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Starr Talks Up The Truth

Facing hostile grand jury witnesses and court challenges from lawyers in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr said Monday that defense attorneys "have a duty not to use their skills to impede the search for truth."

"A good lawyer...must urge the client against steps that are likely to impede the quest for truth," Starr said in a speech prepared for a county bar association in Charlotte, N.C. The speech was rich in allusions to the battles he is fighting in Washington.

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"Imagine the disaster that would consume our profession and our society if lawyers simply shrugged when clients declare their intention to commit perjury," Starr added.

White House lawyers announced Monday they are considering invoking attorney-client privilege grounds to block some testimony by White House lawyer Bruce Lindsey.

Starr suggested in his speech such an appeal was wrongheaded, because courts have already concluded that government lawyers don't have such a privilege in criminal cases involving public officials. Click here for an explanation of attorney-client privilege by CBS News Legal Correspondent Kristin Jeannette-Meyers.

"If you want to expand an existing privilege, to apply it in a new and unusual area, then the place to go is Congress, not the courts," the prosecutor declared.

Starr's speech follows a series of court victories in which he prevailed over the Clinton administration's invocation of executive privilege and effort to keep some Secret Service agents from testifying.

"At what point does a lawyer's manipulation of the system become an obstruction of the truth?" Starr asked.

"Litigants often try to concoct new privileges by contending that their relationship is just as important as the attorney-client relationship or the spousal relationship," he said.

"Countless judicial opinions have reaffirmed that the search for the truth, not service of clients, is the legal system's abiding value," Starr said.

"Even as technicians, lawyers have a duty not to use their skills to impede the search for truth," Starr said.

Drawing on literary characters, including the highly ethical lawyer Atticus Finch in the 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Starr said that today there is "an apparent loss of respect for the truth" in the legal profession.

"Too many of today's lawyers seem to take Mark Twain's aphorism to heart: Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it."

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