10 Jan It’s 2017. So What?
The tax year ended. We closed the books and started fresh. We woke to a new governor in North Carolina, who took the oath a second after Midnight on New Year’s Day. In the coming days and weeks, new public officials will take office, including a new President of the United States.
Yet, in some ways, New Year’s Day is just another day. We start another year, but it’s just an opportunity to breathe and reflect. The next day, we pick up the projects left undone the last week of December. Court resumes with cases from last year, or even earlier.
So, how much difference will a year make?
I asked the Friday afternoon brainstormers their thoughts. Over the years, I formed close personal and professional friendships with a group of local lawyers. At times, we shared office space, worked together on cases, and represented co-defendants. One won his first murder trial before I was born. Another came of age in the eighties defending against the government’s relentless pursuit of drug offenses and pornography (labeled obscenity at the time). The final member is a civil lawyer, who takes some criminal trial and appellate cases. We meet regularly at a local bar to discuss our cases (a little), rant about life’s injustices (a lot), and support each other through good times and bad.
My informal poll of the brainstormers revealed similar questions and concerns for the coming year. Each wondered how our newest supreme court justice, Michael Morgan, will impact the North Carolina Supreme Court. We are all concerned about the prospects of criminal justice reform at the national level and agree the death of that effort would kill any chance to reverse mass incarceration. I was sad to see the oldest among us so concerned about our civil liberties in the months (not years) to come.
We debated the ethical and practical implications of securing electronic data in an era when everyone stores large amounts of information on phones, office networks, and computer hard drives. Can we advise our clients to protect information from the government during an investigation? What are the ethical limitations of any advice? Can we store our clients’ intimate, private information electronically, especially during a high-profile defense? Is hacking a threat? Is a text from a client confidential? Is an email privileged? Should we return exclusively to cardboard boxes, file folders, and letterhead?
Everyone is curious what a Trump presidency will mean to the defense of people accused of crimes. One U.S. Supreme Court seat is open; other appointments will follow. Roe v. Wade, immigration, and flag burning may have gotten more press in recent weeks, but President-Elect Trump’s appointment will have a dramatic impact on criminal defense for decades. How will the new justice interpret the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments?
We wondered how new leadership at the U.S. Department of Education will influence the investigation and discipline of allegations of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. Some conservative commentators have complained of the government directives under President Obama’s administration and speculated that the new administrative will alter or reverse course. I didn’t find a lot of sympathy for the Obama policies at the bar, but we remain skeptical that a new administration will change the way those investigations, proceedings, and discipline are executed on campuses.
We didn’t get around to discussing all the questions or predicting all the outcomes, but we came up with enough ideas to keep us busy for a while. In the coming weeks, with the help of these longtime friends, I will offer some thoughts on these issues. I hope it helps us prepare for the challenges ahead. What’s certain is that only time, some fierce battles, and a few meetings at the bar will tell.
Amos Tyndall is a criminal trial lawyer who represents people accused of serious criminal offenses in state and federal courts throughout North Carolina. He has successfully defended people against a wide range of charges, including vehicular homicides, white collar offenses, and first-degree murder. Amos has been included in ©The Best Lawyers in America from 2013-17. (t) (919) 967-0504; firstname.lastname@example.org.