Sunday, October 23, 2016

Life is Full of Surprises

At the end of my judicial career, I was a frustrated; unhappy about my decision in late 1990's for accepting judgeship: teaching 'Information Technology and Intellectual Property Rights for a semester in the Allahabad University did not elevate my spirits.
But joining back the legal profession, starting practice in the Supreme Court reinvigorated me. I met lawyers who had argued their cases in my court, clients whose cases I dealt with. This gave fulfilment and new meaning. Life often throws surprises in unexpected ways. Here is one of them.

न्यायाधीश का कार्यकाल समाप्त करते समय, मैं अपने अन्दर टूूट चुका था; नाखुश था अपने उस निर्णय से कि मैं न्यायाधीश क्यों बना: इलाहाबाद विश्वविदयालय में एक सेमेस्टर 'सुचना प्रौद्योगिकी और बौद्धिक सम्पदा अधिकार' कानून पढ़ाने के बाद भी कुछ नहीं बदला।लेकिन सुप्रीम कोर्ट में, वकालत शुरू करने से सब बदल गया। उन वकीलों से मिलना, जिन्होंने मेरे सामने बहस की, उन मुव्वकिलों से टकराना, जिनके मुकदमें किये - इसने जीवन में नये रंग भरे, लगा जीवन बेकार नहीं हुआ। हर मोड़ पर ज़िन्दगी, नये गुल खिलाती है। उन्ही खुशनुमा अनुभवों में से एक।

Picutre courtesy -  SASTRA University Thanjavur

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Prejudice - The Womb Of Injustice

This is the thirteenth post of the series 'LegalTrek'. The last post was 'Scottsboro Boys case - First Round Supreme Court'. This post explains - what happened in the second round before the US Supreme Court; how the  Scottsboro Boys case ended; how prejudice breeds injustice; and most importantly what is the duty of a lawyer.

There was not a single Black in the jury in the second trial of the 'Scottsboro Boys case'. During trial, Liebowitz had taken objection that blacks were available, yet, not a single black person was ever called for jury service; and the names of the Blacks were forged afterwards in the jury roll. The trial court had negated the forgery part and had held that the names of the Blacks were included. The Alabama Supreme Court thought this question to be immaterial.

Leibowitz took up this objection before the US Supreme Court.  The Chief Justice asked him if he could prove it. Leibowitz answered in affirmative and jury roll was produced; this is mentioned in the first footnote in the judgement: perhaps the only time that it so happened. The US Supreme Court in Norris Vs. Alabama 294 US 587 negated the conclusion of the trial court that no forgery was committed by holding,
'We think that the evidence did not justify that conclusion'
The Court also set aside the conviction and remanded the case.  The court held,
'We think that the evidence that for a generation or longer no negro had been called for service on any jury in Jackson County, that there were negroes qualified for jury service, that according to the practice of the jury commission their names would normally appear on the preliminary list of male citizens of the requisite age but that no names of negroes were placed on the jury roll, and the testimony with respect to the lack of appropriate consideration of the qualifications of negroes, established the discrimination which the Constitution forbids. The motion to quash the indictment upon that ground should have been granted.
Whenever by any action of State, whether through its legislature, through its courts, or through its executive or administrative officers, all persons of the African race are excluded, solely because of their race or color, from serving as grand jurors in the criminal prosecution of a person of the African race, the equal protection of the laws is denied to him, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.'
After the case was sent back by the US Supreme Court1, the defence realised that Leibowitz was treated as an outsider by Southerners and it would be better if a southern lawyer defended the case. A local attorney Charles Watt became the leading lawyer. Leibowitz assisted from the sideline.

After remand, the charges of rape against five of them were dropped. Out of these five, one (Ozie Powell) pleaded guilty to the charge of assaulting the Deputy Sheriff. The remaining four were convicted of rape. Out of these four, only Norris, was sentenced to death. Their conviction was upheld by Alabama Supreme Court. Later death penalty of Norris was converted for imprisonment for life by the Governor.

Their pardon was refused but they were granted parole. Norris was granted parole in 1946 and he jumped the parole but later showed up in New York city in 1976. He was considered as a fugitive by Alabama State.  He died on 23.1.1989. He has published his autobiography 'The Last of the Scottsboro Boys' describing his ordeal.

Patterson also jumped his parole. He published his book 'Scottsboro Boy' in 1950,  while he was a fugitive.  Shortly after its publication, Patterson was arrested by the FBI, but the Governor of Michigan refused Alabama's extradition request.  

This is how the saga of Scottsboro Boys that inspired 'To Kill a Mockingbird' ended. The case is a blot on American legal system.  No one believes that the boys were guilty, yet they were convicted because 'prejudice is the spider of the mind; it is womb of injustice. One has to stand up against the prejudice and fight the injustice. It is for this reason that a lawyer's creed is to take up a case irrespective of the unpopularity of the cause or the accused.

In the next post, we will talk about duty of lawyers and unpopular case that I did, before we will talk about some other good legal biographies.

#LegalTrek #YatindraSingh 

#Courtroom #SamuelLeibowitz

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