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Friday, Feb. 16, 2007

Bar not going to punish Asahara's lawyers for tardy court documents

Staff writer

The counsel for Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara will not be penalized for missing the deadline for filing a document with the Tokyo High Court needed to appeal his death sentence, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said Thursday.

In rejecting the high court request to punish lawyers Takeshi Matsui and Akio Matsushita, JFBA Vice Chairman Shigeru Sugisaki explained that the demand was unlawful because it was made after the guru's trial had concluded.

"We must say that the request has no legal grounds," Sugisaki said, noting the purpose of punishing lawyers for such acts is to ensure an ongoing trial will proceed speedily, and to penalize them after the conclusion would be untimely.

The Tokyo High Court filed the request for punitive action on Sept. 25 -- 10 days after the Supreme Court finalized Asahara's death sentence. It was the first time in 17 years that a court had sought penalties for such acts.

The high court claims Asahara's lawyers deliberately delayed the trial by not submitting the appeal document by the deadline, depriving their client's right of appeal. But the bar federation ruled that the court's request for punitive action was not submitted in time for examination, Sugisaki said.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Asahara to death in 2004 for masterminding 13 crimes carried out by his followers, including sarin attacks. His appeal was dismissed by the high court after his lawyers failed to hand in the necessary documents by the August 2005 deadline.

Matsui and Matsushita appealed the high court's decision, saying they were not satisfied with the results of a court-commissioned psychiatric examination that found the debilitated guru competent to stand trial. They also said they could not submit the appeal document because they were unable to communicate properly with their client.

But the Tokyo High Court turned down their appeal again last March, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court six months later.

In finalizing Asahara's death sentence, Supreme Court Justice Yukio Horigome stated: "the defendant has not tried to communicate with his lawyers, and that caused this situation. The defendant as well as the lawyers are responsible."

Following the JFBA decision, the Tokyo High Court said it would request the individual bar associations to which Matsui and Matsushita belong to take disciplinary action.

Matsushita noted he was relieved by the JFBA decision, but criticized the bar federation for its failure to examine why the defense delayed submitting the appeal documents.

"I'd really have appreciated it if the JFBA had investigated more about Asahara's mental condition before closing the case," Matshushita said.

He called the court's plan to seek further disciplinary action against them "shameful" after the JFBA turned down its request as "unlawful."

Matsui said Asahara remains "unable to speak or comprehend any communication."

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The Japan Times

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