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ISSUE 118 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/18/2005

Aggression shown towards lawmakers: Lawyers, judges worldwide deserve more protection from violence

By Andrea Horbinski
Copy Editor

Friday, March 18, 2005

The notion of justice around the world has suffered some troubling setbacks in the past few weeks. On March 2, a member of the Iraqi tribunal which is trying Saddam Hussein, Barwiz Mahmoud Marwani, and his son, a lawyer working with the tribunal, were shot dead while leaving their house in Baghdad.

In Chicago, Ill. on March 7, Judge Joan Lefkow of the United States District Court found her husband Michael Lefkow, a lawyer, and her 89-year-old mother, Donna Humphrey, shot dead in her home.

Investigators initially suspected the involvement of Matthew Hale, a white supremacist who is currently imprisoned and awaiting sentencing for soliciting Lefkow’s murder.

However, on March 10, Bart A. Ross committed suicide after confessing to the murders in his suicide note. His note also explained that he had planned to assassinate Judge Lefkow.

Last year, Lefkow had dismissed Ross’s case, in which he accused the judiciary of treason and terrorism and sought damages of one billion dollars relating to a medical malpractice claim.

Murdering barristers is not a new concept. In the early 1590’s, William Shakespeare penned the line, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” for a play set in the fifteenth century.

Judging from the amount of lawyer jokes I’ve heard in my life, many people still think Shakespeare had the right idea.

They couldn’t be more wrong. In Shakespeare’s play “Henry VI,” from which the quote is taken, the king’s evil advisors want to kill the lawyers because they are the ones who stand up for people’s rights. In our own society, lawyers, and especially those who become judges, fulfill the same essential role: They protect the governed from their governors, as well as from any others who would do them harm.

Those who carp about American litigiousness and lawyers in general miss this point entirely.

Ironically, litigiousness was a concern in Elizabethan times as well; Shakespeare was playing to his audience’s sentiments.

However, while litigiousness is a burden, and an unscrupulous minority of lawyers give the profession a bad name, we should not blind ourselves to the fact that litigiousness is merely taking the right to sue for granted.

In fact, we ought to be glad we have the right to sue in the first place. (Congress’ recent limiting of class action suits’ scopes is particularly worrisome for this reason alone.)

In developing democracies, such rights are far too novel to be taken for granted, but for the same reason, they are infinitely more vulnerable.

Judge Marwani’s killers probably hoped to undermine Iraq’s U.S.-supported interim government by assassinating him. While one double murder alone will not topple the government in Iraq, or explode the American legal system, these acts of violence are worrisome.

Democracy rests no less on the power of the people and representative government than it does on an independent judiciary endowed with the capacity to make decisions which not only are, but also seem, impartial.

For this reason, ensuring the physical safety of judges in and out of the courthouse ought to be a fundamental priority of all modern democracies.

As Judge Lefkow declared during the Hale proceedings, “A party should not be allowed to intimidate a judge off a case.”

This principle holds equally true in Iraq, in America and around the world. The danger of violence against judges lies in its capacity to dissuade judges from hearing cases, lawyers from applying to become judges and honest people from becoming lawyers.

If the law is left in the hands of the crooked and the cowardly, democracy will have suffered a critical blow.

Judge Lefkow had police protection during the Hale trial, but obviously judges cannot be constantly escorted .

Indeed, no one should live that way, and human nature is such that attempts to do so would probably fail.

Two Dutch lawmakers in protective custody since November proved as much last month when they disclosed their “secure” locations in an effort to force their government to create safe houses for them in a timely fashion.

Parliament members Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders have received countless death threats since they made remarks condemning militant Islam.

Unfortunately, even if they resign from Parliament, their lives will still be in danger, and that is the crux of the matter.

Although it is perfectly reasonable to provide people in such situations – judges, lawmakers, whomever – with safety measures, there is a limit to how much vigilance can be exercised when the threat is not circumstantial but existential. And as the recent shootings at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta proved, even on-site security can fail.

What must happen instead, then, is a renewed effort to create a society in which the exercise of one’s duties or one’s right to free speech as a private citizen or a representative does not result in death threats.

Ultimately, such a democratic society will be far more secure than one in which judges or representatives have greater security, but also face greater threats.

Copy Editor Andrea Horbinski is a sophomore from Marelton, N.J. She majors in classics and linguistics with a Japanese studies concentration.

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