Criminal Defense Lawyering at the Edge: A Look Back

This Article is an attempt to reconstruct the story of a New York City lawyer’s professional death and resurrection. In particular, this is the story of John Palmieri’s defense of John J. Delane in the year 1915, a time in the history of the legal profession when the bounds of zealous representation, particularly in criminal cases, were blurry and in transition. This is also the story of what followed the Delane trial: the efforts of prosecutorial, disciplinary, and judicial authorities to resolve factual and legal uncertainties about Palmieri’s conduct and intentions in defending his client, their efforts to locate the line between a permissibly zealous defense and an improperly overzealous one, and their efforts to determine whether Palmieri’s conduct fell out of bounds. And this is, of course, an attempt to draw some lessons for today from the partially reconstructed story of a criminal defense lawyer who advocated “at the edge” (if not over it) close to a century ago.

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