Lawyers always have been the targets of cutting humor. English poet John Keats wrote as far back as 1819 that "we may class the lawyer in the natural history of monsters."
But the legal profession today is afflicted with an inordinate number of shysters, liars, crooks, incompetents, ambulance chasers and architects of public corruption.
Some blame lies with the once-respected, but now largely marginal, American Bar Association, which policed the profession's ethics and whose guidance was sought by Washington on judicial appointments. The ABA now seems wishy-washy; perhaps it too lacks the will to be outraged by misconduct.
The ABA's stated mission includes "promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the law." But the Internet home page of ABA president Karen Mathis, a Denver business attorney, is dominated by her concerns for domestic violence and pay equality, not abuses of the public trust by the profession.
Consider District of Columbia Judge Roy Pearson, who makes a laughingstock of the legal profession with his $54 million damage suit over a pair of lost pants, and D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff, who contributes to this humiliation by not tossing the lawsuit of a mentally shortchanged lawyer unfit for the bench or a law license.
To their credit, Maryland and Pennsylvania bar groups have suspended the license of convicted perjurer and aide to Vice President Cheney, "Scooter" Libby; the District of Columbia Bar has disbarred him for "moral turpitude." The North Carolina Bar also stiffened its spine to yank the license of another misfit, Duke prosecutor Mike Nifong, for his outrageous persecution of three young athletes.
But a far graver threat from rogue lawyers is inside the nation's largest, most powerful law-enforcement and jurisprudential agency, the Department of Justice.
I can't find any outrage from any legal profession organization, especially the ABA, about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his politically-hardened attorney-demagogues who've trashed the U.S. Constitution and Americans' rights, lied under oath, endorsed destruction of official documents, been complicit in obstruction of justice, shown an obscene disregard for oaths of their office and ethics of their profession and refused to act as the public's lawyer, rather than rubberstamps for White House and Republican dishonesty.
Does President Bush's "full confidence" in yes-man Gonzales frighten the legal profession?
Once the mere "appearance of unprofessional conduct" could lead to rigorous discipline of lawyers by bar groups.
Gonzales & Co. long ago passed that test. Their conduct is perhaps criminal and requires the bar to at least ban them from the profession, if not seek criminal charges.