Last week I touched on the role lawyers play in ensuring that businesses and organizations do not run afoul of the law. As I watched the news this week I could not help but be frustrated with our U.S. Attorney General, as he keeps getting caught up in scandal after scandal, and lie after lie, yet still continues to spin the idea that neither he nor the Obama administration have done anything wrong. However, try as he might, the dark shadows cast by Fast and Furious, the Fort Hood slaying, the Benghazi murders, the IRS persecution of their political opposition, the lies about Obamacare and immigration reform, the NSA phone & internet spying of every one of us (including the press), seem to dog him at every turn. Yet he persists. Why, you may ask? Because he is charged with the duty to protect his client. And folks, that client is not us, the taxpayers. His client is the United States government.
It is important to note that lawyers are paid to protect their clients, sometimes even against their own better judgment. I am not saying that Attorney General Holder suffers from such and internal conflict of conscience, as that would imply that I think he actually has one. I do not. However, that is beside the point. Lawyers fulfill a necessary purpose with their knowledge of the law and the need for experts when we find ourselves accused of being on the opposite side of it. They are paid to ensure that their client is found innocent under the law. Yet innocent is not the same as righteous, so remember that when you find yourself seeking the advice of a lawyer. To understand who a lawyer’s client is, and not necessarily what the law is, will be to truly know which side he is on. This discernment allows for a better perspective; as I have said before, what may be legal may not necessarily be what is right.
This is why reviewing the legal opinion given to and by an elected body is only a small part of our duty as taxpayers to hold our elected officials accountable. Our city has a lawyer, but his duty is to ensure that the ordinances passed, the contracts signed, and the decisions the council reaches do not run afoul of the laws on the books. The city, not the taxpayer, is his client. The same holds true for our school board. The school attorney is tasked with the duty to ensure that the policies and decisions the school board makes, as well as the contracts they sign, line up with the law. The school – not the taxpayer, not the students not the parents – is his client. These lawyers are there to protect the organizations that hired them from potential costly fines, penalties, and lawsuits. While this does indirectly protect the taxpayer (after all, lawsuits cost money, which taxpayers end up paying), their main loyalty is still to their clients, which are neither me nor you, but the elected bodies themselves.
So if these lawyers are not looking out for the taxpayer, then who is? Who is charged with ensuring that the taxpayer desires are respected, liberties are protected, and the public purse is honored in a manner worthy of a trusted steward? Our elected officials. You see, we the taxpayers, are their client. They are have sworn an oath and are duty bound to protect our interests, and not attempt to use the law to justify or protect themselves from accountability to us, their client. It is a delicate balance to be sure; it requires the humble heart of a servant, rather than the hard heart of a master.
As I look nationally and locally, I fear that this delicate balance is being forgotten. I see elected officials justifying the decisions they make with the statement of “well, it is legal”, instead of the proper query of “well, is it right?” They confuse the things that they want as those things the taxpayers want. They have forgotten who their true client is. In other words, they have forgotten their place.
It is our duty to do the hard work necessary to hold all elected officials accountable. They are merely imperfect beings like ourselves, who need reminding from time to time as to whom they really serve. But keep in mind, ultimately, the government is what we decide it to be. It is a reflection of those priorities that we have made for ourselves, our families, and our communities. If elected officials ride roughshod over us it is because we permit it. If they spend money unwisely it is because we do the same. So, what to do?
Well, in order to stand up we first must get off our collective butts. Are we really going to let government lawyers have the final say over our future? I don’t think so. Therefore the next time an elected official tells you that a government lawyer told them that what they were doing was legal, remember who that lawyer’s client actually is.
And then remind that elected official who his client actually is…You.
“People are getting smarter nowadays; they are letting lawyers, instead of their conscience, be their guide”. ~ Will Rogers