Inside NACDL: For NACDL and the Foundation for Criminal Justice, Law Day Is Every Day

For NACDL and the Foundation for Criminal Justice, Law Day Is Every Day Norman L. Reimer May 2011 7 For NACDL members, at least this one, it was difficult to conceal a wry smile when I learned that the American Bar Association (ABA) had selected as this year’s Law Day theme, The Legacy of John Adams

Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.

For NACDL members, at least this one, it was difficult to conceal a wry smile when I learned that the American Bar Association (ABA) had selected as this year’s Law Day theme, The Legacy of John Adams, From Boston to Guantánamo. According to ABA President Steven N. Zack, he chose the theme “to foster understanding of the historical and contemporary role of lawyers in defending the principle of due process of law and the rights of the accused.”1 To be sure, I appreciate the ABA’s recognition of defense lawyers. It’s just a shame that we still need to have a special day to celebrate the criminal defense lawyer’s role in defending an accused — the only context in which the right to a lawyer is a constitutional guarantee. One would hope that when an American’s chest swells with patriotic pride at the playing of the national anthem, it would reflect the understanding that the right of the accused to have a lawyer when the government wields the awesome power of prosecution is a large part of what the song means when it describes the “land of the free.”

Of course, the example set by John Adams in defending British soldiers charged in the shootings known as the “Boston Massacre,” even as he was supporting efforts that would lead to independence, is the quintessential fulfillment of the duty to defend the accused. NACDL recognized the symbolic importance of Adams’ courageous stand when it joined with the ACLU to establish The John Adams Project to provide representation for the Guantánamo detainees charged with the 9/11 attacks. Every client — no matter how unpopular or stigmatized — deserves a vigorous defense. NACDL members prove their commitment to that principle every day in every courtroom in America. The ABA’s Law Day promotional material mentions other notorious criminal cases through the ages such as the Haymarket 8, the Scottsboro Boys, and the Oklahoma bombing case. While it is valuable to highlight notorious cases and salute the courageous lawyers who defended them, it is much more important to recognize that every defense of every person deserves respect and admiration.

To that end, the Foundation for Criminal Justice (FCJ), NACDL’s partner foundation, celebrated its own version of Law Day on May 19th. The FCJ’s mission is to preserve and promote the core values of America’s justice system guaranteed by the Constitution — among them due process, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, fair sentencing, and assistance of effective counsel. It provides critical support to NACDL’s educational and non-advocacy reform work to promote a more humane criminal justice system. Many of the initiatives discussed in this column each month, such as NACDL’s efforts to improve justice in misdemeanor courts and problem-solving courts, secure privacy rights, and reform grand jury practices, are made possible by FCJ support. To strengthen its financial base, the FCJ for the first time held a fundraising event in Washington, D.C., to honor criminal defense lawyers — all of them.

The event, Protecting Liberty: From Main Street to Wall Street, was an opportunity to celebrate the courage, intellect, patience, and ingenuity to represent every accused person, from the accused misdemeanant in a municipal courtroom, to the accused corporate office in a federal white collar case, to the alleged terrorist in a dubious military tribunal at Guantánamo. Special honorees included the two institutional indigent defense providers in D.C., the Public Defense Service and the Federal Defender’s Office, and more than 30 individuals and law firms that authored NACDL Supreme Court amicus briefs during the past two years. The guest speaker for the event was a lawyer whose courage and commitment may be viewed as a 21st century analogue to the 18th Century John Adams. Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld was a lead prosecutor in the Guantánamo military prosecution of Mohammed Jawad. He resigned that commission amid ethical qualms relating to the procedures for affording discovery to defense counsel, particularly concerns that exculpatory material was not provided in a timely manner. Vandeveld chose instead to request that he complete his service to the nation in a time of hostilities in Afghanistan or Iraq. At the completion of his active military service, he became the public defender for Erie County, Pa.

When one reflects on the courage of a Darrel Vandeveld, the ongoing commitment of lawyers to provide pro bono assistance — just because it is the right thing to do — and the rock steady representation provided by public defenders, it is pretty obvious that for NACDL’s members and the FCJ, every day is law day.


1. ABA Law Day Planning Guide 2011, at 4;

Featured Products