Lawyers and criminal kids have left the reservation.
The lawyers established their private enclave as a trade organization, the American Bar Association. The kids operate as individual or small-group marauders. We've reacted to these defections in different but dangerous ways, both of which jeopardize society.
We've long been aware of the problems the youngsters pose, but we're just beginning to notice what the lawyers are doing. Jethro Lieberman in The Post and Stuart Taylor Jr. of The New York Times alerted us when they wrote exceptionally long pieces in January about what is called lawyer-client confidentiality.
Until then, most of us non-lawyers assumed, incorrectly, that if a lawyer learned a customer was still committing crime or fraud, a good lawyer would act like a good citizen and turn the rascal in to the authorities. What actually happens is that if the lawyer doesn't like what he/she learns and can stand to see the fee walk out the door in the customer's pocket, the customer has to get a new lawyer. And the old lawyer won't tell the new lawyer, or the authorities, that the crook is a crook. Murder, mayhem and thievery can continue unabated, though not unaided.
Last week the ABA made two small changes in its "ethical" code. Mindful of the record, lawyers must now correct false or perjured evidence given in court. And if seized with a queasy feeling upon discovery that a customer plans to perform an "imminent" killing or "substantial bodily harm," a lawyer may act to prevent it.
One telling circumstance allows the lawyer to repeat everything the customer has ever said: if the customer won't pay the fee, all vows of silence are off when the lawyer goes to court to collect.
Funny rules, eh? The lawyers make them themselves at the ABA meetings. Peddling them around to the state supreme courts and legislatures turns them into formal regulations. It's a sweet racket.
The ABA doesn't bat an eyelash when its members wind up looking like greedy good Germans. Hell-bent on continuing their private law "tradition," lawyers think they are left with technically clean hands. Society is left with a corrupted system of justice.
There's no cover-up of kid crime. The society has reacted strongly, if ineffectually, to young practitioners of murder, to looters, rapists, gold- chain and purse snatchers, housebreakers. In less than a minute, I was able to list 20 actions friends have taken to defend themselves. We have demonstrated our willingness to be taxed to maintain American's new communities such as Lorton, Spofford, Jennings, Youth House and their coast-to-coast counterparts. The series of articles in The Post this week on Lorton tells the story. Very little that is useful happens to young prison inmates, and the supply of fresh recruits appears to be endless.
As a society, we seem to have made an accommodation and opted out. Although our experts on crime give us neither certain answers nor certain solutions, it is surprising that beyond taking steps as individuals, preparing studies and corraling miscreants the police catch, there is no comprehensive effort to bring these kids into society. Instead, we have absorbed them as is. We say they're dangerous, and we are afraid. We speak with nostalgia of the days of unlocked doors, and trust without hope that they can return. And that's it.
There we have them, two powerful groups with their own codes, values and ethics. Separate from the rest of us by circumstance or choice, they go their own ways. And they go at our peril.
Norbert Elias wrote in "The History of Manners" about the use of words that become concepts and form the civilization of a country. "One generation hands them on to another without being aware of the process as a whole, and the concepts live as long as (the) crystallization of past experiences and situations retains . . . a function in the actual being of a society--that is, as long as succeeding generations can hear their own experiences in the meaning of the words."
Words such as "law-abiding," "a government of laws, not men," "no man is above the law," and thousands like them are wrought from America's past experience and situations; they form our civilization.
It is past time to call the rovers home. We must teach the criminal kids the meaning of the words by practice as well as preachment. As for the lawyers, those birds have been on their own long enough. These officers of the court belong in the regular system of accountable statute-making and out of their squalid world of separate morality.