Last week embattled New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, currently appealing a 211-game suspension from Major League Baseball for violations of the league’s PED policies, hired a New York criminal defense attorney named Joe Tacopina to help with his case. (Rodriguez has not been charged with a crime.) As Yahoo Sports noted, the New York Post once wrote that Tacopina was perhaps the “most hated lawyer in New York." Given the number of unpopular lawyers currently practicing in Manahttan, that’s quite a claim. How did the Post decide to give Tacopina the title?
For one thing, he’s outspoken and showy. The initial Post article notes that Tacopina’s critics consider him “an Italian-American version of Johnnie Cochran, down to the flashy style. He wears window-pane suits and a $6,500 Panerai watch. He's on TV more than Jeff Probst. He loves Italian soccer.” (The monster!) In the days since he was hired by A-Rod, Tacopina has certainly lived up to this part of his reputation. Last week he publicly accused the Yankees of trying to sabotage Rodriguez’s health and career. This morning Tacopina gave a lively if not particularly successful interview on the Today show. You can understand why his peers might think him crass.
But, again, lots of lawyers are publicity hounds. Tacopina’s “most hated” status seems to derive more from the sense that “he’ll represent any scumbag,” as an unnamed prosecutor told the Post. The outrage here seems to center less on how Tacopina defends his clients, but rather that he defends them at all. In the past Tacopina has represented Kenneth Moreno, a former NYPD cop accused of raping a woman while on duty; Joran van der Sloot, suspected in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway; and Hiram Monserrate, a former New York state senator accused of assaulting his girlfriend.
But you know what? Even scumbags deserve a vigorous defense. Criminal defendants are not obliged to just lay down and accept the charges against them simply because the public disapproves of their alleged crimes. Similarly, it would be unethical for a lawyer to offer a timid defense for his client just because that client is widely loathed.
At present it’s hard to get more “widely loathed” than Alex Rodriguez, who is just the sort of pariah client on whom Tacopina has built his career. But that doesn’t necessarily explain why Rodriguez chose to hire him. Rodriguez is very, very rich, and could certainly have afforded to hire any number of excellent lawyers who could effectively plead his case without simultaneously making asses of themselves on national television. So why choose someone who is so closely associated with losers and scumbags? Bad judgment on A-Rod’s part? Maybe. Or maybe Rodriguez realizes that, sometimes, sideshow tactics work. A couple of years ago, facing charges that he had lied to Congress about his alleged steroid use, Roger Clemens hired a bombastic lawyer named Rusty Hardin, who huffed and puffed his way through various interviews proclaiming his client’s innocence. Clemens won the case.