Monday, June 18, 2007

Editor’s Charge: His Lawyer Fell Short

New York Times: By Adam Liptak
People like to gripe about their lawyers after their cases go south. Listen, for instance, to Norman Pearlstine, who presided over the debacle that ended with Time Inc.’s disclosure of the identity of a source to a special prosecutor two summers ago.

“One of America’s most ferocious defenders of the First Amendment, Floyd Abrams, gave us less good advice than we deserved,” Mr. Pearlstine, the former editor in chief of Time Inc., writes in a book to be published next week. “The more I reviewed Abrams’s work,” he adds, “the more I was disappointed with his performance.”

The book, “Off the Record,” is a vivid and engaging account of Time’s legal adventures in trying to protect a reporter, two of his sources, press freedom, the rule of law and a media conglomerate during the investigation by a special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, into the disclosure of the identity of Valerie Wilson, an undercover C.I.A. operative."...

But veins of anger run through Mr. Pearlstine’s reflections. He is critical of some of Time Inc.’s journalists and staff lawyers, and he has special disdain for Mr. Abrams.

“In his early years as a First Amendment lawyer,” Mr. Pearlstine writes, “Abrams had a reputation for putting his clients’ interests — winning cases — ahead of making law. But now I thought he had become too much the constitutional lawyer, more focused on overturning Branzburg” v. Hayes, the 1972 Supreme Court decision that rejected First Amendment protection for confidential sources, “than on pragmatic ways in which we might fashion a compromise.”...

In an interview, Mr. Abrams expressed measured sympathy for Mr. Pearlstine, who found himself boxed in by terrible legal and financial pressures after the Supreme Court turned down the magazine’s last appeal... The book, Mr. Abrams said, “combines a bevy of misleading statements mixed with gratuitous attacks that are obviously designed to take the journalistic searchlight off of him.”...

“I knew that firing the nation’s most famous First Amendment lawyer just as we were beginning to prepare our Supreme Court petition,” Mr. Pearlstine writes, “might not go unnoticed among journalists and attorneys, many of whom worshipped Abrams.”

But it did mostly go unnoticed. Until now.

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