Discussion to analyze ethics in legal system

By Michael McVey

A career in the legal profession can present serious legal and ethical quandaries.

The NIU Hispanic Law Students Association (HLSA) is sponsoring a panel discussion, “Ethics and the Law,” Thursday at 2 p.m. in the Riley Moot Courtroom.

Maria del Carmen Rodriguez, public relations officer for HLSA, said all students are invited to attend the Pheasant Room luncheon with the panelists at noon, followed by the discussion itself and a reception.

The panelists are Cook County Circuit Judge David Delgado, Assistant Attorney General Mark Lopez, Attorney James Rosas, and NIU Law Professor Lorraine Schmall.

The moderator will be NIU Law Professor Daniel Reynolds.

Schmall said Rosas and Delgado were on the panel last year, when the topic was “The Law School Experience: Before, During and After.” Delgado is the first Puerto Rican trial judge ever elected in Illinois, Schmall added.

Schmall said the three lawyers are all Mexican, and they may discuss how their loyalty to their people could present an ethical conflict with their obligations to the system. “Ethical issues are always on the front line for people practicing law. The problem is exacerbated for minority lawyers because the system scrutinizes them more closely,” Schmall said.

“If you’re a good attorney, you know what the rules are, you know what your responsibilities are, you try to be diligent and an effective advocate for client,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said a lawyer must do all he can to be the best advocate possible for the client. The ethical problem arises if an attorney violates the rules of the system in the process. This could lead to disbarment of a lawyer by the court system, Rodriguez said. “Every state has a code of conduct for attorneys.”

Rodriguez said the language and cultural differences Hispanic defendants experience could affect what kind of justice they’ll get, and it is important for an attorney and a judge to be able to understand those differences. “Some clients don’t even know they have the right to an interpreter,” Rodriguez said.

Schmall said low-income people could have problems because public defenders often try to plea bargain rather than disprove the guilt of their clients. One of last year’s panelists, Raymond Ocasio, is a prosecuting attorney who recently was a public defender.

Schmall said all of the attorneys on the panel came from poor communities and know what it’s like to be a victim of injustice in the system.

Rodriguez and Schmall both said minorities are underrepresented in the legal system. In Cook County, Rodriguez said, there are only three minority judges. Rodriguez said about 25 percent of NIU law students are minorities, including the 10 to 12 percent who are Hispanic.

Schmall said 93 percent of judges are male, mostly white, and she believes that changing the make-up of the trial court judges would alleviate some of the anti-minority and anti-poor biases in the court system.

“For example, if an attorney is representing a company that makes silicone implants in a lawsuit, he will almost always move to disqualify a female judge. Where the ethics comes in is, he’s doing this to be a good advocate of his client, but in reality his assumption is completely unfounded,” Schmall said.

While Schmall said the American system is corrupt, Rodriguez said many first-time Hispanic defendants fear our system because of the judicial corruption in their native countries. The language barrier adds to this problem, Rodriguez added.

Schmall and Rodriguez both said they are glad the panelists will be discussing ethics because they feel the issue of ethical conflict is very important for prospective lawyers and jurists of all backgrounds.

“Ethical issues are always on the front line for people practicing law. The problem is exacerbated for minority lawyers because the system scrutinizes them more closely,”