Anyone with an ego so big his visage fits only across the side of a building (see June Bug's in the West End) is bad-ass enough to tongue lash a judge, bum-rushing the bench without so much as "Your honor, may I approach?"
I've known Kenneth "Law Dog" Lawson for some years. Back when he was Leslie Gaines' protégée in the Reading Road law firm in Avondale that advertised late-night commercials with criminal appeal and back when he'd answer his cell phone mid-service at Lincoln Heights Missionary Baptist Church.
I sucked my teeth over some of his scummier clients and roared when he confronted city council, scowling and yelling, in the pre-riot wake of Timothy Thomas' murder. This nigga is and always will be a well-dressed, loud, sometimes foul-mouthed defender of the people the rest of us don't ever want to get near.
Count your blessings if he's on your side. Take it like a man if he's not.
His camps fall in either/or absolutes: You love Lawson or you hate him. Whatever.
There's no denying he's a wily legal scholar capable of a remarkable legal legacy.
That is, if he can drop the Johnnie Cochran antics and cable TV theatrics.
A brash (some say arrogant) and flashy believer in courtroom fights to the death, Lawson is known as much for defending street-level dope boys using racial profiling as a defense as he is for representing money-shot cases like Angela Leisure's against the city of Cincinnati. And he wins, sometimes by loophole or sometimes via a next-to-nothing sentence for heinous crimes.
Given Lawson's legacy and, more accurately, his reputation, his Dec. 10 rant against Common Pleas Judge David Davis in Stephen Hill's sexual predator hearing wasn't surprising. It was Lawson's Theory of Criminal Defense 101. Classic.
"No, I don't want to have a fight. I want to have a fair hearing," Lawson told Davis as he advanced on the bench. It's how street fighters get down. They get in close before deciding which weapons to pull.
After Lawson accused the judge of bias and of scoffing at one of his witnesses, the hearing disintegrated when Davis finally ended the proceedings and on Dec. 13 recused himself from the case, sending the whole sordid thing back to a presiding judge for reassignment.
"All I want to do is get my client a fair hearing," Lawson said.
The fucked-up part is Lawson might have jeopardized Hill's chances of serving out the remaining four years of his five-year sentence for sexual battery, to which Hill had already pleaded guilty.
It's unsettling to think that Hill — a troubled man who, although married, claims to have had 175 gay sexual partners and who was allegedly dressed as a girl as punishment by his father and who posed as a woman to coerce four teen-aged boys into sex with him — might be excessively ensnarled in the justice system because Lawson showed his ass in court.
This isn't the rhyming effervescence of "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." This is Lawson overreacting, bringing years of similar courtroom antics to a head.
Previously, his flamboyant outbreaks were talked about only within the incestuous legal community. Now that Davis hasn't cited Lawson for contempt and his antics have bridged talk radio grist for days now, what'll become of Lawson?
Not metaphysically. Legally.
Will he get to yell accusatorially at judges on whims of rage and emotion while his desperate clients literally look on?
And what of the judges? Shouldn't Davis, in recusing himself, have leveled at the very least a finger-wagging sermon at Lawson in lieu of not citing him for contempt?
Maybe I've been watching too many courtroom TV dramas, but what kind of judicial precedent does this set? Whatever happened to judges pissing around their territory and keeping airtight control of their courtrooms?
Is our legal system prone to some kind of ass-backward reparations by which disproportionate numbers of black defendants can be disrespectfully defended by brash black attorneys daring judges into sideline fights?
Then there's Hill, who looks so mind-numbingly medicated he might not even know where he is. Now another new judge holds Hill's fate that Lawson was retained to guarantee.
If that judge rejects the whole package, he can start the case all over, leaving Hill vulnerable to a longer sentence, possibly life.
There are so many lessons at play here, least of which is just don't ever get tangled up in the legal system. Too easy.
Also there's this: Check the fighter fighting your battles. Remember, he might have an outsized ego.
Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.