There are good arguments for not electing Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat to become the next President, particularly worries about our foreign policy (if we have one) and the big spending and regulation that the Democrats have brought with their control of the White House over the past six years. But should questions about Clinton’s ethics as a lawyer be taken seriously in the 2016 political campaign? Her role in the Whitewater savings and loan debacle over twenty years ago has already been explored in depth by many investigators, including the very capable and zealous independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr. The findings do not reveal substantial evidence that Mrs. Clinton committed serious violations of ethics rules or other law, or much else that is relevant to who should become President in 2016.
Now there are questions arising from Clinton’s even earlier representation of a child rape defendant in the 1970s. Some critics claim that Clinton was too zealous in her representation of her client (e.g. she was too good a lawyer for someone who did not deserve a good lawyer). Others claim that she betrayed client confidences when she talked about the case after it was over.
At most it appears that Clinton expressed a personal opinion as to her client’s guilt after the case was over. It does not appear that she disclosed anything that the client had said to her that was not in the case record, or any other information (such as about a polygraph test that he apparently passed) that was not also in the record. It is difficult to see a violation of Rule 1.6 (client confidences) in this, although it is generally not viewed as proper for a defense lawyer to suggest publicly a personal opinion that a former client was guilty, even if no harm comes to the client. It is very difficult to see an ethics violation sufficiently serious to raise a substantial question as to Clinton’s fitness to be President.
The next presidential campaign should be fought on the issues – excessive government spending and taxation, excessive regulation at the federal level, and a malfunctioning foreign policy (Clinton’s role as Secretary of State is very much relevant to this campaign, although her entire record and her foreign policy views are more relevant than any single incident that occurred during her tenure).
Cheap attacks on Clinton grounded in unsubstantiated and decades old ethics allegations will only convince the public that Clinton’s opponents are unwilling or unable to address any of the real issues. Such tactics could easily backfire (the only worse strategy would be to talk about Monica and the impeachment proceedings against Mr. Clinton). Legal ethics has been used as a political weapon in the past, but the public sees through lawyers attacking other lawyers as “unethical” for political gain, and will not want any part of it.