An intermediate court in eastern China rejected a well-regarded lawyer with decades of experience from the defense counsel of a 62-year-old villager Thursday, citing irregular paperwork.
The villager on trial, Ming Jingguo, was accused of killing a local official with a garden hoe in March. Sixth Tone previously reported that Ming was said to have struck the official repeatedly during an argument over land requisition.
The Ganzhou Intermediate People’s Court in Jiangxi province heard the case on Thursday but allowed only one of Ming’s lawyers to appear before the judge. The other, Chi Susheng, was ejected from the courthouse on the grounds that the “authenticity of her law firm letter could not be verified.”
A copy of the letter seen by Sixth Tone states that Susheng Law Firm had accepted Ming’s case and designated Chi as the defense lawyer, with the client’s attached authorization. The letter is addressed to the Ganzhou Intermediate People’s Court and stamped with the official seal of the firm, which was founded by Chi and shares her given name.
Chi is a licensed lawyer who is well-known in her field for defending thousands of clients, some in high-profile cases, such as a 2006 pharmaceutical scandal that led to at least 11 deaths. She served for 15 years as a delegate to the National People’s Congress — China’s legislature — beginning in 1998, and in 2012 she presented a controversial proposal to legalize sex work.
“In 38 years of practicing law, this is the first time that I haven’t shown up at the defense table,” Chi posted on social media after the hearing began, saying that instead she was given a chair outside the courthouse. “I worry that these grounds for rejection could affect all lawyers’ court appearances.”
Chi told Sixth Tone on Friday that she has appealed to the local lawyers’ association to safeguard her rights. Sixth Tone’s calls to the Ganzhou Intermediate People’s Court went unanswered on Friday.
Many lawyers have commented on the case online, saying the court’s conduct was not only unreasonable, but also a serious disruption of the legal system. “This justification is rare, as it shows the court deliberately created obstacles,” lawyer Qin Chenshou told Sixth Tone on Friday. “In this case, Ming may be sentenced with a severe penalty, and it will be difficult for just one lawyer to defend him.”
Ming is accused of “intentional homicide,” which in China can carry the death penalty.
Qin said the law firm letter is required to prove that the lawyer presenting it has been assigned to the case by a firm, but often the court will be satisfied with just the lawyer’s license and their client’s authorization letter. “In many cases, lawyers will be in the court with oral commissions from clients, and submit their materials and certificates later,” he said. In this case, Qin added, the court should first ensure the client’s right to be defended. “They could absolutely verify [the letter] after the court session,” he said.
Wu Liangshu, a lawyer based in the southern region of Guangxi who attracted attention last June when his pants were ripped off during a courthouse dispute, said that the court has illegally deprived the defendant’s right to a defense. “This verdict should be invalidated,” he told Sixth Tone.
The court’s verdict has not yet been announced.
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: An excavator at a construction site in Jinan, Shandong province, Jan. 17, 2015. Qiu Qian/VCG)