“Ideological Suicide” to challenge Whalers?

I was fascianted to read in the American Lawyer an interview with an attorney who runs a small firm in Seattle that got caught up in assisting in the defense of Peter Bethune, the New Zealand activist who got caught up in the Sea Shepherd protests last year and who boarded a Japanese whaling ship back in February, and he was arrested by the captain. Some highlights of the interview are below:

Bethune was tried in Tokyo in late May. Did you both attend?

Yes, we both traveled to Tokyo. The trial was in Tokyo District Court, and there were pro-whaling protesters outside every day. More importantly we were the voice of Sea Shepherd to the world because nobody from the organization could go over there because they could be arrested.

And so it was the Japanese lawyers that were advising Bethune?

Yes. We were representing Sea Shepherd, which was funding Peter Bethune’s defense. So we oversaw his defense and we did this by working with four Japanese lawyers. We had a criminal, maritime, and litigation lawyer, along with one law professor. They did a great job representing Bethune, but I can’t even tell you their names… We have worked with a lot of Japanese law firms, and none of them would take on a case against the Japanese whaling institute, even though payment wasn’t an issue. A friend of mine who is a Japanese lawyer told me, “It would be ideological suicide.”

(Emphasis added.)

Interestingly enough, when the Greenpeace activists were arrested for stealing whale meat in 2009, I was also contacted by a former colleague to ask if I knew lawyers who could be interested in the case. I spoke to three lawyers, but no one was interested. I don’t think ideological suicide is the right word, but rather, there is a strong aversion in Japan to being associated with issues, particularly ones with a political nature, that means no one is interested in the hassle.

30 thoughts on ““Ideological Suicide” to challenge Whalers?”

  1. I feel your last sentence is a horrible oversimplification. Make the issue the death penalty and you’ve got lawyers lining up around the block. Look at that punk in Kyushu who killed a new mother, committed necrophilia with her corpse, then killed the baby because it was crying – he ended up with a cast of thousands representing him for free because it was “unfair” that he should face the death penalty.

    Or when some city tries to push the homeless out, again the lawyers come out of the woodwork to take up the cause of the homeless.

    Anytime it is a “state/powers that be vs. disenfranchised individuals” count on Japanese lawyers to be there to jump in. Even, or especially if, it is a political issue, and regardless of the hassle.

  2. That small firm in Seattle, Harris & Moure, is actually pretty awesome. They produce the China Law Blog, which is the most interesting international commercial law blog I have seen so far. It focuses on China, but much of the content is useful food for thought for any international lawyer or businessperson.

  3. LB, you are right — it is indeed a horrible oversimplification. Is it not wanting to get involved in opposing the professional right-wingers, then? Or fear for safety, or reputation? What is it that distinguishes issues such as whaling from others such as the death penalty?

  4. @Curzon – I am not sure what the answer is. I personally doubt that your involvement with only 3 lawyers or what Daniel Harris’ was told and said in the interview is “representative”. Chosen Soren, for one example, doesn’t seem to have much trouble finding lawyers when needed – and neither does Mindan. When some schoolteachers filed suit against their schoolboards and/or the Ministry of Education over being punished for refusing to stand for the national flag or sing the national anthem, they too were able to find lawyers to represent them. So there are obviously lawyers willing to take political cases and risk the ire of right-wingers.

    Perhaps such lawyers just aren’t in your circle of “lawyers I know”? I don’t men this as a dig at you, but from your writing for the most part you come across as right-of-center on the political spectrum, so perhaps the lawyers you can name quickly do too. There are any number of left-of-center lawyers out there who seem to be more willing to make a name for themselves “fighting the power”, so perhaps it is just a matter of knowing how to get hold of them.

    As for what Harris says, well, he’s happy as all get out to be representing Sea Shepherd, so I don’t exactly expect from him an unbiased view of Japanese lawyers’ willingness to join his fight. It plays better for his client to come up with some Nihonjinron argument about “Japanese are afraid of the big bad ICR”.

  5. There are the famous cases like decades of free legal representation for Minamata disease sufferers and I know or know of other crusading lawyers on cases like, say, compensation for Chinese wartime forced laborers, etc. There are lots of law professors that have written about, or provided support for activists, on issues like state funding for North Korean schools, an issue that leaves even left-leaning foreigners scratching their heads. All of these cases show Japanese lawyers sticking their necks out on what are seen as human rights issues, but the key word there is “human”. The risk / reward for progressive-lefty cred also seems to be maxed in cases involving minorities or legacies of historical violence. Many on the left are ambivalent about whaling so I can see why many just couldn’t be bothered in this sort of case.

