Russia's Champion of Hopeless Cases Is Targeted for Disbarment
Sunday, June 3, 2007
MOSCOW -- Karina Moskalenko spent a sleepless night in Strasbourg, France, last month writing and rewriting a petition to the European Court of Human Rights for Garry Kasparov, the chess champion and anti-Kremlin activist who was briefly arrested in connection with a demonstration here in April that riot police violently broke up.
As soon as Moskalenko, one of Russia's leading human rights lawyers, had filed the plea, she flew back to Moscow for a court appearance on behalf of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned oil tycoon under investigation on fresh charges of money-laundering.
"I am the champion of unsuccessful cases -- at least in Russia," Moskalenko said in an interview at the offices of the International Protection Center, the legal defense organization she founded 12 years ago. "Hopeless people are my clients."
Now, Moskalenko fears she will become a hopeless case herself.
The Russian Prosecutor General's Office, her constant adversary, is seeking to have her disbarred -- on the remarkable grounds that she has failed to adequately represent one of its prime targets, Khodorkovsky. It has succeeded in getting the Ministry of Justice to back its claim before the Moscow Bar Association. A hearing is scheduled for next month.
Moskalenko, 53, is known as a formidable legal foe of the Russian state, invariably losing in the country's courts but winning numerous cases at the European Court in Strasbourg, where her clients include the families of tortured, disappeared or murdered Chechens.
Khodorkovsky's attorneys have long been subject to official harassment, including arrests, searches of their persons and offices, and seizure of defense materials. His international attorneys have faced expulsion, and his domestic ones disbarment proceedings. But the case against Moskalenko takes the campaign to new levels, analysts here say.
"She's a brilliant and professional lawyer, and everyone understands very well that if they can disbar her, they can disbar anyone," said Yuri Kostanov, a member of the Independent Council of Legal Experts in Moscow and vice chairman of the Moscow bar. "I believe this is all the work of the special services. They are doing it to make everyone dance to their music and tell everyone: 'We are the power.' "
Kostanov and other legal experts fear that the pursuit of Moskalenko is an attempt to bring the legal system under the sway of the state by reining in independent-minded defense lawyers, particularly those willing to take cases to the European Court.
The European Court, which hears appeals of decisions by national courts, is one of the few remaining legal checks on authorities here. Russia, which has more plaintiffs appealing cases at the court than any other European country, consistently loses in Strasbourg -- a fact that infuriates political leaders. They have accused the court of bias.
Moskalenko's International Protection Center is also under pressure, and a large tax claim against the group remains unresolved. Last July, Moskalenko opened a sister organization in Strasbourg to handle her Chechen cases in case the Moscow office is shuttered.
The latest charge against Moskalenko, that she provided ineffective counsel to Khodorkovsky, was rejected by the jailed businessman himself in a February letter to investigators working with the prosecutor's office. They moved against Moskalenko anyway.