Featured in Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, January 15, 2013

By Jenn Ballard – Law Bulletin staff writer

Some of the city’s most prominent judges and attorneys, along with a jury and audience, will decide the fate of the late Greek philosopher Socrates.

The city of Athens found Socrates guilty in 399 B.C. of corrupting the youth and two impiety acts — failing to acknowledge the gods that the city recognizes and introducing new deities.

Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William J. Bauer, who will serve as one of three judges in the retrial, accepted the offer to participate in Jan. 31 event because of the actual trial’s significance as the first jury trial in history.

“It’s probably the most famous jury trial ever tried,” he said. “Socrates was one of the greatest teachers in the history of the world and was tried because he dared to have good ideas and pursued them.”

Connie Mourtoupalas, president of the National Hellenic Museum, at 333 S. Halsted St., created this event after a retrial of Socrates in New York.

The local event ties into the museum’s mission of educating others about the history of Greece, Mourtoupalas said.

“We’re part of this bigger immigration story,” she said. “This helps present American history from a different perspective.”

Mourtoupalas worked with U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras to select attorneys and judges.

“I am the only Greek federal judge and this is a celebration of the first-year anniversary of the National Hellenic Museum,” Kocoras said. “When she asked me to do it, I decided to get the best possible lawyers and judges I could get because it deserved it.”

Judge Richard A. Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Cook County Circuit Judge Anna Helen Demacopoulos, Bauer, a jury of 12 citizens and the audience will decide the validity of the charges against Socrates.

Dan K. Webb, chairman and a partner at Winston & Strawn LLP, and Robert A. Clifford, a partner at Clifford Law Offices, will defend Socrates.

Webb, who participated in other historical retrials for bar associations, said defending Socrates will challenge him.

“With a lot of the historical trials, there is some sort of transcript,” he said. “Socrates was put on trial in 399 B.C. We not only don’t have a transcript. We don’t really know the facts in any great detail. … There is a huge mystery as to who Socrates really was.”

Clifford accepted this role because of his interest in philosophy and Greek history.

“I put on a Continuing Legal Education program on ethics every year,” he said. “And if you go back in time, Socrates was a big contributor to the field of ethics.”

Counsel for the city of Athens will include two former federal prosecutors —Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and Patrick M. Collins, a partner at Perkins, Coie LLP.

“I am also married to a Greek, so there have been some family discussions about Socrates,” Collins said. “Because of the Socratic method, which I made use of when I went to law school, Socrates has always been sort of a verb to me.”

The attorneys will present their arguments to the judges based on two texts composed by Plato, Mourtoupalas said.

The judges will not only address the arguments from the attorneys but ask them questions related to current events and contemporary issues, she said.

“Where do you draw the line between national security and civil liberties?” Mourtoupalas said. “Should we obey laws that we consider unjust?”

The jury and the audience vote on whether they find Socrates guilty or innocent, she said.

“We will have a big scale, which we will put on the bench,” she said. “And we will dump the (votes) of the bags on each scale, and that would be the breaking of tie. In any case, we will reveal the audience vote. Everybody is engaged.”

The trial, which sold out, moved from the museum to the Palmer House, at 17 E. Monroe St. Tickets are available for the event, which costs $100 and starts at 6 p.m. on Jan. 31.

“We don’t want to deprive people from seeing this,” Mourtoupalas said. “We didn’t expect this much interest. It has surpassed our expectations.”