20 July 2015

The three assigned counsel ask to be relieved – but fail to state any reasons

The trial day began with motions by the three assigned counsel Heer, Stahl and Sturm that they be relieved of their duties. As for the “reasons” for these motions, they simply relied on a “professional affirmation” in their capacity as lawyers that “serious reasons”, as required by the courts for relieving assigned counsel, existed. They claimed not to be able to say more due to attorney-client privilege, adding that they were unable to counsel their client to waive it. Counsel Sturm added that Zschäpe was “partially” aware of the reasons. After several interruptions, statements by parties etc., the presiding judge finally denied the motions.
It was clear that the motions were without a chance of success simply as it did not contain any reasons. Clearly, the professional affirmations of counsel were not sufficient – first of all, it is quite unclear whether it is possible to affirm a legal conclusion – that “serious reasons” exist. And most importantly, just a few weeks ago and in reaction to Zschäpe’s motion to relieve counsel Sturm of her duties, the three had claimed in detail that there were no reasons for relieving her.

It is unclear whether this motion is only aimed at restoring the remaining professional reputation of Heer, Stahl and Sturm, already seriously damaged by the undignified spectacle concerning Zschäpe’s motion, or whether the three were actually hoping to be relieved. What is clear is that they had done all they could to ensure that their motion remained unsuccessful. This was especially the case with regard to counsel Heer, who in his motion had claimed that he had warned the presiding judge several times that “such conditions could come about”, but that these motions had not been heeded. However, when asked what that meant, he refused to specify his cryptic remarks in any way, even after the presiding judge reminded him that these conversations could hardly be covered by attorney-client privilege. Newly assigned fourth counsel Grasel stated that Zschäpe chose not to comment, thus doing what he could to ensure the motions remained unsuccessful.

After the lunch break, the presiding judge reacted to this contradictory behavior by providing a short summary of several discussions of the court with the three counsel. Inter alia, they had stated that they had so far been able to “set boundaries” for their client, but that after the assignment of a fourth counsel, they might be unable to continue to do so and that they feared further motions to be relieved. Of course, these ex parte discussions about “setting boundaries” for the client show an understanding of criminal defense which is impossible to square with that which the three claimed in their motions today – even aside from the fact that most of what was talked about was also subject to attorney-client privilege.

Counsel Grasel instead referred to a motion his client had made that morning in which she asked the court to decide on the defense seating order since counsel Heer refused to give up his seat directly in front of the judges’ bench. Given the lack of reasons for the motions, it was unsurprising that the reasons given by the presiding judge for denying them were also rather brief. Given the denial of the motions, Heer, Stahl and Sturm remain in the trial and there is no reason to fear that the trial might have to be interrupted and started anew.

In the afternoon, the court continued the questioning of a witness who had already testified on 29 April 2015. However, this was mostly done for formal reasons to show that the court advance the gathering of evidence today. His testimony was interrupted after a short time, he will have to appear once more. After the sometimes quite childish spectacle presented by the Zschäpe defense, the witness, who had provided a false alibi to Mundlos, Böhnhardt, Zschäpe and Wohlleben in 1996/1997, reminded those present of the actual subject of the trial: “I have already admitted that what I did was wrong. And I mean, we are talking about cowardly murders, about brutal bank robberies.”