Comparing deceit in the legal system of the Soviet Union to that of the Swiss (contd.)
As to Point 1: Concealment of evidence
Comparing the long-dead Soviet legal system to the Swiss seems an absurdity at first thought. A totalitarian system versus a premier democracy? Yet a prime means of deception in the Soviet legal system has its counterpart in the Swiss: the concealment of evidence.
The Soviet system concealed evidence to prevent embarrassment to the State; in the Swiss system, the same strategy can be– and was– used to prevent institutional embarrassment. This is a valid conclusion from the case that follows below, which reached the level of legal appeal, if it is assumed that this case is representative. (The assumption of some ubiquity enjoys support that will be discussed in a later blog entry.)
A scientist at a Swiss university was charged with libel for sending emails to colleagues. The emails were provocative, reflecting the seriousness of various improprieties in administration and science that had taken place. To be sure, these emails followed months of complaints to responsible offices that should have corrected the circumstances but did not.
In defense to the charge of libel, the scientist wished to present evidence that pointed to gross misconduct. The evidence was in the form of documents and witnesses.
First and foremost among the evidence was a concealed university employment contract. It stipulated that the scientist provide editing services to a professor and his students in pharmacology. The contract had significance; it arose from past successes in editing and established the credentials of the scientist as having been an effective proofer/editor of research papers. His efforts had indeed increased the publication rate in his own department substantially. The positive reputation was bolstered by other institutions that had asked for his services. Moreover, a researcher at his own university had requested his aid in formulating a grant proposal. For this purpose he had purchased, specifically for the editor, a MacBook Air for work while commuting.
It was in the capacity of proofer/editor that the scientist became aware of research that had not been– and that could not be– repeated in their own laboratory. The research had been published in a major international journal. Confronted by a PhD student who spent considerable time in frustration in failed attempts to duplicate the published paper, the scientist contacted the first author of the non-repeatable work for his insights. The author replied that he had been able to achieve the published result “only once.” He was not aware of the requirement for repeatability.
The scientist then raised issues of quality with his superior.
It was at this time that the scientist was abruptly removed from his position as instructor and editor, in dramatic fashion. The removal took the form of an accusation of sexual harassment. On that basis, the scientist was given 48 hours to leave campus, terminating a teaching assignment and all other duties. Simultaneously, a communications blackout took effect. Communications with students and fellow scientists were cut off. Students were warned not to contact the scientist. Among others, a major scientific collaborate with the University of California, spawned by what emerged to appear as dubious research, was abruptly terminated, or perhaps better said completely neglected. No reason was provided to the scientist or to the University of California for a failure to communicate.
The actual accusation of sexual harassment, the pretense for the immediate removal of the scientist, had a brief life. It appears to have been an accusation of convenience. When challenged legally for its absurdity, the accusation suddenly … vanished. Moreover, it was then officially declared that the accusation had, in fact, never been made! This denial was strategic in nature; it prevented legal defense or the presentation of counter evidence (counter evidence to an accusation that has never been made would be nonsensical) or an exploration as to what had led to the accusation. This official denial, that an accusation of sexual harassment had not been made, occurred despite the written declaration by the university stating sexual harassment as the initial grounds for dismissal.
In its legal place, however, came the charge of libel for emails sent.
Left unexplained now were the actual grounds for dismissal, for violations of employment contracts and, even more so, the unusual, abrupt termination of the scientist’s duties and active collaborations. The extreme nature of the dismissal implied an equally shocking, extreme act as its progenitor– violence related perhaps. (Some students conjectured rape, to equal the unusually abrupt termination.) There had been no such act or threat, but the impression served the purpose of engendering fear. While there was no just cause for the accusation, there had been questioning regarding what might necessitate the retraction of a published science paper. That, of course, constituted a threat to the responsible parties.
A lawyer was now instructed by the scientist to defend the charge of libel. Evidence from the following list of serious improprieties was provided as motivation for the written emails at issue:
– concealment of an employee’s role in proofing/editing research papers;
– concealment of university employment contracts (for teaching and editing);
– failure to remunerate contracted services already performed;
– emails indicating university blacklisting and ghosting of a scientist;
– emails pointing to coercion of a student;
– indications that a published research paper did not qualify for publication;
– improper administrative conduct vis-à-vis an employee;
– unprofessional termination of a major research project with the University of California;
– indications of perjury by a university representative (in the appeal).
– promotion of a doctoral student whose unqualified status was concealed
The court, however, was never apprised of the above evidence by the defense.
