PARIS (AP) — Money that victims of the 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris are paying in legal fees is going not just to their own lawyers, but also to lawyers defending the 20 men now on trial.
It’s just one of the unusual things about the exceptional trial that opened this weekinto those attacks.
A staggering 300 lawyers are taking part, filing en masse in their black robes into the specially designed courtroom inside a historic Paris courthouse, and representing 1,800 plaintiffs in the trial, which is expected to last nine months. It’s taking two days just for them to be formally introduced during the trial’s opening proceedings.
Some of those attorneys represent multiple victims, including two who between them cover 200 plaintiffs.
Under French legal rules, lawyers in criminal terrorism trials earn 272 euros ($321) per day for each person they represent — defendant or victim. For this trial, that adds up to 38,000 euros ($45,000) over the 140 days of court sessions.
Each defendant has between two and four lawyers who must share that sum.
But on the plaintiffs’ side, some lawyers are representing more than 100 people, and even with a scale set up to limit their earnings, are expected to take in over 1.5 million euros in the case. Unlike the defense team, they don’t even have to show up every day.
“It would be a lie to say that representing a victim is as time-consuming as working in the defense,” said Alexandre Plantevin, a former terrorism prosecutor who is now a lawyer in the city of Lyon. Plantevin represents five victims who were in the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 people died during an Eagles of Death Metal show.
To resolve the inequality, the plaintiffs’ lawyers in Paris collectively decided to transfer up to 10% of their earnings to a fund for the defense. Plaintiffs’ lawyers from outside the French capital, who are paying out of pocket for travel and lodging, aren’t included in the agreement, which was approved by the Justice Ministry.
The daily income has also led some lawyers to cast around for more plaintiffs to represent as the trial began. On Thursday, one lawyer who currently has six plaintiffs argued for the addition of yet more people, including 50 who lived in an apartment building destroyed during the police raid and explosion that killed the leader of the Islamic State cell and one of the attackers.
Nine Islamic State group gunmen and suicide bombers struck the Bataclan, multiple Paris cafes and the national stadium on Nov. 13, 2015, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. It was the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II and among the worst terror attacks to hit the West.
The lone surviving attacker from that night, Salah Abdeslam, is the key defendant. Abdeslam, who during more than 5 years of pre-trial detention has refused to talk to investigators, interrupted Thursday’s hearing to denounce European justice.
He said three of the men accused were only doing him a favor “without giving it a thought, out of generosity.”
Now, he said “they are in prison and they’ve done nothing.”
The presiding judge cut Abdeslam’s microphone.
“You had five years to speak and you didn’t.”
Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed.