflict with a client's best interest.
Others argue that if attorneys are perceived as mere conduits to government prosecutors, defendants will not reveal information to them, and the whole adversary system will collapse.
As for Freedman's response to Murphy? "I think [he] is acting entirely properly . . . by his public protest," Freedman said, "but it's misguided. They know that putting [on] a panelist is not an endorsement for a position."