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The Lawyer Protests 

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[Re: Hot Type, November 15 and 29]

Dear sirs:

As one of the actual participants, I was bemused by Michael Miner's slant in his original article published several weeks ago on the aftermath--the "rancorous residue" he later alliterated--of the Ford Heights Four case. That story represented a point of view which was as accurate but as flawed as the blind man's description of the elephant. But it wasn't worth correcting, at least not to me. Apparently, Dave Protess took another view and wrote a letter taking Miner to task on errors in his original piece; Miner called me at that point to verify a couple of facts. And now, in his follow-up article, Miner has taken my remarks and twisted them into something they were not. This time I have to respond.

Miner read to me and asked me to comment on a paragraph of Protess's protest letter which described a series of conversations between me and Stephanie Goldstein. There were no others present, so only Stephanie and I know exactly what was said. I would bet my house that Stephanie and I would not recall every detail exactly the same, but at least we were there; Protess was not. So not surprisingly, Protess got some of it a little off. I made a tragic mistake. I made the naive assumption that Miner had a sense of humor. Instead of saying (caution: boring language ahead) "Protess has captured the sense but not all of the minutiae of the truth," I bantered "Well, that certainly has traces of accuracy," and then I proceeded to recount for Miner the facts as I recalled them. None of my facts changed the substance of Protess's comments; yet Miner reported in his latest column that "Byman says that Protess's account has only 'traces of accuracy...'" (my italics). That isn't what I said, and it most certainly is not the substance I conveyed.

Miner is finally objective at the end of his recent article when he candidly admits his esteem and envy for Protess's work. We all have our warts. But Miner does no service by musing who was more heroic and who was more human in this story. And he does a disservice by injecting his bias by twisting comments like mine to suggest criticism when none was meant.

Miner's two articles have trivialized and obscured the real story. The story is the four men who knew they were innocent but would likely still be in prison but for Dave Protess and the team he put together. There were scores of people on that team. Some of them played big roles; some, like me, had lesser roles. But Shakespeare must surely have been referring to lawyers, investigators, and journalists when he observed "there are no small parts, only small actors." No one on the team had a small part. Every single person was necessary to the result. Not one person who signed on to this team effort did it to win a prize or to make a buck. In retrospect, some of the actors have chosen to be small. Some may have a legitimate claim that his or her effort was important, but no one did more than Dave Protess. But that is not the point. The point is not who was the hero but that we were all blessed to be part of a noble team effort. It is time to stop arguing over whether we could have acted better and get on to the next case.

Robert L. Byman

Jenner & Block

Michael Miner replies:

I don't know how many times people have assumed I had a sense of humor and soon lived to regret it. The banter of lawyers especially flies right by me. When Byman told me that Protess's letter had "traces of accuracy to it" I jumped to the conclusion that Byman believed the letter was largely inaccurate. When Byman proceeded to explain the ways in which the letter struck him as inaccurate, I took him seriously. Protess's letter said this: "[Byman] would have told you that the students were initially requesting 50 percent of the life rights money. That audacious request was made to Byman by Stephanie Goldstein, who was working for Jenner & Block at a summer job I'd gotten her. Because Byman represented Dennis Williams, he promptly told Stephanie that her continued employment represented a conflict-of-interest with his client, and she soon left the firm." Byman told me he never heard such a request. He also told me there was no conflict of interest. He said he'd advised Goldstein, "If she took the position she wanted x dollars and I felt that was more than she was entitled to there'd be a conflict. But she never took that position." This is not minutiae. The issue at hand was the alleged avarice of Goldstein and the other two students. Protess said Byman would testify to it. He did not.

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