Towards the end of this episode, Walt insults Saul by telling him that he’s not Clarence Darrow. In fact, Walt sneers at his advertising tactics and says that Saul’s nothing but a “two-bit bus bench lawyer.” Ouch.
|"Attorney for the Damned"|
Clarence Darrow (1857 – 1938) was a firebrand attorney who was best known for defending teenage “thrill killers” Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in 1924 and for defending John T. Scopes in the famed “monkey trial” in Tennessee a year later. An ardent believer that everyone, no matter what crime had been committed or what sacred cow had being tipped, had the fundamental right to a zealous defense by a sharp, committed attorney, Darrow is a model to idealistic lawyers to this day. (Also, in keeping with Breaking Bad's use of poetry to advance the plot, it's worth noting that Darrow's longtime law partner was the poet Edgar Lee Masters, who wrote Spoon River Anthology. He also wrote three poems about Darrow.)
Darrow was not without his faults, both personally (he conducted a lengthy affair) and professionally. In 1911, he defended the McNamara brothers in separate trials. The brothers, who were active in the early labor movement and had a violent streak, were accused of causing a fire that killed 21 people when an incompetently-built bomb went off early. Although he managed to save the brothers from the death penalty, accusations that Darrow was involved in bribing jurors in both trials have strong evidence to support them and have dogged his reputation ever since.
The Leopold and Loeb case involved two well-off young men who killed a 14-year-old neighbor for the sheer excitement of it. Nathan Leopold was 19-year-old law student at the University of Chicago and Richard Loeb was the youngest person to ever graduate from the University of Michigan – these were not underprivileged, downtrodden youth. Darrow, who was a vocal opponent of the death penalty, had an unusual and risky strategy – he convinced both Leopold and Loeb to plead guilty to avoid a jury trial and concentrated on saving the murderers from the death penalty. His closing argument lasted for 12 hours and neither murderer was sentenced to death. His closing argument was published and became a best-seller throughout several editions.
In 1925, Darrow defended John T. Scopes on the charge of teaching the theory of evolution in a public educational institution in defiance of Tennessee law. (The trial is the basis, albeit a loose one, for the play Inherit the Wind.) Darrow lost that one, although Scopes’ conviction and $100 fine were reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court a year later.
Darrow had a fascinating career beyond these two cases and he routinely chose unpopular clients and causes, causing his friend Lincoln Steffens to refer to him as “the attorney for the damned.” Years before the Civil Rights movement would gain steam, Darrow was unafraid to dive headlong into racially-charged cases, such as successfully defending blacks who were accused of murder when a lynch mob arrived to drive them from their home in an all-white neighborhood.
Darrow was an articulate, shrewd, passionate lawyer. However, strong evidence exists that Darrow’s handling of the McNamara cases involved shaky ethics. Despite that lapse – which is a doozy, should it ever be definitively proven – Walt’s right. Saul is no Darrow, although he certainly defends his clients and he can be articulate when circumstances warrant.
But Walt’s wrong in his other name-calling. Judging from Saul’s percentages, the “two-bit” appellation Walt throws out is downright unfair. Further, Darrow was known to take cases for the Constitutional principles behind them – Saul uses the Constitution as office wallpaper.
So there it is! Don't forget - even with the push, Ensley's continuing to post "Meth Monday" over at his blog and there's "Walter White Wednesday" here!