John Adams was a leading patriot and a champion of independence who helped Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence.
He went on to serve as George Washington’s vice president and became the second president of the United States.
Yet in 1770, he defended a British captain and eight soldiers charged with murder in the Boston Massacre. Why would Adams take on this case—a case no other Boston lawyer would—and put his career, reputation and safety at risk?
According to Richard Wesley, federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, Adams believed that every person deserved a defense.
“Adams understood the Rule of Law,” said Wesley, who joined Craig Doran, Ontario Supreme and County Court judge and administrative judge for the 7th Judicial District, to deliver the Law Day presentation to students and faculty May 12 at Keuka College.
Wesley said there are “modern-day John Adams’” and pointed to Donna Newman, who defended Jose Padilla, the Brooklyn-born Islam convert who was sentenced in 2008 to 17 years and 4 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to help Islamic jihadist fighters abroad.
“The attorneys who are willing to take on cases nobody else will, who take an unpopular stance to provide constitutional rights to everyone, are the real heroes of our criminal justice system,” said Doran. “We would not be the nation we are today without these attorneys who fight unpopular battles.”