Oh, and the Judge Will Now Be Called “the Presider” . . .

Just call me “Captain Justice.”

That’s how fortuitously-named defense attorney Drew Justice responded when prosecutors asked a Nashville judge to stop Justice from calling them “the government” while representing a criminal charged with attempted burglary.

Assistant District Attorney Tammy Rettig wrote in her motion: “The State believes that such a reference is used in a derogatory way and is meant to make the State's attorney seem oppressive and to inflame the jury.” She suggested she be referred to as “General Rettig,” among other titles – “General” being a common title for prosecutors in some states.

Riffing off the military concept, Justice countered with his own motion, suggesting “Captain Justice” might be the appropriate way to address him. Further, if the court sided with the prosecutor, he wrote, his client should not be called the defendant, but “Mister,” “the Citizen Accused” or “that innocent man.” 

This entertaining bit of courtroom hijinks raises a question: At what point did it become derogatory for prosecutors in court to be referred to as “the government?” The term “the government” used to be a sign of strength and power against a lowly criminal defendant. It was sign of great respect. But the country’s political landscape has changed in the past couple of decades such that “the government” has a different connotation now, especially in conservative Southern states.

Appropriately, though, whatever the politics of the judge in Tennessee’s Williamson County Circuit Court, he seems to have stuck with tradition. The word “government” is not derogatory, so said the judge in denying the prosecutor’s motion. 

Posted: 12/4/2013 12:00:00 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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