Sladjana Vuckovic, a 44-year old Chicago attorney, has been a volunteer for First Defense Legal Aid for ten years providing free legal services to indigent clients. During the course of representing a client who was charged with killing a Chicago police officer, Vuckovic allowed her client to use her cell phone while she was meeting with him in an interrogation room at the Calumet lockup where her client was being detained. Vuckovic is now on trial for committing a felony count of bringing contraband into a penal institution. She faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted, in addition to possible disbarment as an attorney. Prosecutors insinuated to jurors that Vuckovic was trying to obstruct the police investigation by aiding her client in cooking up an alibi or destroying evidence. Vuckovic, who testified in her own defense, claims nobody ever told her she couldn't take her cell phone with her into meetings with her clients, which she estimated she had done a 100 times before. She believed the ban on contraband applied to bringing things like guns, knives and drugs into the lockup. Vuckovic no doubt has witnessed far worse transgressions being committed by attorneys practicing in the Cook County legal system on any given day without so much as a bat of the eye.
The same prosecutor who is trying to put Vuckovic behind bars and destroy her legal career is Cook Co. State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who beyond having the right political connections, probably shouldn't even have a license to practice law, let alone decide the fate of criminal defendants. Alvarez has aggessively prosecuted Illinois' eavesdropping law to make it a felony for private citizens to videotape the public actions of police officers with sentences of up to 15 years in prison. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals harshly criticized Alvarez' "extreme position" in striking down her application of the law to criminalize an activity that clearly should be protected by the First Amendment. "On the merits the State’s Attorney has staked out an extreme position. She contends that openly recording what police officers say while performing their duties in traditional public fora—streets, sidewalks, plazas, and parks—is wholly unprotected by the First Amendment," Judge Diane Sykes wrote in her opinion. An unapologetic Alvarez attacked the ACLU's standing to challenge her application of the law, accusing it of engaging in “advocacy under the guise of First Amendment infringement.” Alvarez had the audacity to appeal the 7th Circuit's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which this week decided against hearing her appeal, allowing the 7th Circuit opinion against her to stand. As respected constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley observed, her actions are a "disgrace." "As a native Chicagoan, I remain astonished that citizens have allowed Alvarez to remain in office as she has publicly sought to strip them of their rights and block a tool that has been used repeatedly to show police abuse," Turley writes.
I'm not as astonished as Turley. I see it happening across the board in the legal profession. There is very little relationship in the practice of law today in this country to the degree of a person's integrity and fitness to practice law and their success within the profession. The most dishonest and deceitful seem to thrive in the practice, while attorneys who try to adhere to the standards of conduct they are sworn to uphold too often come up with the short end of the stick. Vuckovic may lose her license to practice law for volunteering her services to an indigent client. The most ruthless and unethical attorneys with no shortage of clients with deep pockets are the ones the bar association is always patting on the back for providing "pro bono" services, while those of us who get stuck providing a substantially more free legal services without choice than we ever get compensated to perform are brushed aside and crushed with a hammer for the most trivial of transgressions.
UPDATE: The jury hearing Vuckovic's case acquitted her after less than three hours of deliberating. They obviously saw through the corrupt motives of Alvarez's office in bringing these charges against her. The Tribune includes this item about attorneys admitting they routinely carry cell phones into meet with their clients and allow them to use their phones:
The charges against Vuckovic sparked a controversy among criminal-defense lawyers who said they routinely bring their cellphones into police interview rooms and sometimes let clients make calls. The consensus of many defense lawyers was that Vuckovic would not have faced criminal charges if it wasn't for the highly charged atmosphere surrounding an investigation into a police officer's slaying.