Tuesday, February 16, 2010
IN PRAISE OF MICHAEL CATALANO
Michael Catalano, much discussed on these pages in the last few days, does not need anyone to defend him. He is quite capable of doing that himself. We however, do feel compelled to praise him.
The facts of this mess are contained in the previous post and the link to the Herald article. In brief, Mr Catalano refused to take part in an attempted fraud upon the court that would have benefited his client. Beyond refusing to participate in the fraud, Mr. Catalano reported the crime and cooperated with the investigation, making controlled phone calls and wearing a wire at one point.
The first thing Mr. Catalano needs to be praised for is his agreement to assist the public defender on a pro bono basis in this extraordinarily difficult case. As pro bono clients go, this is as difficult assignment as one could find- causing the death of three innocent children.
The second thing is that what most commentators on this blog have seem to forgotten (and what Mr. Catalano did not forget) is that we as criminal defense attorneys do not have any special immunity that allows us to not report a crime or not to assist authorities when we witness a crime. (Outside of the unusual circumstance of the attorney learning of a crime through the attorney/client relationship.)
Mr. Catalano (if he is to be believed) was solicited to commit a crime. And not just any crime, but perjury in the form of an affidavit that would perpetrate a fraud on the civil court system. This was a serious crime that strikes at the heart of our legal system.
The easy thing to do would have to been to ignore the solicitation and avoid this mess.
The hard thing to do- and the right thing to do- was to report the crime, which Mr. Catalano did.
For that Mr. Catalano deserves praise on these pages, and elsewhere. Mr. Catalano did the right thing. His payment thus far has been negative publicity and headaches that have not and will not soon end.
For doing the right thing in the face of adversity, Mr. Catalano deserves our praise.
And now a brief word about Milt Hirsch.
Mr. Hirsch, superb defense attorney, and current candidate for Circuit Court judge, was quoted in the Herald as disparaging Mr. Catalano's actions. Mr. Hirsch's words implied that as a defense attorney, Mr. Catalano should have known better than to report a crime and cooperate with authorities. Mr. Hirsch's words implied that Mr. Catalano had somehow violated some oath and requirement of confidentiality.
Nonsense. And Mr. Hirsch should know better. If and when he becomes a Circuit Judge, Mr. Hirsch will be responsible for judging those who are accused of violating the laws of our State. Attorneys have an affirmative duty as officers of the court to not just avoid perpetrating frauds upon the court, but to report such behavior upon learning of it.
Would Judge Milton Hirsch disparage an attorney for outing an attempted fraud upon the court?
Attorney Milton Hirsch can defend his client to the very best of his considerable abilities without disparaging an attorney who has done the right thing. And shame upon Mr. Hirsch for doing otherwise.
This case is a mess. Mr. Catalano didn't create it. He volunteered to represent a client who needed help when no one else would stand with him. Mr. Catalano has acted in the very best traditions of our profession. And along the way Mr. Catalano has been dragged into a mess he didn't create and surely wishes had never occurred.
There was an easy way out for Mr. Catalano, but he didn't take it.
How many of us would have taken the easy way out?
See you in court. Sometimes this job is a lot harder than it seems.