Ultimately, the fault is with me, for not being more clear in my writing.
John DeSimone is a lawyer in private practice and he’s House Majority Leader in the RI General Assembly. When he crafts, shapes and votes on legislation, we trust that he will separate his two jobs in his mind. For instance, we trust that he will not allow the fact that he represents restaurant owners who engage in wage theft to shape the way he approaches restaurant and employment law. But in order for voters to be able to judge for themselves whether or not this is happening, they need to understand the kind of cases DeSimone is working on and what side he takes in these cases.
This is partly what I was trying to get at when I wrote about Leader DeSimone’s legal work for Chung Cho, owner of Gourmet Heaven, but there are other distictions to be drawn.
When GoLocalProv reporter and editor Kate Nagle read my piece, she was inspired. She attempted a similar piece on Jason Knight, who is running in the Democratic primary against conservative Democrat Jan Malik in House District 57. (DeSimone, a conservative Democrat, is facing a challenge to his House seat from progressive Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, so the shape of the politics here becomes obvious.) Nagle wrote that Knight, “has represented DUIs, child pornographers, and sex offender clients since starting his own practice.”
Then she wrote, “The relevance of Knight’s practice and other attorneys running for office derives from a new focus on who candidates are representing in their practices. Last week, incumbent House Majority Leader John DeSimone came under fire for his representation of an accused wage-theft client. The criticism came in part from RI Future‘s Steve Ahlquist, who wrote that voters ‘should know when the people we elect to represent us also defend the monsters who oppress us.’” [spelling corrected]
It’s nice to learn that GoLocal is learning about journalism from closely reading RI Future, but I think they might need a few more lessons. Nagle quotes me in the piece twice, without linking to my writing as I did for her above. (Here’s a handy guide to linking.)
“Voters should know when the people we elect to represent us also defend the monsters who oppress us,” I wrote, “Anybody being sued deserves legal representation, but using slick legal moves to avoid paying workers their earned wages is simply gross.”
Nagle also quoted my tweet about my story, in which I said, ”What attorneys do for their clients should be relevant to how voters perceive their ethical orientation.”
The tweet above was in answer to a criticism from Brandon Bell, director of the RI GOP. Bell tweeted, “As an attorney I am an advocate for client which does not equate with accepting or endorsing client’s alleged wrongdoing.”
In my retort to Bell I was making a subtle distinction. It’s not WHO you represent, it’s WHAT you do for them.
Jason Knight defined the role of a defense attorney very well when he was quoted by Nagle: “…in a criminal case, there’s a judge, a prosecutor and defender, and all three roles need to be done well for a just result. I need a fair judge, and a zealous prosecutor — and a defense attorney who basically keeps the prosecutor honest.”
In my piece about DeSimone, I wrote that DeSimone was not only defending Chung Cho on allegations of wage theft, he was actively helping Cho to sell his business in what the RI Center for Justice called “an attempt to evade liability.” I wrote:
“DeSimone filed Cho’s legal response to the Rhode Island lawsuit on May 11, 2015. About a week later, on May 20, 2015, Cho sold Gourmet Heaven to GSP Corp for half a million dollars. At least some of the transactional paperwork for this sale was prepared by DeSimone.”
This kind of slick legal maneuvering isn’t about keeping the prosecutors honest or achieving a fair trial, it’s about helping a boss to plead poverty and avoid paying workers who, absent wages, were essentially reduced to slavery conditions.
Rather than creating a list of people who committed terrible crimes and attaching them to DeSimone’s name, as Nagle did in her piece about Knight, I wrote a piece outlining the kind of legal maneuvers DeSimone engaged in to protect a wage thief from having to pay his employees.
Perhaps such legal maneuvering is perfectly legal. Perhaps it’s all in line with the professional ethics of being a lawyer. But is it right? And does it call into question DeSimone’s suitability for the elected position he holds?
I’ll let the voters decide.
More pertinent to the discussion at hand, is this what Nagle was attempting in her piece about Knight?
I’ll let the readers decide.