By now news has broken that the Obama administration hired a New York personal injury lawyer by the name of Eric Turkewitz as the first "White House law blogger." Yes, the White House will soon have another weblog.
Turkewitz is perhaps best known to the world as the lawyer who sued a Staten Island liquor store on behalf of an alleged robber, who slipped on an icy sidewalk trying to flee the scene of his crime. He maintains a plaintiffs' personal injury and medical malpractice law firm in Manhattan. He's quite well known on the web for the "New York Personal Injury Attorney Blog," where Turkewitz spouts off his opinions on everything from oral sex to cross examining doctors for profit.
I've encountered Turkewitz on the web in the past, and even linked to him. He's a skillful lawyer. He's an entertaining blogger. He's probably a decent man, despite the damage he has wreaked upon America's already overburdened insurance industry. But as the White House's new "public voice" on the law, I predict Turkewitz will be an unmitigated disaster.
First, he's a security risk. Those who follow legal blogging have suspected for some time that Turkewitz was in talks to take such a position. He's hinted as much on his blog (which went strangely silent a week ago), on Twitter, and in comments at others' blogs, where he suddenly ramped up the pro-administration rhetoric, even rabidly defending his future masters' attacks on the auto industry in the (now infamously debunked) California Toyota accelerator case. Typically, a man who has been offered a sensitive government position doesn't let the world know it while he's being investigated by the FBI. What will Turkewitz leak the next time the Obama administration vets nominees for the Supreme Court, as is widely expected to happen this summer if John Paul Stevens retires?
Second, he's not just a security risk because he's loose lipped. A careful reading of Turkewitz's record as a blogger raises questions about his patriotism, especially as it pertains to the War on Terror. Consider past reckless statements on Professor John Yoo, whom Turkewitz described as a "torture lawyer". As I understand it (a friend who serves on staff for the Senate Judiciary Committee confirms the administration was moving to hire a legal commentator for the web), Turkewitz won't be serving the press office, but the office of White House counsel.
If a "ticking time bomb" scenario arises, if Bin Laden or some other high Al Qaeda figure is captured and interrogated, will Turkewitz, as a member of the White House legal team, be able to restrain himself? Or will he denounce fellow government lawyers as torture artists?
Third, if Turkewitz's past is any indicator, you can forget about changing the tone in Washington, or any hint of civility. The next time the administration (or perhaps Turkewitz himself) disagrees with a court, can we expect the mockery and hostility that led Turkewitz to denounce a past Supreme Court nominee as "error-riddled" and an "embarrassingly silly hypocrite"?
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, why has the White House chosen a medical malpractice lawyer to speak for it on legal issues? Is this some sort of payback to Fred Baron and the rest of the plaintiffs' trial lawyer bar? Is this evidence of some new "health care reform" initiative for the benefit of lawyers who prey on the medical profession? To my knowledge Turkewitz has never practiced as a constitutional lawyer. Why has the White House (Obama is also a lawyer, heavily indebted to the trial bar for his election) chosen this man, who is no more qualified to speak about the Constitution than the Geto Boyz, to be its voice on issues such as free speech, national security, and the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate?
This is just the tip of the iceberg where the White House's new law blogger is concerned. Eric Turkewitz has maintained a public voice for years. Expect Republicans, and others who care about the dignity of the law, to dig up far more as Turkewitz becomes the administration's new mouthpiece.
It's a shame. A White House law blog could be a great idea, a tool to engage with citizens about the part of their government many understand least. But to put it in the hands of a character assassin like Eric Turkewitz? Rather than "Hope" and "Change", this looks like business as usual for Washington.
Update: 4/2/2010 I suppose I should have guessed that this was an April Fools Day joke on the part of Mr. Turkewitz. Sneaky New York lawyers, can't trust a one of them.
As documented by Turkewitz, it also appears that you can't trust certain New York newspapers. I was sure we'd get the right-wing blogosphere with this post, and the media would ignore it. It turns out (I have a few emails from bloggers I'd tried to deceive, commending Turkewitz's joke and saying "Thanks, but no thanks," to me) that bloggers are a litle more in touch with the calendar than certain big time journalists.