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Je parle la justice / I speak justice

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Photo from website of U.S. District Court (W.D. Mi.).

Thirty-five years after I started studying and practicing French, I find Spanish much more beneficial to my professional practice. To be sure, speaking any two languages is much better than speaking just one, and I soaked up Spanish all the quicker by having known French first.

Speaking a second language opens many doors, including the ability to communicate with more people, and to experience more authors, actors, directors and playwrights in their native language. Among the French writings I have sought out are those writings by authors in former French colonies, including Algeria, West Africa, and the Caribbean. I have also read French-writing authors from Quebec and Louisiana. I have had a greater problem finding French writings from Indochina, but imagine that the Internet will make such writings easier to find.

I got all the more accustomed to speaking another language behind the microphone — and getting behind the microphone period — during the first two years of being my own boss through 2000, when my former law partner Jay Marks and I hosted a weekend one-hour Spanish radio show with a call-in component entitled: “Legalmente Hablando, donde su causa es nuestra causa” (“Legally speaking, where your cause is our cause.”) Through that radio experience, I did not feel like I was speaking to a huge audience, but that I was speaking person-to-person. That approach helps all the more for television interviews, particularly in the studio, where no technology seems yet to exist that does not make the bright studio lights — apparently there to reduce shadows — seem just a bit removed from interrogation lamps.

Now that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is in the klieg lights, the French media is following. Take away Strauss-Kahn’s political history and money, and we have a rather common criminal prosecution; but every criminal defendant must be treated as an individual, and not as a mere dehumanized number. I certainly welcome the opportunity for people to understand through his story the warts and redeeming characteristics of the criminal justice system, including the bail system, the accusatory and adversarial approach, the presumption of innocence, the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt bar, and the media circus that often accompanies such high-profile case.

Added to the mix here is that — before Strauss-Kahn’s arrest — there apparently was a huge percentage of French inclined to throw their democratic will behind Strauss-Kahn as a replacement for President Sarkozy. His pretrial no-bond detention certainly slams against the possibility that he might ever achieve such a victory.

France 2 Television called me two days ago about Strauss-Kahn’s plight, including where his case might go from here. Tomorrow, I am scheduled to be interviewed on tape about the case, as part of a piece to be aired this Thursday. I welcome this opportunity once again to spread the word about what does and does not work about our criminal justice system, and about the need to pursue persuasion at every turn for criminal defendants.

My interview will be in French, which I have done a few times before with French-language broadcast media.