Prosecutor Asks That She Not Be Called 'the Government' Because the Term Is 'Derogatory'

Last month a Tennessee judge overseeing a burglary case
a pretrial motion in which the prosecution requested
that it not be referred to as “the Government” because that term is
“derogatory.” In the May 22 motion,
Assistant District Attorney General Tammy J. Rettig noted with
alarm that “it has become commonplace during trials for attorneys
for defendants, and especially Mr. [Drew] Justice [the defendant’s
lawyer], to refer to State’s attorneys as ‘the Government’
repeatedly during trial.” Rettig worried that “such a reference is
used in a derogatory way and is meant to make the State’s attorneys
seem oppressive and to inflame the jury.” She added that “attempts
to make the jury dislike the State’s attorney have no place in the
courtroom.” She therefore urged Williamson County Circuit Court
Judge Michael Binkley to bar Justice from using the
g-word during the trial and instead refer to her as
“General Rettig, the Assit District Attorney General, Mrs. Rettig,
or simply the State of Tennessee.”

In his response,
Justice argued that such an order would violate the First
Amendment. Should Judge Binkley nevertheless see fit to comply with
Rettig’s request, Justice said, he also should consider a few other
speech limits in the interest of neutral terminology:

First, the Defendant no longer wants to be called “the
Defendant.” This rather archaic term of art, obviously has a fairly
negative connotation. It unfairly demeans, and dehumanizes Mr.
Donald Powell. The word “defendant” should be banned. At trial, Mr.
Powell hereby demands be addressed only by his full name, preceded
by the title “Mister.” Alternatively, he may be called simply “the
Citizen Accused.” This latter title sounds more respectable than
the criminal “Defendant.” The designation “That innocent man” would
also be acceptable.

Moreover, defense counsel does not wish to be referred to as a
“lawyer,” or a “defense attorney.” Those terms are substantially
more prejudicial than probative….Rather, counsel for the Citizen
Accused should be referred to primarily as the “Defender of the
Innocent.” This title seems particularly appropriate, because every
Citizen Accused is presumed innocent. Alternatively, counsel would
also accept the designation “Guardian of the Realm.” Further, the
Citizen Accused humbly requests an appropriate military title for
his own representative, to match that of the opposing counsel.
Whenever addressed by name, the name “Captain Justice” will be
appropriate. While less impressive than “General,” still, the more
humble term seems suitable. After all, the Captain represents only
a Citizen Accused, whereas the General represents an entire

Along these same lines, even the term “defense” does not sound
very likeable. The whole idea of being defensive, comes across to
most people as suspicious. So to prevent the jury from being
unfairly misled by this ancient English terminology, the opposition
to the Plaintiff hereby names itself “the Resistance.” Obviously,
this terminology need only extend throughout the duration of the
trial—not to any pre-trial motions. During its heroic struggle
against the State, the Resistance goes on the attack, not just the

The good news is not only that Justice triumphed but that even
the Government concedes that “the Government” has a negative

[Thanks to Allen St. Pierre for the tip.]

from Hit & Run

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