The Pensacola News Journal recently attacked the Levin Papantonio Rafferty law firm for representing the Escambia Board of County Commissioners in a dispute with County Clerk Pam Childers over its 401(a) retirement plan. The daily newspaper has sided with Childers, but it has never disparaged an attorney over taking on a client – not in the BP oil spill, Skanska, Big Tobacco, opioids or hundreds of murder cases.
On 1370 WCOA this morning, I interviewed attorney Eric Stevenson, who has served as a prosecutor and later as a criminal defense attorney. I asked him did he see one role as the “good guy” and the other as the “bad guy.”
“Neither way, it’s defending the Constitution and protecting the rights of citizens from either each other or from government encroachment,” said Stevenson. “In law school, we were taught to look at issues from both sides. So whether I’m representing an individual who the government is trying to take their liberties away from them or whether I was representing the government against people who were harmful to others, I don’t think there’s really a good guy or a bad guy. I think the idea is that if you have adversarial attorneys who are equally good, then the truth should come out.”
What about the Levin Papantonio Rafferty firm representing the BCC?
“Law firms represent governmental entities all the time,” said Stevenson. “During Ashton Hayward’s term, I think he had about 50 different law firms represent his administration.”
The News Journal called the 401(a) dispute an ethical and moral issue for the Levin firm. Stevenson said attorneys have ethics in mind when they take a case.
“When you’re a government official or even a lawyer, there are a code of ethics that you have to live by,” continued the attorney. “Whenever we have an issue in our law firm that arises that we think, well where is with the ethical rule, we’ll either call the Bar and get an opinion. We’ve hired other lawyers who specialize in that. And so any lawyer worth their salt, who’s going to represent a government official in trying to give them a legal opinion is also going to give them an ethical opinion as well.”
Stevenson added, “(The Levin firm) shouldn’t be lambasted for (taking the case). It shouldn’t be called immoral because they’re doing their job. In a day and age where people, we have issues with government officials saying that the press is bad. I would think the press would understand that they also shouldn’t attack another estate of government, which is the legal profession.”
“As the press, you understand how important it is to protect the Constitution by shedding light on things that are going on in our country and our local community, same as lawyers,” said Stevenson. “Our job is to protect the constitution as well and differently than other people do it. But that’s one of the beauties of our system is it’s not just the three branches of government. There are many others out there that are helping defend our Constitution and looking out for each other.”