Joe Scarborough Once Defended the Murderer of an Abortion DoctorS

Dr. George Tiller wasn't the first abortion doctor to be murdered by a pro-life jihadist. In 1993, Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed in Florida by Michael Griffin. Who was Griffin's attorney? MSNBC morning host (and Starbucks lover) Joe Scarborough!

That's right. The Village Voice's Wayne Barrett reminds us, by way of reference to a bracing attack profile he wrote last year about Scarborough, that in Florida in the early 1990s—before he was a congressman or a lovably irascible co-host for MSNBC's Morning Joe—Scarborough served as Griffin's lawyer in the Gunn case free of charge.

The history makes one wonder what Scarborough has to say about Tiller's murder, and if he disclosed his relationship with Griffin when he discussed it on the air. There are no transcripts of Morning Joe available, so we don't really know. But Google turns up no statements from Scarborough that we can find. And the Morning Joe web site features 40 clips from the show going back to May 29, none of which, as far as we can tell (we didn't watch them all), deal with Tiller.

The only discussion of Tiller on Morning Joe that an MSNBC spokeswoman could confirm was a news update read by Mika Brzezinski on Monday's broadcast. She couldn't provide specific quotes, or say whether Scarborough talked about the case or disclosed his previous advocacy for an abortion provider's killer. An e-mail to Scarborough wasn't immediately returned.

Scarborough describes himself as a "family friend" of the Griffins. He was a civil attorney, and told the Voice that he initially represented Griffin only while the accused man searched for a qualified criminal attorney. After Griffin's arrest, there was some confusion about who would represent him. At one point in June 1993, Griffin demanded that his court-appointed attorney be taken off the case and replaced with Scarborough. In the end, criminal defense attorney Bob Kerrigan took the case, but Scarborough represented Griffin from March to June of that year. Scarborough told the Voice last year that it was absurd to think that a judge would allow him, with limited criminal defense experience, to sit on a potential death-penalty case. He was just a caretaker attorney, doing a favor for a family friend. In press coverage from the time, he was quoted explaining his client's legal theory behind subpoenaing as-yet-unborn children as material witnesses in his case:

Griffin family atty. Joe Scarborough said Griffin's attempt to delay the trial for unborn witnesses "may have been an attempt to set the stage for a defense argument that the doctor's death was necessary to prevent what he considered a greater evil— abortion."

But Griffin himself, in two handwritten letters to the Voice, told a different story, saying Scarborough was eager to stay involved in his defense but was barred by the judge:

Griffin, who is doing a life sentence, sent two handwritten letters in response to Voice inquiries, maintaining that Scarborough tried to stay on the trial team. He says that Kerrigan and Scarborough brought motion papers to him, which he signed, that would have kept Scarborough on as co-counsel. He maintains that "the judge rejected it" at an informal meeting outside the courtroom. According to Griffin, Joe told him "several times" that he would represent him at trial and that he "had three friends still in law school who would help him," adding: "I have an exact memory on this point."

Joe Scarborough Once Defended the Murderer of an Abortion Doctor

The next year, Scarborough won a congressional seat with the help of $15,210 from the National Right to Life Committee.

Every criminal defendant needs a lawyer, no matter how loathsome. So Scarborough's representation of Griffin, whether it was fleeting or purposeful, is no shame. But given the fact that Scarborough has always been fiercely pro-life, one wonders whether he was motivated by a concern for the rights of the accused or by ideological kinship.