Honouring the legend of Darrow

first_imgThe American lawyer Clarence Darrow (pictured) did not come to the annual wreath-tossing in his honour last week. But then he hasn’t appeared since his death in 1938. Darrow, never a believer in Spiritualism, said that if he ever did return it would be in Jackson Park, Chicago, on the anniversary of his death. And every year on 13 March, now more in hope than expectation, lawyers assemble to give one-minute speeches at the park bridge, throw a wreath, and then retreat to the warmth for coffee and a proper lecture on a subject which would be dear to the great man’s heart. Darrow’s cases represent America’s golden age of criminal advocacy. He began his career as a corporate lawyer, moving into labour law, defending members of the unions charged in the Haymarket riots in Chicago in 1886, and in 1894 Eugene Debs, the anarchist who ran five times for the presidency. Then came his defence of ‘Big Bill’ Haywood, leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, accused in 1907 of the assassination of a former governor of Idaho. After a little localised trouble defending the McNamara brothers, and then himself when he was accused of bribery – the jury disagreed and he undertook not to practise again in California – he moved into criminal defence work full-time. In 1924 came the Leopold and Loeb trial, perhaps the first of the so-called trials of the century. The boys kidnapped and killed a 14-year-old in Chicago and Darrow saved them from the electric chair. It was made into the film Rope. Next year came the Tennessee ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ when the defendant was charged with teaching the theory of evolution in contradiction of the Bible. In Detroit in 1926 when Dr Ossian Sweet was charged with shooting a white man, Darrow obtained an acquittal, telling an all-white jury, ‘I insist that there is nothing but prejudice in this case; that if it was reversed and 11 white men had shot and killed a black while protecting their home and their lives against a mob of blacks, nobody would have dreamed of having them indicted. They would have been given medals instead….’ I wonder how many of today’s lawyers have even heard of Darrow’s English contemporary the great defender Edward Marshall Hall. Let alone go out on a cold March morning to Regent’s Park to hold a wreath-tossing in his honour. James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitorlast_img