Home > Miguel Iturria Savón > Looking for an Attorney?

Looking for an Attorney?

Last week a cartoon in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde sparked meetings in the law offices in Havana, called by the provincial directorate to analyze the graphic parody of a guy dressed as a bullfighter who was looking for a lawyer.

The meetings are as absurd as the satire of these law enforcement officers, who reap the dissatisfaction of the clients who contract for the services offered by the municipal network, without taking into account that the lawyer must work within the bureaucratic state institutions that delay the proceedings and determine the decisions.

Instead of a bullfighter, the lawyer is the one who sticks the banderillas in the neck of the Cuban justice system, as dependent on the government as are the businesses, schools and hospitals of the island, where everything turns on a group of old men who control all of life through power.

Faced with a criminal action, the lawyer is the legal operator most interested in fulfilling the duties and procedural rights of the accused. He is the only one who reports to the client about the steps taken, but his influence and efforts don’t determine the speed of the judgments; the judges and prosecutors are more likely to decide.

The lawyer advises companies, handles divorces, claims of heirs, administrative, labor and legal litigation. He is the most comprehensive legal counsel and, paradoxically, the only one who decides nothing. He can act as expeditiously as possible, but that has no effect on the decisions taken by State institutions, whose dynamic is marked by orders and decisions from a higher level and by less visible bodies such as the one Party and State Security.

Sometimes it is unfair to the lawyers. Almost no one remembers that to practice law in Cuba you have to belong to the National Organization of Collective Law Offices, which is self-financed and in theory constitutes a Non-Governmental Organization, but one which reports to the Ministry of Justice and functions like one more piece of the enormous State apparatus.

The lawyer must comply with State guidelines and standards of practice, which demand continued membership and compliance. His salary depends on the cases completed, but the pay received is less than what the client pays to the contracted firm, which does not guarantee lunch nor transportation for his efforts with police training units, prisons, prosecutors, courts, housing offices or notaries. Added to these difficulties in the fights against arbitrary detentions by many of the police and the complicity of judges and prosecutors, who limit their suggestions to those families of the accused who seek a lawyer.

Perhaps a client will goad a law firm, but it never occurs to anyone to take on the judge who dictates a six month sentence after the trial, a notary public who issues a certificate of inheritance nearly a year late, a prosecutor who delays for weeks a request for a change of measures, or the housing official who rules when he gets around to it.

The voz populi says that lawyers deceive the public, demand money, and sometimes cheat, which is not true of the majority but shows the thread of corruption that runs equally through notaries, judges and prosecutors, who survive off the “collateral search.” Rather than caricaturing this problem it would be worthwhile if the official press faced it head on without omitting the faults of the system that generates it.

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