Defense attorney Drew Justice responded to a motion to stop him from referring to prosecutors as 'the government' in a Williamson County, Tenn., court with a demand to be called "Captain Justice." (Photo: The Tennessean)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When prosecutors in Williamson County tried to ban a defense attorney from referring to them as "the government" in court, defense attorney Drew Justice had a demand of his own:
From now on, call me "Captain Justice."
A war of words broke out in an attempted aggravated burglary case in Williamson County Circuit Court between prosecutors and Justice, who is defending one of two people in the case. In May, fed up with Justice referring to prosecutors as "the government," Assistant District Attorney Tammy Rettig filed a motion to ban Justice from using the term in trial.
"The State has noticed in the past few years that it has become commonplace during trials for attorneys for defendants, and especially Mr. Justice, to refer to State's attorneys as 'the Government,' " she wrote in her motion. "The State believes that such a reference is used in a derogatory way and is meant to make the State's attorney seem oppressive and to inflame the jury."
Justice fired off his own motion in response. It included conventional references to case law, the First Amendment - technical stuff that one would expect in a court filing.
And then he got creative.
If the court sided with Rettig, he demanded his client no longer be referred to as "the Defendant," but instead be called "Mister," "the Citizen Accused" or "that innocent man" - since all defendants are presumed innocent until a judge or jury finds them guilty. As for himself, clearly "lawyer" or "defense attorney" wouldn't do him, well, justice.
"Rather, counsel for the Citizen Accused should be referred to primarily as the 'Defender of the Innocent.' ... Alternatively, counsel would also accept the designation 'Guardian of the Realm,' " Justice wrote.
And since prosecutors are often referred to formally as "General" in court, Justice, in an effort to be flexible, offered up a military title of his own.
"Whenever addressed by name, the name 'Captain Justice' will be appropriate."
Gathering steam, he went on to say that even "the defense" wasn't adequate and that "the Resistance" would be far more appropriate.
He then concluded his motion, returning to the formal language of court documents - sort of.
"WHEREFORE, Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance, primarily asks that the Court deny the State's motion, as lacking legal basis."
Rettig couldn't be reached to comment on her motion or Justice's response because she was in court Thursday.Her boss, Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper, said her prosecutor was just trying to make sure the focus stayed on the facts of the case.
"We're a little disappointed at the response that talked about 'Captain Justice, Defender of the Realm,' " Helper said. "From my perspective, it seemed a little bit - I don't know what the right word would be. The response did not appear to be in good faith."
Justice didn't want to talk about the specifics of the case but said the judge recently tossed out Rettig's motion in court.
"He said the word 'government' wasn't derogatory," he said.
All in a day's work for Captain Justice.