03 May, 2008

Consider the Source

I was all ready to tear Hillary Clinton apart over this one:
In 1975, a 27-year-old Hillary Rodham, acting as a court-appointed attorney, attacked the credibility of a 12-year-old girl in mounting an aggressive defense for an indigent client accused of rape in Arkansas - using her child development background to help the defendant.

Yes, it's outrageous. You can read the whole sordid story in Newsday: I'll just give you a thumbnail here. Bored and wanting to get a soda, the 12-year old girl went for a drive with two older men and a 15-year old. The men pulled off the road, gave her alcohol, and then according to the 15-year old, the older men went for a walk while he had sex with the girl. When the older men came back, one of them, Thomas Taylor, forcibly raped her.

Hillary Rodham got assigned the case. According to reports and her own book, Living History, she didn't want it but couldn't refuse. She threw herself into Taylor's defense, and "fired off no fewer than 19 subpoenas, affidavits and motions - almost as much paper as was typical for a capital murder case that year, according to case files on microfilm." She got Taylor out on bond. She questioned the forensic evidence. She questioned a 12-year old's honesty.
"I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and to engage in fantasizing," wrote Rodham, without referring to the source of that allegation. "I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body."

Dale Gibson, the investigator, doesn't recall seeing evidence that the girl had fabricated previous attacks.

But this was back in the day when blaming the victim was more fashionable than it is now, and Hillary was just doing her job.
Rodham, legal and child welfare experts say, did nothing unethical by attacking the child's credibility - although they consider her defense of Taylor to be aggressive.

"She was vigorously advocating for her client. What she did was appropriate," said Andrew Schepard, director of Hofstra Law School's Center for Children, Families and the Law. "He was lucky to have her as a lawyer ... In terms of what's good for the little girl? It would have been hell on the victim. But that wasn't Hillary's problem."

It was about this point where I exploded.

I leapt online and started searching for a pattern. Hillary Clinton, that great advocate of women's rights, was a hypocrite. Hadn't I recently heard how she treated a woman who accused her husband of rape? Didn't this prove that her principles fly straight out the window when it comes to political gain? I was certain of it.

Until I saw that the sources for such rumors came primarily from right-wing smear machines.

I couldn't find a damned thing from a respectable news source that backed those accusations up.

But I did see a pattern of a woman who has spent decades advocating for the rights of children and women.


Blaming the victim is reprehensible. Making an effort to ensure that the victim isn't making up her story is not. Hillary never put that child on the witness stand. She didn't engage in character assassination. She just requested an assessment based on troubling information. We have no way of knowing where that information came from, as any records that might have shown the source were destroyed in a flood and some of the people who might have known have died. But I had to think: if I was an attorney, even with my absolute belief that we should never blame the victim for her own victimization, I would have done the same thing if I'd received information that cast doubt on the victim's story. I would have filed that affadavit. I would have made sure that my client wasn't being falsely accused. It's the right thing to do.

I don't have access to primary, unbiased sources to know what the circumstances were. I don't know whether she was truly forced to take this case or if she could have refused. I don't know if her advocacy for her client crossed the line into crusade against the victim. It's horrible that the rapist got off with a slap on the wrist. The prosecution's case fell apart because Hillary was able to poke too many holes in it. That's not a failing on her part. It's a failing of the prosecutor's office and a failing of our criminal justice system. It only becomes Hillary's failing if she could have turned down a case that conflicted with her principles, and so far, there's no evidence of that.

This case does prove her pattern of being a bit too zealous in her work and her politcal quests, but here, the zealotry doesn't seem egregious. It certainly doesn't prove a lack of conscience. She conscienciously defended her client, despite the fact she hadn't wanted to, and, she says in her book, "the case spurred her to create the first rape hotline in Arkansas."

I still don't like her getting a rapist off lightly. I still despise a justice system that not only allows, but demands, that defense attorneys blame the victim. But considering the sources, I can't buy into the "Hillary destroys sexual assault victims for her own gain" idea. It just doesn't ring true.

1 comment:

george.w said...

Good call - there's an armada of swift boats after Hillary right now, followed by another after Barack.

It's worth noting that Gerry Spence, of all people, started his career as a prosecutor, and then as a lawyer for insurance companies, before becoming disgusted with defending power against the powerless and becoming a defense attorney for the them instead.