Pigford: Let’s Kill All the Lawyers
The vultures were quick to hijack the distress of victims.

Al Pires


The case was expanded not just to “Hispanic and female farmers,” but to Native Americans too. The Justice Department agreed to a $760 million settlement with Native American plaintiffs, though had their claims been brought to trial, the resulting payouts would have totaled far less than that amount. Indeed, only $300 million of these funds have been claimed. And where does the remaining $460 million now reside? In the hands of a law firm called Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC. Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll will keep $60.8 million of it. The rest the firm will “administer” to non-profit groups that will — somehow — benefit Native American farmers. It is no surprise that lead attorney Joseph Sellers considers that the “settlement marks a major turning point in the important relationship between Native Americans, our Nation’s first farmers and ranchers, and the USDA”; I venture that I might feel a bit like that, too, if I’d just been given 60 million bucks to keep and a $400 million slush fund to dole out on my whim. “Two and a half years later,” the New York Times reports, “the groups have yet to be chosen. It is unclear how many even exist.”

“It is unclear how many even exist.” What a perfect description of the whole damn mess.


Perhaps the greatest, and the most subtle, of lawyer jokes was written by William Shakespeare in Henry VI: Part II. Explaining how his usurpation of the throne might pan out for the good denizens of England, Jack Cade promises that “there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.” His accomplice, Dick, adds, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

In recent years, there has been some pushback against this line from those who presume that Shakespeare saw lawyers as virtuous guardians of order with which any would-be tyranny would need to dispense. Those who have fallen prey to this conceit perhaps didn’t read the following line, in which Cade agrees:

That I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? That parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings: but I say, ’tis the bee’s wax; for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.

Wax or no wax, the bee stings. Unless, that is, you can get the government to work hand in hand with the bee, have him scribble “$50,000” on that parchment, and hand it out willy-nilly to all comers — having taken 20 percent for himself, of course.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.


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