With the concealment of the above evidence a narrative to replace reality could be now be formulated. To reference the Chernobyl miniseries again, the narrative could reflect the needs of the “State” (i.e. the institution in this case, the university):
– “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.”
Here, according to the “State” and as officially argued in court, the scientist played no role at the university.
Notably, the stance for the prosecution in court did not appear in the form of the district attorney’s office itself. Instead, it was put forth by a law professor representing three professors at the university. This, a number of lawyers and cantonal professional lawyer chambers had assured, constituted a clear “conflict of interest.” Despite repeated objections to what had been labeled as unethical conduct by defense lawyers, no action was taken to stop this unusual procedure.
By the prosecution’s false contention that there were no employment contracts with the university, there could thus be no obligations. Astoundingly and brazenly, a university witness claimed that there was also no knowledge of the research collaboration with the University of California (despite a Material Transfer Agreement, with the name of the supervisor at its top line and communications throughout). The MTA was simply concealed from the court by the lawyers. The university, through its lawyer, disavowed knowledge of the scientist or his role as editor/proofer.
The emails that were claimed to be libelous had been formulated in an atmosphere of the most serious misconduct at the university. But there was no misconduct to be seen in the courtroom. No one to blame, nothing to be called wrong, except for a scientist spreading reckless information.
Two key elements of evidence in the case were, above all, the contract for editing services and also the Material Transfer Agreement with the University of California. Both documents could have led to the disclosure of scientific wrongdoing. A lucrative scientific collaboration promising research funding is not cast aside abruptly, with unprofessional termination of communications … unless… unless fear that application in practice could have imposed reality in an unflattering form emerged.
After months of preparation, with the trial date nearing, the defense lawyer had abruptly demanded one day that the scientist settle the case, exonerating the university. When the scientist objected and insisted on providing a background for the emails, the lawyer threatened him, in writing, with “punishment” if he continued to insist on providing evidence in a courtroom. The scientist persisted, and the lawyer terminated his services, refusing to take his client to a trial for which he had prepared for many months. An appeal to the judge was fruitless. After a new lawyer was hired, the judge then also refused to provide time for the new lawyer to prepare for trial. On that basis, the new lawyer also avoided attending the trial. The scientist had no choice but to attend the trial unrepresented legally and, perhaps as intended, was found guilty of libel.
An appeal was ordered. The new lawyer initially promised to present the exculpatory evidence. At the appeal, however, he simply reneged on his word, putting forth technical arguments implicating no one in wrongdoing, but that the judge dismissed, rather derisively, as either too late or too inadequate.
Both of the defense lawyers in this case, one by attempted coercion and termination of services, the second less blatant but more devious, concealed critical evidence that would have shown serious failures in science and administration by a major Swiss university.
For the scientist, all contractual obligations were denied. He was isolated and deprived of exercising his expertise in his field, a career ended.
Few would question how totalitarian systems conceal evidence. What is surprising is that the exact same deprivation can happen in Switzerland, less outwardly egregious or thuggish perhaps, but just as effective.
The sorcerer succeeds at trickery because he distracts our focus. Corrupt lawyers have us turn our gaze away from the tricks of the trade for several reasons, not least including fear by the average person of involvement in the legal system. Too often these lawyers succeed in their deceit, even in peak democracies.
The critic’s credibility was officially erased by the court record; whatever pronouncement he made or would make had no validity. He was effectively disconnected from the scientific community, a disappeared non-entity. And no longer a threat to the status quo.
Irrespective of motivation or intent or attributing forethought, this is true: upon demand for evidence and an attempt at defense, a written accusation of sexual harassment at a Swiss university abruptly vanished and was declared officially as never having been made. The unsubstantiated accusation, however, eliminated a critic questioning poor research quality and other misconduct far out of line at a university. The criticism was undercut and rendered mute, as university contracts for teaching and for scientific editing were concealed by lawyers, both by the defense and by the law professor representing the university.
The critic was effectively cast as an irresponsible non-entity making unsubstantiated claims. His career was ended in ignobility, a price that needed to be paid to keep misconduct at upper hierarchical levels from exposure or scrutiny.
De facto, the Swiss legal system was misused to achieve precisely what the Soviet system achieved rather more openly, as it encouraged and supported a culture of cover up of scientific and administrative wrongdoing at a major university, thereby maintaining a false image of appropriate conduct.
Part 3 to follow: Methods and mechanisms of legal system dysfunction; as to Point 2 taken from the Soviet system.
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