  6. There are tons of left-wing lawyers taking cases just because they want to get involved in opposing professional right-wingers.
    Many in Japan think anti-whalers in the west are not exactly an environmentalist but more of a radical animal rightist meets soul searching western centrists.In another words,they may not be worth saving to the eyes of liberal lawyers,for.there are others in Japan who deserve more attention.

  7. Yeah. I think it’s less about people being scared of supporting the anti-whalers, and more about people in Japan just not giving a shit. As Aceface says, it’s definitely not a human rights issue, and it’s not exactly an environmental issue, since the whalers really are catching in numbers that are basically insignificant in terms of species’ sustainability (compare with say, tuna fishing), and animal rights just hasn’t developed as an issue in this country like it has in the west.

    I mean, I literally don’t think I’ve met a single Japanese person who is an ideological vegetarian, much less a vegan, even among the sort of hard-core leftist sets that would be heavily vegetarian/vegan back home.

  8. In Japan, “vegetarian” is commonly understood to mean “no red meat.”

    I had dinner with some co-workers a couple of years ago, and one of my companions was an IT specialist from India who was strictly vegetarian. He didn’t read Japanese, so one of my Japanese colleagues was helping him with the menu.

    She said: “How about this? It’s duck.”
    He said: “Ummm, I’m a vegetarian.”
    She said: “But duck is a bird!

  9. I think everyone has done a good job looking at reasons why Bethune’s case might not have interested a lot of lawyers but it still leaves open the question of why those who did agree to advise his team preferred to remain anonymous.

  10. I’d have to assume the team took the case strictly for the money and not for the ideology,then.Because the cost of being harassed by the 2ch trolls can’t be counted as expense.

  11. To turn the question around a little, how common or rare is it for legal advisers to work anonymously? It strikes me as a little bizarre.

  12. What Roy said, “I can’t tell you their names” strikes me as odd and overly conspiratorial as well. I mean, these are lawyers involved in an open and public criminal trial (of Bethune), so certainly their names would be part of the public record? Are we to assume that 2ch trolls are too dumb to figure out they can just ask for the record, yet are bright enough to be reading law.com?

  13. But then,these are the information that comes from She Shepherd/Green Peace affiliated sources.Asking them on Japan is asking tea partiers about Obama….

  14. Would their names be easily available to the public? I don’t really recall seeing lawyers names mentioned much at all in Japanese press reports of trials unless they are making public statements. It’s not even clear that they would appear in any court records either. Harris says:

    “…We oversaw his defense and we did this by working with four Japanese lawyers. We had a criminal, maritime, and litigation lawyer, along with one law professor.”

    Presumably, one of the four would have been leading the defence but, if that’s not the case, then it’s possible none would be named in any records open to the public.

    Reading the original article again, the friend who gave Harris the line about “ideological suicide” was talking about the risks of being involved in a civil case against the ICR, not about representing Bethune in his criminal trial. I doubt whether they struggled to find a criminal defence team because any accused is entitled to legal representation.

    With that in mind, it sounds more likely that the four involved with the criminal case said something like “keep our names out of it when you talk publicly about Sea Shepherd and the ICR” rather than walking around in balaclavas.

  15. Ace, I’ve got a challenge for you — get me the names of the lawyers.

    At no point in the article does the lawyer take any position defending Sea Shepherd on an ideaological viewpoint, so your nuanced accusation that we can’t trust his information because it’s biased sounds pretty groundless.

  16. Thanks Ace — but that’s a non-court petition, listing a long roster of liberal lawyers nationwide (Kaido being of course a very famous liberal lawyer and the common law husband of MP Fukushima) — that’s not the professor, maritime law, and criminal law lawyers in this case.

    Roy, since you ask — Japan, like many civil law countries, does not publish all court decisions and it is not easy to get court documents for cases, on the grounds that the information is private, not public.

  17. By law anyone can ask to see court records


    第91条 何人も、裁判所書記官に対し、訴訟記録の閲覧を請求することができる。
    2 公開を禁止した口頭弁論に係る訴訟記録については、当事者及び利害関係を疎明した第三者に限り、前項の規定による請求をすることができる。
    3 当事者及び利害関係を疎明した第三者は、裁判所書記官に対し、訴訟記録の謄写、その正本、謄本若しくは抄本の交付又は訴訟に関する事項の証明書の交付を請求することができる。
    4 前項の規定は、訴訟記録中の録音テープ又はビデオテープ(これらに準ずる方法により一定の事項を記録した物を含む。)に関しては、適用しない。この場合において、これらの物について当事者又は利害関係を疎明した第三者の請求があるときは、裁判所書記官は、その複製を許さなければならない。
    5 訴訟記録の閲覧、謄写及び複製の請求は、訴訟記録の保存又は裁判所の執務に支障があるときは、することができない。

