District 8 GOP mailer calls into question country’s legal foundation, experts say

John Adams sought a standard for the emerging country's legal system when he represented a British soldier no other lawyer would defend. Adams argued that unless the enemy soldier was subject to a fair trail under the law, there was no sense standing up to the British crown.

"When Adams looked back on his career late in life, he said it was the most honorable thing he had ever done," Justin Loughrey, president of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey (ACDL-NJ).

Loughrey and others in the New Jersey legal community are invoking the second president of the United States and rising to defend due process against what they see as an attack in the district 8 legislative contest.

Republicans have issued campaign mailers that call into question Democrat Tracy Riley's husband's representation of a man charged in a terror conspiracy plot.

Alongside a picture of men marching in masks with guns, the mailer paid for by the Republican State Committee, reads, "He came to our country illegally. He plotted with other Islamic radicals to kill American soldiers at Fort Dix. Now, Tracy Riley's family's law firm is defending him… and your tax dollars are paying them to do it."

Scrolling across the bottom of the ad is the final shot, "Tracy Riley, whose values will she represent in Trenton? Ours? Or theirs?"

This week, as he assessed the Traz Group mailer for its possible impact on jury members in the case of the "Fort Dix Six," one of whom is represented by defense attorney Michael Riley, Judge Robert Kugler called it "despicable."

Loughrey agreed.

"This is not to say that the people running the ad don't have a 1st Amendment right," said the ACDL-NJ president. "People have a right to make what statements they will. But we have a Constitutional guarantee to provide the effective assistance of council. Mr. Riley is a very distinguished Burlington County lawyer. He was a tough and intelligent prosecutor and he takes his Constitutional appointment as a defense lawyer very seriously."

Richard Lehrich, past president of the association, said of the mailer, "It's scurrilous advertising, even worse than I thought. It's an incredibly offensive position for them to take."

Jeff Meyer, spokesman for Riley and her running mates Chris Fifis and Assemblyman Francis Bodine, said the judge's statement, "Is in synch with the voters in this district."

The Republican ticket made up of three attorneys, state senate candidate Phil Haines, and Assembly candidates Scott Rudder and Dawn Marie Addiego, have consistently defended the ad.

Haines told PoliticsNJ.com he might have sent out a different mail piece had the decision about advertising been solely his to make.

But as an attorney he couldn't reconcile representing an alleged terrorist with representing Burlington County residents.

"I would not represent the alleged terrorist," said Haines. "I realize he has Constitutional rights. That's a personal decision that I make. …If I were working for a law firm, just working for a firm, not representing that individual myself, but working for a firm, I would ask the firm, 'Would you consider this a second time, maybe we shouldn't represent this individual under the circumstances since I'm running for office.'"

Mark Denbeaux, professor of Constitutional Law at Seton Hall University, says there is no gray area when it comes to whether someone within U.S. territory is entitled to legal representation and a speedy trial, and cited the 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush, in which the court ruled against the Bush Administration for suspending habeas corpus at Guantanamo.

"This has already been decided," said Denbeaux.

According to the Center for Constitutional Law, the core contention of the litigation in Rasul v. Bush was that the United States cannot order indefinite detention without due process.

"The detainees have the right to challenge the legality of their detention in court," according to the center. "To make that challenge meaningful, they have the right to be informed of the charges they face, and the right to present evidence on their own behalves and to cross-examine their accusers.

"The failure of the Bush Administration to provide these protections raises serious questions about their commitment to the U.S. Constitution and international law."

Haines, who serves as county clerk, said it's a personal judgement.

"I'm an elected official anyway," he said, standing in Pemberton Township. "And I'm representing these folks who use this road right here who use this road to go to Fort Dix and McGuire. I represent them. They're constituents in Burlington County. I would just feel – not unethical or a real conflict – but an inherent personal conflict trying to represent the folks of Burlington County and representing an alleged terrorist."

District 8 GOP mailer calls into question country’s legal foundation, experts say