MATT MURDOCK HAS SOME INTERESTING CONFLICTS
Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting there, minding your own business, reading your comic books, when something in the story makes you go, “Now, that’s not right!” Of course you have. You can probably count on the fingers of one hand, the number of times you’ve read recent comic books and haven’t found something that made you say that. And probably still have enough fingers left over for an obscene gesture.
I have a confession to make, I’ve done it, too. The difference being, when you do it you can complain on a message board or something. When I do it, then I get to do this…
So there I was minding my own business reading Jessica Jones #9. I had just gotten to the part where Sharon Carter, acting head of S.H.I.E.L.D., arrested Jessica Jones, the super heroine turned private investigator, and threw her into jail for being uncooperative. Oh, yeah, and for insulting Sharon’s hairdo. No, seriously, that’s why Sharon tossed Jessica in jail.
No, that’s not the part that made me say, “Hey, that’s not right.” I mean arresting Jessica for bad hair day in the first and throwing her into a cell on Ryker’s Island is not right, but this sort of thing has happened so often in recent comic books that I’m rather inured to it. What is it about being head of S.H.I.E.L.D.? First it turned first Maria Hill and then Sharon Carter into ill-tempered, officious, untrustworthy tenants in Apartment 23 who think a Bill of Rights is what you pay when you buy from the remainder table of the Leftorium.
No, the thing in the story that gave me pause was when Jessica’s attorney showed up and got her released with a writ of habeas corpus. At least, I assume it was a habeas corpus. The story didn’t say, but I kind of doubt Jessica’s attorney used a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Those things were only honored by Warden Crichton on the old Batman TV series; and, judging how many repeat offenders that show had, with alarming frequency.
It also didn’t bother me that Jessica’s lawyer got her sprung from her bogus arrest by using the great writ; springing people from bogus arrests is exactly what habeas was writ for. No what bothered me was that Jessica’s lawyer was Matt Murdock.
Remember, the Purple Children made the world forget that Matt Murdock was Daredevil, meaning the New York State Bar Association forgot why it had disbarred Matt and reinstated his license to practice law in New York, Matt has been an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Matt doesn’t get people out of jail anymore, he puts them in jail. So for Matt to show up with a habeas corpus for Jessica would be a dubious course oops.
Could Matt have been representing Jessica through a private practice he maintained on the side to earn extra money? Probably not. Some jurisdictions do allow their assistant district attorneys to run a private practice on the side. I don’t know whether New York is one of those jurisdictions, but it really doesn’t matter. Even those jurisdictions that allow their prosecutors to have private practices on the side, don’t allow them to accept cases which would present a conflict of interests.
And that means district attorneys can’t usually handle criminal cases in their side practices. Courts tend to find conflicts when the same lawyer is actively trying to put criminals behind bars in the job while trying to keep them out of jail on the side. Even if there are no actual conflicts, lawyers are supposed to avoid the appearance of impropriety and earning money on both sides of the criminal justice system doesn’t do that.
Matt could write wills, do civil litigation, negotiate contracts, and that sort of thing. In The Unstoppable Wasp #6, Matt showed up as Nadia Pym’s immigration lawyer. Even that could be permissible. Criminal law and immigration law sometimes intersect, but not so often that being a prosecutor and an immigration attorney automatically cause conflicts of interest.
If Matt were representing an immigrant who was being deported because he or she was being prosecuted for a crime in New York, that would probably be a conflict of interests. But the conflict of interests decision would be made on a case-by-case basis and not require an automatic withdrawal. But Matt representing criminal defendants while also serving as a district attorney in New York? That’s as iffy as a Bread song.
Beside which, Matt is already in enough hot water with his boss at the District Attorney’s office. So, even if it weren’t a conflict of interests for Matt to represent criminal defendants in his side practice, I doubt he’d want to risk incurring his boss’s wrath even further by eating prosecute-to ham with a side of defense work.
And why did the story have to use Matt Murdock anyway? Jennifer Walters is a practicing attorney in New York City, she could have been Jessica’s attorney without the whole conflict of interest problems. Or maybe Jeryn Hogarth could have represented Jessica. Why, there’s even a Manhattan-based attorney in the Marvel Universe named Robert Ingersol. He could have represented Jessica. I happen to have personal knowledge that he could use the money.