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The Snoop

Every week, as readers and news broadcast listeners, we are subjected to  interpretations of legal opinions.   The statements may be based on sound legal principal, and yet, the analysis overflows with personal prejudice.   Personal interpretation.  

It seems commonplace  today for discussions to have a self-serving slant and use.  To wield an altered fact as weapon or tool to justify action or sway public opinion.  

Tweaking the truth.  Definitely.  

Contempt of law.  Maybe.

This convoluted action was most recently personified when Harvard chose to reprimand, punish and make an example of law professor Ronald Sullivan for lending his legal expertise to the team of attorneys defending Harvey Weinstein.  

Weinstein, an American film producer and Hollywood movie company executive, is charged with criminal acts of rape and sex crime allegations of misconduct. As a producer, Weinstein is alleged to have used his industry hiring power as a venue for demanding sexual favors from auditioning actresses.  

Loathsome behavior, no doubt. 

This is where the conflict begins. 

Not long after Professor Sullivan accepted a position with the legal team defending Weinstein, the professor and his wife, also a Harvard lecturer, were notified by the dean of Harvard College that their positions as deans of Winthrop House, a residential dorm for undergrad students, was being terminated June 30.  

According to a public statement released by the College, the decision was based upon student reaction to Sullivan’s employment as a member of the legal team.  Students protested his involvement.  One news release reported campus graffiti posed the question, “Whose side are you on?” 

The Sullivans are a notable scholastic couple, and the first-ever African Americans selected to serve as faculty deans at the school.

Therein lies the conundrum.  

Weinstein, no matter how contemptible and despicable his alleged perverse actions are deemed –– by law he  has the right to legal representation and a strong defense in the court room.

This is a legal principle and constitutional right guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  As a defendant, Weinstein is entitled to representation at trial.

It’s a legal principle. 

It isn’t personal.  

Harvard’s disciplinary actions, however, fly in the face of defendant rights and Sixth Amendment laws in the U.S. Constitution. 

Harvard made the issue personal.   

Weinstein’s legal team has the task of formulating a defense, but that does not mean Professor Sullivan and the team of attorneys, in any way, endorse or condone Weinstein’s acts of sexual assault toward women.  

Approximately two weeks ago, it was reported Professor Sullivan is no longer a part of the Weinstein defense team.  It was also noted that 52 Harvard law school professors publicly voiced and supported Sullivan’s  right to serve as a member of the defense.  The group acknowledged Harvard’s decision to punish Sullivan as inappropriate.

It appears Harvard crossed the line.

When I was younger, I had this argument with my Dad many times.  

As an attorney, Dad was occasionally in a position to defend a client involved in a high profile criminal case.  Sometimes the case alleged heinous activities.  My question to him more than once was, “How can you represent that person?”   

“How can you defend their actions?” 

And just like Harvard, I always made the issue personal.  

In his response, Dad always based his stance on legal principle, citing the defendant’s right to a fair trial and legal representation.  He firmly believed  his role as an attorney was to advocate for clients and represent them to the best of his ability.  His job was to uphold the oath he took to support the Constitution, and in turn, the sixth amendment.  

When making decisions about cases, Dad’s focus was not on self-serving causes or personal feelings or notoriety.  Using the law for inappropriate personal gain was not an option.  His viewpoint was purely black and white….based on legal canon.  

Perhaps it is fair to assume Professor Sullivan, a lawyer who has a strong propensity to engage in high profile cases, also embraces the standards of the attorney oath and holds fast to the Constitution as well.  

Or, maybe Sullivan is attracted for the media hype, or possibly, the money.  That we will never know.

However, regarding Harvard’s interpretation of the Sixth Amendment as it relates to Sullivan’s case –– it certainly appears as if the College tweaked the rules by purposefully weaving their own self-serving viewpoint and opinion into the mix.  

As educators, lawyers and Constitutional scholars of the law, the College certainly knew better. 


The weekly column written by Wayne Cipriano entitled, “What About This…?”  offers an interesting local opinion piece this week.  Please check it out.