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Thursday, June 23, 2011

ASTC Pro Bono Initiative helping bring Baby Doc to justice

Not a Pediatric Medical Malpractice Case

The Baby Doc in question is none other than Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, former dictator of Haiti (1971-1986), following the death of his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Amid the chaos following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the mess that was the Haitian presidential elections, Baby Doc Duvalier somehow managed to fly from France to Haiti, not withstanding the absence of a valid passport. There is a lot of speculation and uncertainty surrounding his decision to return to Haiti. Duvalier, of course, claims that he returned to help his country recover. Most outside observers ascribe to him more pedestrian and self-serving motives. Among other things, there is a bank account frozen in Switzerland containing $6 million in Duvalier's name. It is possible that returning to Haiti might have facilitated Duvalier's access to that money.

Regardless of his reasons for returning to the country he ruled so corruptly and violently, Duvalier was was not met with many open arms, aside from those of the local constabulary. Baby Doc was promptly arrested and questioned by the police. While he was soon released to return to his swanky hotel room, Duvalier's papers were seized, precluding him from leaving the country. Government prosecutors are now assembling a case against him on two broad fronts. The first involves financial crimes against the country, including absconding with many millions of dollars that belonged to the Haitian Treasury or private Haitian citizens. The second set of offenses involve human rights violations, including kidnapping, false imprisonment, torture and murder.

Of course, he'll soon be tried in open court and made to answer for his crimes, right? Not so fast, kimosabe. This is, after all, Haiti we're talking about. The country's political history of colonization, exploitation, coup and revolution is Exhibit A of how not to run a country. (BBC has a nice timeline of the country's history here.) Add to this shaky foundation a major natural disaster and a Presidential election fraught with "irregularities" and you have a recipe unlikely to yield smooth transition and peaceful reconciliation.

Where are we now?

In March of this year, Michel Martelly, the Snoop Dog of Haitian politics, was elected President in a run-off election against Mirlande Manigat (despite the fact that Martelly appeared to have finished third in the original vote). All accounts suggest that this is the outcome preferred by (if not engineered by) the United States, despite Martelly's former ties to the Duvalier family and its regime. As a teenager, Martelly was a member of the "Tonton Macoutes," the Hitler Youth of Duvalier's regime. These teenagers were organized into roaming bands of thugs tasked with intimidating opponents of the regime.

As a young adult, Martelly ran an exclusive Haitian nightclub that catered to members of the Duvalier clan and their supporters. Given this history, those pressing for a full and complete prosecution of Baby Doc (including Human Rights Watch, which published a white paper about how important this case is) have reason to worry about the support they will receive from the new government.

Recent events present even more reason for alarm. The investigating judge in the case recently filed charges against Duvalier without questioning him in open court, in open violation of Haitian law. While Baby Doc is largely to blame for this situation, by checking himself into hospital with "Strongman Flu" every time he had a court date, this procedural shortcoming provides straightforward grounds for an automatic appeal. That is, the case is on very shaky grounds before it even begins. Add to this the fact that the judge then visited Duvalier in his hotel suite and one has reason to doubt the sincere desire of the judge to bring the defendant to justice.

Where does the ASTC fit in?

A few months ago, I was contacted by Brian Concannon, the Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Brian's organization, and the lawyers affiliated with it, are helping the government lawyers down in Haiti prepare to prosecute Duvalier. I connected with Brian because he was looking for some trial consulting assistance as they helped pull together the "ordinance," the Haitian version of an indictment. They had a lot of documents to review and code and they wanted to generate an interactive timeline linking Duvalier's regime to the various human and financial crimes committed during his rule.

At the time, I introduced Brian to some vendors that might be able to help out with document management. In addition, his assistant, Cory, and I went down to Hartford for a crash tutorial on timeline software from Marie Mullaney of Litigation Solutions, an ASTC member and New England pro bono team member. The first major contribution by ASTC will be for a member firm to step in and take over this timeline project. Several folks have already expressed interest in taking on this task.

Even though Haiti inherited its Civil Law system from France, complete with its inquisitorial (as opposed to adversarial) criminal procedures, the country has adopted some rather uniques practices over the years.

First of all, it is possible to attach private complaints to criminal matters, allowing the criminal and civil trials to take place simultaneously. The attorneys for the civil plaintiffs work right along side the government prosecutor to prepare and try the case. This is how Brian Concannon and his fellow IJDH attorneys can continue to be involved in the case. Brian is currently identifying expatriate Haitians, with claims against Duvalier, to serve as plaintiffs in the case. Depositions and witness preparation will be much easier for plaintiffs who live in the U.S.

The second surprising feature of the Haitian system is that this might very well be a full-blown jury trial, as we would recognize here in the U.S. Not a mixed panel of judges and lay-persons, but 12 ordinary Haitian citizens sitting in judgment. This is where ASTC trial consultants will really be able to make a difference. It might feel like an 18th century jury trial, but a jury trial all the same. Over the next couple of years, as the case develops, ASTC members will be at the ready to help with case strategy, thematic development, demonstrative evidence production, witness preparation and jury selection strategy.

The lawyers and courageous citizens of Haiti, who are trying to make a brutal dictator answer for his crimes, have a tremendously difficulty road ahead of them. Many forces seem aligned against their efforts. I only hope that the combined efforts of the ASTC membership can help level the playing field just a bit.

We are, as an organization, tremendously proud of the work that Beth Bonora and Andy Sheldon did for the Ray Killen prosecution, as revealed in the excellent documentary, Neshoba: The Price of Freedom, as we are of the pro bono efforts of all our members. This extremely important effort to bring Baby Doc Duvalier to justice, after all these years of suffering in his country, is an exciting new chapter in the ongoing pro bono history of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

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