The Adegbile situation with Mumia isn’t really the same as the John Adams case with the Boston Massacre soldiers. In that case they were on trial for their lives in an initial criminal proceeding and Adams did not think they could get easily get a fair trial in Boston but felt he could work to save their lives and insure they received said fair trial in part because of his skill as a lawyer and in part probably because of his influence and political power in Massachusetts.
I think it would be hard to criticize any lawyer for choosing to represent a defendant at trial, everyone is supposed to be entitled to a defense.
Now, is it reasonable to criticize filing motions on Adegbile’s behalf in the 2000s, many years after his conviction? From what I can tell the NAACP LDF had been working with Mumia for years before Adegbile was hired and he was just continuing on with prior work that already was being worked before he was hired. It’s not really appropriate as an attorney to drop a client midway through something, which would be what Adegbile would have been doing had he decided to rescind NAACP LDF’s agreement to work on Mumia’s behalf. Anyway, part of the NAACP LDF argument ultimately prevailed in getting Mumia’s death sentence vacated (although that happened, I believe, prior to Adegbile being involved in the matter.) At the point Adegbile became involved they were fighting against Pennsylvania’s appeal of the death sentence being vacated and they were also making three technical legal arguments about Mumia not receiving a fair trial. In that matter Adegbile prevailed in that the Circuit Court affirmed the District Court had appropriately set aside the death penalty, but they failed in their three technical legal claims as they were not found to have merit.
What that tells me is that Mumia was probably sentenced to death with improper jury instructions (and thus it is a good thing he was resentenced), and it also tells me there isn’t compelling evidence his actual conviction was based on a racist jury, improper use of peremptory challenges or a racist judge as the NAACP LDF asserted. So yeah, Mumia is where he belongs, but the technical legal issues the NAACP LDF raised and Adegbile followed up with after he had been hired don’t seem to be “beyond the pale.” I can agree that an organization like the NAACP LDF that has limited resources should probably focus more on defendants that aren’t clearly guilty, but Adegbile did not make the decision to get involved in the Mumia case–and they did save him from an improper sentence of death which suggests there was some legitimate compelling reason to get involved in the case.
I don’t really see too much to criticise Adegbile for, it sounds like he was just involved in technical legal motions that were underway before he ever held the Director position or whatever he held at NAACP LDF. Whether or not the Senate should have rejected him is a different matter, the Constitution says that the Senate can advise on nominees and is required to give consent–it exercised its right not to do so. Important stakeholders were pushing to not approve this guy, and in a sense it was democracy in action. The Democrats love unions and you know the police unions were heavily pushing against Adegbile’s nomination, so I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for Obama or the pro-Adegbile side in this political argument.