A Struggle with the Police & the Law

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Wilmington Police Department and Mayor James M. Baker
Mug shots of the three defendants represented by Irving Morris in the Delaware rape case: Francis J. Curran, Ira E. Jones, and Francis J. Maguire

The Rape Case: A Young Lawyer’s Struggle for Justice in the 1950s, by Irving Morris, tells us at least as much about its author as it does about the facts of the underlying case, which concerned an encounter between an unnamed young woman and three young men in Wilmington, Delaware’s Woodlawn Park in the early hours of October 30, 1947. The book, Morris writes, “is essentially the story of a fledgling lawyer’s struggle to overturn the result of a flawed trial by proving…police perjury.”

Irving Morris’s vivid recollection of events that occurred many decades ago demonstrates how the intangible benefits that lawyers receive from unpaid devotion to their profession generally far exceed the value of fees received from paying clients. I have often quoted the advice that John Adams gave to a younger lawyer: “Now, to what higher object, to what greater character, can any mortal aspire than to be possessed of all this knowledge well digested, and ready at command to assist the feeble and friendless…?” Morris’s story exemplifies this lesson. As he writes toward the end of the book, “Even though my clients paid little, I know I have earned far beyond what I ever imagined I might receive from successfully representing them.”

As the story unfolds, we learn how a competent lawyer responds to a series of defeats in protracted litigation. We are not told about the later events that made Irving Morris a leader of the corporate bar and the president of the Delaware State Bar Association. I shall mention one of the most dramatic of these to disclose my bias in the author’s favor. In the 1960s, Morris was retained to defend the former directors of a corporation against a lawsuit that challenged their decision to compensate themselves with stock options for finding a buyer of the corporation’s only significant asset—a sizable carry-forward tax loss. I was one of those directors and testified in that case.

As my lawyer, Morris was to cross-examine the witness who would provide contrary testimony. I will never know how that cross-examination would have unfolded because, in a strange turn of events, the witness suffered a heart attack as he was being sworn in, and keeled over and died a few minutes later. Needless to say, Morris won the case. Morris has told me he thought about that case on January 20, 2009, as he watched me administer the oath of office to Vice President Joe Biden. Morris is likely the only spectator who could identify both participants in that ceremony as former clients. Of course, in his book he quite appropriately does not mention Biden, me, or any other former clients, with the exception of the three young men who were unjustly tried in the 1948 rape …

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