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Patrick Fitzgerald has taken down two governors, numerous mobsters and a few terrorists.But he may have met his match in a 70-year-old Greek philosopher with a big mouth.
Fitzgerald, a former U.S. attorney who gained a national reputation for corruption-busting before going into private practice last year, prosecuted Socrates on Thursday as part of a mock trial intended to raise money for the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago.
Zeus appeared to shine favourably upon Fitzgerald as a faux jury found the philosopher guilty of corrupting the youths of ancient Athens and disrespecting its gods — just as the original panel did in 399 B.C. Jurors did spare Socrates from the death penalty, but that’s probably cold comfort to the philosopher, who performed his own execution by drinking hemlock juice after the first trial.
The fake Socrates was fined 3,000 silver drachmas, and his request of free meals for life was denied.
Fitzgerald offered a passionate argument for convicting Socrates, but he stopped short of saying the philosopher’s crime spree would make Pythagoras roll over in his grave. He also hinted before the proceedings that Socrates refused a plea deal, which would have spared the non-existent taxpayers of fake Athens the expense of a second trial.
“Make no mistake about it. Socrates is guilty. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Fitzgerald has lost his mind,'” the former federal prosecutor said, acknowledging that historians have acquitted Socrates of his crimes. “History got it wrong. History has been unfair to my client, Athens.”
Playing the straight man, Fitzgerald blamed Socrates protege Plato for distorting the modern view of the case. Plato’s account of the trial serves as the primary record of the proceedings, prompting prosecutors to question its reliability.
“Think about Plato. How much clout did he have with historians that he could pull this off? He only quoted his friend,” Fitzgerald said, as the sold-out crowd roared with laughter.
At the time of his original trial, Socrates was considered a gadfly by society in Athens and not particularly well-liked around town. His interminable and circular discussions — now known as the Socratic Method — made him somewhat insufferable, and his public attacks against Greek gods made him blasphemous in many citizens’ eyes.
Plus, he was a Sparta superfan, an annoyance akin to a Chicago-born Packers fan who always brags about Green Bay’s record.
U.S. Appellate Judge Richard Posner presided over the mock trial, along with U.S. Appellate Judge William J. Bauer and Cook County Judge Anna Demacopoulos. Posner insisted that the attorneys follow Athenian law when making their arguments.
Fitzgerald was joined by former assistant U.S. attorney Patrick Collins, who led the prosecution against former Gov. George Ryan. Together, they painted Socrates as a Hellenic gang leader, whose disciples started bloody rebellions and continuously threatened to corrupt the fledgling democracy.
“Is there anyone who knows more about corruption than this man to my right?” Collins asked, pointing at Fitzgerald.
Playing to the predominantly Greek audience in a Palmer House Hilton ballroom, prosecutors asked the jury to redeem Athens and remember that Socrates never denied the charges.
“You need to use common sense. You need to ask, ‘What would Yaya (the Greek word for Grandmother) say about this?'” Collins said. “At the end of the day, restore our democracy so it could become the pillar for the Earth.”
Collins also claimed citizens had a right to fear the wrath of Athenian gods, pointing to the Greek bar owner in Chicago who cursed the Cubs after being thrown out of Wrigley Field with his goat during the 1945 World Series.
“They haven’t won a World Series in 100 years,” Collins said. “The gods have a memory. They carry a grudge.”
Socrates — who was tried in absentia — had two high-profile defence attorneys on his side: Dan Webb, who represented Gov. Ryan at his corruption trial, and Robert A. Clifford.
Webb questioned the lack of evidence against Socrates — though, in Fitzgerald’s defence, the lack of telephones 2,400 years ago made it difficult for the government to secure wiretaps.
“There’s not a speck of evidence. Instead the accusers want you to guess and speculate,” Webb said. “I ask you to rise up in anger. There but for the grace of God go you someday.”
The defence portrayed Socrates as a brave soldier who loved his city and fought for Athens well into his 40s.
“He fought on your behalf. He fought for safety,” said Clifford, who blamed his mispronunciation of Greek words on an accent developed while growing up on the South Side of Athens.
The defence insisted that Athenian leaders had a vendetta against Socrates because he promoted personal freedoms and may have dissed Zeus. Clifford acknowledged that his client was a penniless “gadfly” and an overweight “loafer” but said the philosopher was a victim of fear-mongers.
“This man deserves exoneration,” Clifford said. “He doesn’t deserve the death penalty.”
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