Derek Chauvin needs a lawyer

Joe Tamburino is a Minneapolis lawyer who specializes in criminal defense. He observed the trial of Derek Chauvin from beginning to end in order to provide the commentary that accompanied Jason DeRusha’s coverage of WCCO TV’s online streaming of the trial.

Last month Chauvin filed an appeal of his conviction and sentence. In the Star Tribune this morning Tamburino has a column pointing out that Chauvin has some strong legal issues on appeal. Indeed, Chauvin has one outright winner already: “To begin with, Chauvin’s conviction for third-degree murder will undoubtedly be reversed — due to the recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision in State v. Mohamed Noor.” (I noted this point last month in “Noor murder charge reversed.”) As Tamburino notes, however, that isn’t Chauvin’s only strong issue on appeal.

There is only one problem. Unfortunately, the problem goes unmentioned in Tamburino’s column. Chauvin doesn’t have a lawyer to pursue his appeal. Chauvin’s insurance coverage does not extend to appeal and so far the public defender has denied him representation. See Amy Forliti’s AP story “Chauvin to appeal conviction, sentence in Floyd’s death.” Chauvin’s appeal of the denial of a public defender is pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

This is a disgrace to the legal profession. Every big firm in town has skilled lawyers performing sophisticated work on a pro bono basis. At the Faegre firm where John and I worked, for example, some lawyers devoted themselves to setting aside death sentences around the United States outside Minnesota. (Minnesota has no death penalty.) Is Derek Chauvin beyond the pale?

If you polled Minnesota lawyers, half might say that were inspired to enter the profession by Atticus Finch and half by Clarence Darrow. In my case, it was Darrow. I just pulled down my copy of the 1964 Simon and Schuster paperback edition of Attorney for the Damned from the bookshelf. Edited by Arthur Weinberg, with a foreword by William O. Douglas, the book mostly compiles Darrow’s closing arguments and courtroom speeches on behalf of guilty clients (including himself). I’ve had it since I was 14. Now published by the University of Chicago Press, the book is still in print after all these years.

At the Minneapolis office of the Robins Kaplan law firm, Darrow inspired my friend Randy Tietjen as well. On the side of his busy law practice Randy set off on an obsessive quest to collect copies of Darrow’s unpublished letters. In 2013 the University of California Press published In the Clutches of the Law: Clarence Darrow’s Letters, edited and with an introduction by Randy. I first met Randy when we were on opposite sides of a big case, but I got friendly with him talking about our mutual interest in Darrow.

Yet Derek Chauvin needs a lawyer. If you are in a position to step forward and offer your services, I should think the clerk’s office of the Minnesota appellate courts would be willing to serve as a middleman.

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