Ian Friedman, managing partner of Friedman & Nemecek in Cleveland, discussed his philosophy and perspective as a lawyer in a June 14 interview with the Cleveland Jewish News at his downtown office. He is the newly elected president of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.
Practicing law for 21 years, he has been part of the bar association for 17 years. He also teaches cybercrime at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, a specialty that moves too fast to use textbooks, he said.
How did you get involved in the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association?
I started as trial counsel for our grievance committee. … We have a dedicated grievance committee that deals with claims of disciplinary violations for lawyers in our region. So I began as a young lawyer working those cases before the Ohio Supreme court to request kind of a check. It was a good opportunity that got me involved very early.
Have you been involved in the disciplinary process since then?
I’ve kind of been on all sides of it. Then, obviously, I prosecuted the cases. Now in private practice, I’ve represented lawyers who have been accused of ethics violations. I’ve even served as an expert witness. I’ve really seen it from all sides.
How well does the disciplinary process work in Ohio?
Often times people think when you’re self-regulated, you're kind of looking out for each other. That’s not the case. We want to help each other if we can. But we’re not going to tolerate conduct that reflects poorly upon the profession. It’s not going to happen. …. If you look in our bar journals every month, you’ll see lawyers who’ve been disciplined ... and there’s nothing easy or light or protective about it. ... We’re protecting the profession. And we’re making sure that those that we serve are protected because that’s our obligation. So the client is who we’re looking out for.
Why defend cyber-criminals?
We were looking at the issues of addiction. There was a time where people would whisper if somebody had an alcohol problem. It’s the same way for drugs. Sex, which also has its own 12-step recognition, does not. That one people are still whispering (about). We have been involved in the research and the presentation of the mental health components of obsessive-compulsive disorders relating to sexual misconduct. I would represent defendants. But I’ve also represented victims as well. … You still have to fight for the rights in these cases because precedent that’s set in these cases applies to all areas of the law and to all people who find themselves under the watch or scrutiny of the government. If you allow those rights to be diminished merely because of the heinous nature of the crime, then those protections won’t be in place the next time someone who is perhaps innocent finds themselves sitting in the defendant’s chair. It’s not the nature of the crime. A true criminal defense lawyer is not going to shy away from an offense because it’s not popular. In fact, those are the cases where you need the best lawyer.
What is your perspective on increased government surveillance?
As it relates to surveillance, we’ve seen a number of laws go into play that have eroded people’s privacy. There’s no question today that it is extremely difficult to go off the grid, so to speak. The government and private entities have our data, have really our most vital information, that which we want to keep near and dear to ourselves. It’s out there today. So, am I concerned about it? Sure, I’m concerned about it. When acts and initiatives go into play by the government and they say it’s for national security, you know it’s to protect the citizens of the United States, it may be well-intended, but we also really have to read the fine print to see what falls under that. Unfortunately, in an effort to achieve and to protect citizens and so forth, it’s a broad net. And a lot of people are getting caught up in it. And also, I have found that the decreased privacy, it just keeps getting chipped away a little bit more and a little bit more, so that each time it’s a new normal. It’s not such a far leap to get that next chip. It’s scary. People are now finding it normal when employers want to keep track of people. That’s something that would have been unheard of 20 years ago. I will tell you that in my line of work … there’s a lot out there that we can utilize to test their allegations and claims.
How did you decide to become a lawyer?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always felt the need to protect, make sure that people have a fair fight and I have no tolerance for bullies. In fourth grade I did my first debate against capital punishment, and while the logic may have been somewhat flawed, the intent was spot on.
Does your background as a Jew have any impact on the way that you practice law?
I think it does, actually. … The principles of Judaism lead to my practice of fairness. And that’s really what I’m seeking at the end of the day... a fair process. Sometimes when people ask that same question -- how can you do what you do -- we’re just making sure the process works, making sure it’s fair. My personal experiences have just reinforced my resolve to make sure that people are not pushed around, make sure that those who typically don’t have a voice can protect themselves and can push back.