Woody White is a trial lawyer with a busy litigation practice in Wilmington.
But now as a candidate in the Republican primary for the Wilmington-area 7th District seat, from which Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre is retiring, the conservative White is under attack for simply doing his job.
In an ad blitz running this week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is deriding White as typical of lawyers of a certain ilk who, in search of big paydays, file lawsuits that hurt business and destroy jobs.
Yesterday the state bar association issued a statement generally condemning campaign ads which “unfairly attack those seeking elective office based on the performance of their duties as officers of the court.”
The bar association added:
Justices, judges, district attorneys and private practitioners execute their duties according to the rule of law under the strictest codes of ethics and professionalism. It is imperative that we respect the positions they hold within this priceless system of justice upon which our democracy rests.
The local Wilmington Chamber of Commerce (not affiliated with the U.S. Chamber) likewise distanced itself from the ad yesterday, saying  that the organization “believes endorsements should be based on a fair representation of the candidate and not perpetuate the pervasive negativity in politics today.”
But the U.S. Chamber remains undeterred, vowing to continue its negative attack ads on lawyers running for office across the country through the primary season, with similar ads running in Idaho  and Mississippi .
A similar battle has been playing out in South Carolina in response to a vicious ad sponsored by the Republican Governors Association attacking South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen for his prior work as a criminal defense attorney.
“It’s a fact,” the ad states, “trial lawyer Vincent Sheheen made money off criminals.”
The ad quickly provoked several of the more than 15,000 lawyers belonging to the South Carolina Bar, prompting that organization to condemn the ad and criticize those behind it.
“Each and every one of us has a professional duty to ensure that justice is not rationed but is available to everyone, President Alice Paylor said in a statement . “It is the job of a criminal defense lawyer to ensure his or her client has a fair trial, not to defend the crime.”
Paylor reminded South Carolina attorneys that the group had recently launched a website to eradicate negative messages about the legal profession and encouraged them to take action in the face of attacks on the profession:
When you encounter smear tactics against lawyers in your community, I encourage you to help the Bar fight back. Lawyers promote good government and economic growth. They represent the individual, the small business, the larger entities and the government. Some of those individuals are the poorest in our communities, and lawyers go to court for them without charge.
The American Bar Association quickly joined in condemning the ad  and President James Silkenat sent a letter  to N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, chair of the RGA, asking the organization to withdraw the ad.
Silkenat reminded Christie, also an attorney and a former federal prosecutor, of the ethical obligation that lawyers have “to provide zealous representation to people who otherwise would stand alone against the power and resources of the government — even to those accused or convicted of terrible crimes.”
The Republican Governors Association ad sends a disturbing message to lawyers—that their clients’ past actions or beliefs will stain their own careers, especially if they want to serve their country in public office. Voters who subsequently pass judgment on the candidate for the singular reason that he was a competent lawyer are disqualifying him from public service. On the contrary, lawyers who represent unpopular or guilty clients demonstrate the kind of courage and confidence in our legal system that characterizes the finest public servants.
So far there’s been no response from Christie, and there’s no sign that the RGA is backing down.
But one of Christie’s lawyers, Robert Luskin from Patton Boggs, did see the ad though and had this response :
Wow, it’s a disgrace. The people who talk incessantly about American exceptionalism ought to demonstrate some understanding — and some respect — for what makes our system truly admirable: that includes the willingness of lawyers to stand up for their clients no matter how ugly the allegation. But a lawyer is only, ever an advocate; he’s not a co-conspirator or an enabler.