Home for the holidays

Issue December 2010 By Denise Squillante

I continue to be inspired by the countless stories illustrating the remarkable pro bono efforts of our members. In the spirit of the holiday season, I thought I would include in my column a remarkable pro bono story including the MBA's own Michael E. Mone Sr. (president 1993-94) that he shared at a gathering of MBA past presidents in November.

The story surrounds the representation of Guantanamo Bay detainee Oybek Jabbarov, an immigrant farmer in Afghanistan. Jabbarov was handed over to the U.S. government by Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, who identified him as a "foreign fighter" in order to receive a lucrative cash reward. Far from being an enemy combatant, Jabbarov spent eight years in Guantanamo separated from his wife and two young children.

The admirable work of Mone and other fellows of the American College of Trial Lawyers brought about justice for Jabbarov, and ultimately, asylum in Ireland, where he was reunited with his family this time last year to begin a new life together. The following is an excerpt from Michael's acceptance remarks after being honored by the ACTL. The "Michael" he refers to below is that of his son, Michael E. Mone Jr., whom he practices with at Esdaile, Barrett & Esdaile in Boston.

Just before Christmas of last year, Michael sent out an e-mail to all of the lawyers on the Guantanamo list serve. The list serve had been an invaluable tool to all of the detainee lawyers in sharing information, discussing strategy and providing representation to the clients. The subject line of the e-mail is "Home for the Holidays." It reads in part:

"Yesterday evening in Dublin, a plane touched down carrying a young woman and her two sons. They were met by officers from the Irish government, who helped them collect their belongings and ushered them through customs and out the doors for international arrivals. Waiting for them on the other side was their husband and father, Oybek Jabbarov. After eight years of separation and unimaginable anguish, the Jabbarov family is finally reunited.

They spent today getting settled in their new house on the west coast of Ireland. Mrs. Jabbarov loves her new home, but worries how she will ever keep the place clean. The boys rode their new bicycles around the neighborhood, a present from their father."

Michael's e-mail continued to the other detainee lawyers and it could be directed to each of the men and women who you honored this morning:

"I write to tell you this because it is through our collective efforts that this reunion, eight years in the making, came about, and you all deserve to share in the joy of this moment."

Why did lawyers, including the Fellows of the College, undertake the representation of these men in a very unpopular cause? They did it because it is part of their DNA. It is the reason many of them went to law school. Who amongst you has not imagined yourself as Atticus Finch standing in that hot Alabama courtroom defending an innocent man? Every state in this country has a long tradition of lawyers providing pro bono representation in unpopular causes. When Michael and I each passed the bar, we signed a book that has the name of every lawyer who has ever practiced in Massachusetts.

That roll contains the names of the lawyers who represented Sacco & Vanzetti. It has the name of Benjamin Curtis, a Massachusetts lawyer and member of the Supreme Court of the United States, who dissented in the Dred Scott case and then resigned as a matter of principle. Curtis returned to Washington in 1868 to represent the very unpopular president, Andrew Johnson, in the impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate. We all know the story of John Adams, who defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre, but his son, John Quincy Adams, who, after he had been president, represented the African slaves on the Spanish slave ship, La Amistad, is also on that roll of attorneys.

This is not just a Massachusetts tradition, it is the fabric of what it means to be an American lawyer. All of you have or will have an opportunity at some point in your career to undertake an unpopular representation. I would urge all of you to seize that opportunity because you will never forget it.

Let this story serve as a reminder of the very reason many of us were first inspired to attend law school. I hope Michael's story of heroes among us renews your motivation to seek pro bono opportunities whenever possible. As attorneys, we are privileged and poised to have a positive influence in people's lives, whether we are serving clients in Guantanamo Bay or in our own neighborhoods in Massachusetts.

I wish you and your families a merry holiday season and a happy New Year.