    Records can be sealed, however, of they reveal industrial secrets or some “grave secret” of one of the participants in the trial:
    第92条 次に掲げる事由につき疎明があった場合には、裁判所は、当該当事者の申立てにより、決定で、当該訴訟記録中当該秘密が記載され、又は記録された部分の閲覧若しくは謄写、その正本、謄本若しくは抄本の交付又はその複製(以下「秘密記載部分の閲覧等」という。)の請求をすることができる者を当事者に限ることができる。
    2 前項の申立てがあったときは、その申立てについての裁判が確定するまで、第三者は、秘密記載部分の閲覧等の請求をすることができない。
    3 秘密記載部分の閲覧等の請求をしようとする第三者は、訴訟記録の存する裁判所に対し、第1項に規定する要件を欠くこと又はこれを欠くに至ったことを理由として、同項の決定の取消しの申立てをすることができる。
    4 第1項の申立てを却下した裁判及び前項の申立てについての裁判に対しては、即時抗告をすることができる。
    5 第1項の決定を取り消す裁判は、確定しなければその効力を生じない。

  18. “that’s not the professor, maritime law, and criminal law lawyers in this case.”

    Sorry,Curz.I’m kinda busy right now and only googled for 30 seconds with 弁護士、グリーンピース、シーシェパード and it popped out.But it does make a counterargument that fighting along the cause of anti-whaler is hardly an “ideological suicide”for Japanese lawyers.
    However,I have run into many blogs written by lawyers who wrote pretty harsh commentary on Sea Shepherd case.Could be those are one of the reasons why the lawyer want to hide the name.
    But as you know,I’m ALWAYS skeptical what gaijins have to say on Japan,so there goes my prejudice.

  19. I’d stress again that the “ideological suicide” comment referred to bringing a case against the ICR, rather than being party to a criminal defence. Assisting the defence of Bethune or the Greenpeace two wouldn’t necessarily earn a lawyer an anti-whaling label any more than Asahara’s many legal teams are seen as in favour of mass murder.

  20. ICR is just a tiny government funded scientific institution that no one really cares has the issue on scientific whaling not being escalated by foreign media.ICR operates under IWC agreement that is totally legitimate according to international law.
    The point is English language media,especially the one from former penal colony in the Southern hemisphere,always portray the institution as somekind of evil and powerful institution that operates illegally.

  21. Now Aceface, no need to go so far as to slag all of Australia. All we need to do is stick with this article.

    The person being interviewed (Mr. Harris) is a lawyer, speaking in his role as counsel to a client whom he himself says he wants to continue to represent. He is therefore by definition a very biased source. Now, before Curzon starts jumping up and down again about Mr. Harris not stating an “ideological position” regarding Sea Shepherd I will concede that indeed he does not give his personal ideological position. He gives his professional position, which is “I am on Sea Shepherd’s side”. In other words, he’s a paid shill.

    So if you are looking for “the truth”, don’t ask Mr. Harris. Only a lawyer can say with a straight face things like “Peter Bethune was never a member of Sea Shepherd, he was just a volunteer (who happened to be entrusted as captain of one of their vessels).”

  22. An interesting discussion.

    Mulboyne’s final comment is “to the bone” so as to speak.

    Any lawyer free of over hanging anvils would, and I repeat would, have no diconcerns with taking up the case of Bethune.

    To suggest it was a “frivolous” case smacks of smarminess. Since when have lawyers required anonymity on “hi-spec international media frenzy” cases???

  23. I can’t believe you guys got nothing to say about the China issue or HR 1326 in which America admonishes Japan for their harboring of child abductors.

    Complacent-hard to find good things to say about lawyers to start with…

  24. I have a lot to say about the China issue, but it would be hard to do it justice and also get my other writing done. And HR 1326? I don’t think this is even the first time they’ve passed such a resolution, and the State Department has been sending that message to Japan for years. It’s not really big news.

  25. HR1326 in which AMerica admonishes Japan for their harboring of Child abductors.
    I googled “HR1326” and I’ve got…

    H.R. 1326:
    Great Ape Protection Act of 2009
    111th Congress

    BTW,reader,the “child abductor”you call in America,we call either”the mother” or “the beaten ex-wife”.

  26. Aceface: The numbers reset every year. That was HR 1326 of 2009, HR 1326 of 2010 is:

    H.Res.1326 – Calling on the Government of Japan to address the urgent problem of abduction to and retention of United States citizen children in Japan, to work closely with the Government of the United States to return these children to their custodial parent or to the original jurisdiction for a custody determination in the United States, to provide left-behind parents immediate access to their children, and to adopt without delay the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.


    Unless you’re calling the beaten ex-wife a “Great Ape,” which I think is unfair.

  27. Actually, I think the apes are the husbands! The matching numbers are an unfortunate coincidence….

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