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.”
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.