Part 1: Three Swiss Lawyers and Their Role in Something Rather Unusual

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Comparing deceit in the legal system of the Soviet Union to the Swiss.

The following story describes the deliberate concealment of evidence by lawyers in a case involving both administrative and scientific misconduct at a Swiss university. What is remarkable here is that, all along a range of responsibilities and time, no one dared say, “No” to the abuse of Swiss law, work ethics or fairness. And make no mistake… lawyer misconduct was sanctioned at the top of the legal profession in this case.

Switzerland is a country ranked at low levels of institutional corruption. It also ranks high among the societies most likely to return a lost wallet containing money to its owner. Both hallmarks are commendable indeed and largely also representative of the culture. Yet in both categories Switzerland is not ranked at number one. The point being… white does not equal being immaculate. The account of legal system corruption that follows here may well explain how corruption can exist in Switzerland.

A favorite quote comes from Bobby Kennedy, the assassinated former Attorney General of the United States and Senator, who, upon investigating the convolutions of his brother President John Kennedy’s assassination, said, “I found out something I never knew. I found out that my world was not the real world.”

Kennedy’s observation about the failure of general experience and common understanding applying to different world’s becomes particularly relevant when they are naively transferred and applied to the legal system. Two worlds can juxtapose but still be world’s apart.

With considerable consternation as a result, his quote could also apply to the workings of the Swiss legal system, including extrapolating parallels between the Swiss legal system and, remarkably, that of the former Soviet Union. Preposterous that, we should all be able to agree. Yet, if both of the legal models are removed from the showroom floor and driven on hard pavement, there is little choice to making just such a comparison.

What demanded this seemingly inappropriate comparison between a totalitarian legal system and the legal system of one of the oldest democracies in the world? By coincidence, it was the televised presentation of the historical mini-series drama, Chernobyl. At the conclusion of the series, an analysis of what caused a disaster in the Soviet Union led to the following observations:

­            – “The idea of a system that was infallible, and the fear of people to point out any flaws or mistakes.

Everything  had  to be perfect;”

– “You had to pretend that it was perfect;”

– “Whether the idea of a perfect nation or belief, it leads to the exclusion of facts;”

– “It is more convenient to believe in comfortable truths than to face facts, difficult choices and  realities.”

Considering these observations, a dark cloud first appeared, followed by a sudden recognition and a complete sense of irony. A totalitarian, long-dead legal system has something in common with the legal system in the one of the world’s oldest democracies. It could not be dismissed­– the preferred image could remain only if the obvious dots were not connected.

The information presented here about the former Soviet legal system comes in part from Masha Gessen, a Russian/American activist/journalist who writes for The New Yorker magazine:

There were three primary means of control/distortion by which the Soviet legal system protected the interests of the State against the emergence of undesirable truths or threats during legal procedures:

1)  evidence to be presented was strictly controlled;
2)  defendant histories were distorted and sullied;
3)  the prosecution, not the judge, controlled the courtroom.

As to 1) If critical evidence can be blocked from appearing in a courtroom, one might well be able to prove that RMS Titanic never sank. Control the evidence and thereby control the perceptions, the heroes and villains, the outcome of a trial, the fate of a defendant – all while protecting the interests of the State.

As to 2) Dehumanization of a victim made the harshest sentence deserved in the Soviet Union. Positive contributions by the individual were eliminated from history. Negative qualities were highlighted. If there were no negative attributes available, they were contrived.

As to 3) The prosecutor served the direct interests of the State. He understood, better than the judge, what was politically permissible and what not, as his instructions came from circles of higher influence. And, of course, for issues of State interest, all of the players were kept in line through intimidation throughout the procedure, i.e. with the KGB.

What could differ more from such proscriptions/misdirections of truth than a Swiss courtroom? On it’s face, the notion of a similarity between the two appears absurd. We are referring to the world’s oldest democracy on the one hand. But if the image embossment is overlaid with an actual trial that took place in Switzerland, a disquieting, indeed highly troubling picture begins to emerge:

“I found out something I never knew. I found out that my world was not the real world.”

In discovering the legal “real world” in Switzerland as exemplified here, however, it will be important to understand that no comparison is being made between Swiss culture and tradition, and the repressive, authoritarian Soviet culture. Instead, the comparison is based only on the hegemony of lawyer culture in the Swiss legal system. Indeed, the Soviet system is gone and buried. Today, Swiss lawyer culture can be said to resemble USA lawyer culture in critical aspects, which will be explained in time. The reason for the dichotomy between the lawyer culture and the societal culture in Switzerland is a matter for a different essay, however. Here we will concentrate on how lawyers protect interests other than those of the defendant or justice.

Part 2 of blog to follow:

Future blog entries will explore how Swiss lawyers, including defense lawyers, served the interests not of a defendant, not of justice, and not of the Swiss “State,” but rather of the lawyer culture and the local political interests in terms of the three categories of control/distortion as mentioned above.

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