In the Land of the Midnight Semantics

(I hope that loyal readers of this weblog will forgive a brief foray off-topic.)

In the recent case of Crane v. State, — P.3d —-, 2005 WL 1926464 (Alaska App., 2005), the Alaska Court of Appeals was asked to examine whether there are substantive differences between the terms “counselor” and “attorney”.

Petitioner Crane was charged with drunk driving. While awaiting trial, he asserted that the court had no jurisdiction over him because he could not obtain the assistance of counsel, as there were no “counselors at law” in Alaska. He contended that there is a legal distinction between “counselors at law” and “attorneys” and that there were no “counselors at law” available to him because Alaska only licenses “attorneys”.

In rejecting Crane’s arguments, the court issued a somewhat lengthy opinion examining the history of the relevant terms. It discussed the etymology of the various words, looking to their origins in French, and also the ways in which the terms had been used in early sources such as the Blackstone Commentaries.

The court noted that the common law did in fact distinguish between “attorneys” and “counselors at law”, but concluded that this distinction no longer exists in Alaska. Instead, attorneys perform both functions. The court further noted that in 1976, the legislature repealed the statute that specified the procedure for admission to the practice of law in Alaska, but gave rule-making authority to the Board of Governors of the Alaska Bar Association, so that the admission procedure could be specified by court rule.

Crane v. State, — P.3d —-, 2005 WL 1926464 (Alaska App., August 12, 2005).