A Response to John P. DiBartolo


Northampton’s citizens and legal community have every right to question the judgment of attorney Michael Pill in agreeing to represent the Capital Video porn store. John P. DiBartolo’s letter (Gazette, 10/26/06), responding to Andrew Sirulnik’s 10/24 guest column, argues that lawyers’ willingness to take on unpopular clients is what makes our system of justice work.

This is certainly true in the context of criminal law, where the defendant is swept up into the legal system against his will and may be innocent of the alleged crimes that make him unpopular. It makes less sense in a commercial context, where Capital Video is freely and openly choosing to profit from activities that have been objectively shown to cause suffering. Every criminal defendant is entitled to a defense, because our legal system wisely presumes that every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, but every business is not entitled to assistance in exploiting workers and damaging neighborhoods. Lawyers should not expect a pat on the back for facilitating an entirely optional, socially harmful commercial enterprise, at the expense of their neighbors.

It was Dr. Pill, and no one else, who put his own character on center stage in the memo he circulated at last week’s City Council meeting. Instead of addressing the relevant legal issues, he tried to discredit the other side as a lynch mob that he was bravely resisting (I believe the phrase “Profiles in Courage” came up). He wants us to think he’s a better person than the porn shop’s opponents because his client’s wares are so seamy.

A simplistic defense of the First Amendment at any cost might have seemed “sexy” and noble a generation ago, but America now has decades of experience with adult businesses and adult-use zoning. We understand the harms that adult businesses can cause, and the proven value of narrowly tailored solutions like zoning. We have learned how to achieve a better balance for our communities than to just let large adult businesses locate wherever they will.

At the end of the day, Dr. Pill is not doing anything praiseworthy. He’s just being paid well (I would guess) to help a callous corporation make money by exploiting women and men, while that corporation’s plans threaten to expose a large number of Northampton residents, businesses and pedestrians to well-documented risks.

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