Ever hear of Clarence Darrow? You have if you’ve ever heard of the “Monkey Trial” of 1925 in Tennessee, which pitted him against William Jennings Bryan.
But I’m not referring to that here. For that matter, ever hear of Robert Servatius or Dieter Wechtenbruch? History now has an additional name to add to the ranks of these gentlemen, namely Geir Lippestad.
Kim jest Geir Lippestad? “Who is Geir Lippestad?” we see in the Polska headline. Well, before he took on Bryan, Clarence Darrow was famous for accepting legal clients that no one else would touch, such as a pair of teenagers (Leopold and Loeb) accused in 1924 of a sensational murder; Servatius and Wechtenbruch were the defense lawyers for Adolph Eichmann, the key Nazi in the Holocaust who was brought to trial – and executed – in Israel in 1962. For his part, Geir Lippestad has taken up the defence of (alleged) Norwegian mass-killer Anders Breivik at his current trial. (And if you click through, that is him as the second head from the left in the photo up top. Please don’t mistake him with Breivik, the most-rightward figure.)
To be clear, then, these are all admirable characters. Yes, including Lippestad – even though that Oslo legal proceeding has mainly been about Breivik defiantly confirming his guilt and, in effect, mocking the Norwegian state for lacking the death penalty within its arsenal of criminal penalties. Because someone had to function as legal counsel for Eichmann, etc. and similarly someone needs to be there doing the same for Breivik, as odious as he may be. Because that is the mark of a society with the rule of law, that practices true justice, namely that the defendant is offered the maximum opportunity to put forward his side of the story, just to be sure that society’s sanctions (fines, imprisonment, execution in certain other states) are not applied by some horrible mistake to what is actually an innocent man. (As usual with this blog, “his,” “man” and the like are intended to be generic and apply to both genders.)
Further, it is not as if Lippestad is merely some court-appointed lawyer who happened to be in the wrong place in line at the wrong time when the judge had to designate someone to work with Breivik. No, he took the case voluntarily. Or rather (to give credit to where it is really due), his wife had him take the case. That’s even in the first part of the Polish tweet, that his wife persuaded him to step forth, “because democracy demands it.”
Now, this is Norway – pretty decent folk – but that still has not stopped Lippestad having to take up police protection because of all the various threats to his life that he has received for the services he is providing to Breivik. One would expect that all of that is just an ugly patch, and that he will be able to resume his former life with no penalty once his client is dispatched to the harshest sentence that Norwegian jurisprudence is allowed to impose – I suppose life imprisonment. (After all, there has been no attempt by him to deny or even mitigate his guilt in setting off that tremendous car-bomb in Oslo last July, and then shooting down all those young people afterwards on that island.) Still, Polska writer David Charter* does provide a useful service by taking the spotlight off the accused for a little bit to consider other players caught in their own poignant situations by the awfulness of this crime.
* A curiously non-Polish name! Is this piece actually taken (and translated) from some other publication? I find no indication that it is.