"The Trial of The Elgin Marbles" Review- The National Hellenic Museum Hosts a Fine Legal Exercise

On March 15, 2017, the 4th in a series of trial exercises sponsored by The National Hellenic Museum, 333 S. Halsted, Chicago, took place to a packed audience of 800+ in The Rubloff Auditorium of The Art Institute of Chicago, 230 S. Columbus Drive. “The Trial of The Elgin Marbles” brought together Chicago’s best and most famous trial lawyers and jurists, 2 learned expert witnesses and a distinguished panel of jurors.  The combined legal/judicial talent on the dais that evening was almost overwhelming.

The attorneys and judges for "The Trial of The Elgin Marbles"

The lawyers for Greece included:

-Robert A. Clifford:

Mr. Clifford is a nationally known trial lawyer whose roster of successfully litigated   important cases is legion. He served as Liaison Counsel for all property claims arising out of the horrifying destruction of The World Trade Center 9/11 attacks; was lead counsel in the American Eagle Flight 4184 crash which killed 68 people; handled the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash with it’s death toll of 88; led the plaintiffs case in the Cook County Administration Building fire case; and has tried/settled others too numerous to mention. He is always fighting for the rights of the individual.

 -Dan K. Webb:

 Chairman of the prestigious Winston and Strawn firm, Mr. Webb has had a long and illustrious career in high-profile litigation cases. He is the subject of a 2015 biography, “May It Please the Court”, penned by one of the Judges in “Elgin Marbles”, Charles P. Kocoras. As the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, he took a lead role in the famous “Operation Greylord” investigation into judicial corruption.

-Sam Adam, Jr.

The son of well-known criminal defense lawyer Sam Adam, with whom he successfully defended former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, Mr. Adam is a renowned and award-winning criminal defense trial lawyer.

The Honorable Judges: Charles P. Kocoras, Anne M. Burke, Richard A. Posner, William J. Bauer, Anna H. Demacopoulos

 The lawyers for The British Museum included:

-Patrick Fitzgerald:

Formerly Chief of the Organized Crime-Terrorism Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, where he helped prosecute Usama Bin Laden, he served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois for more than a decade before becoming a partner in the illustrious Skadden Arps law firm.

 -Patrick Collins:

Mr. Collins, formerly an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, where he served under Patrick Fitzgerald as a supervisor in the corruption unit, is a  highly accomplished trial lawyer and investigator partner at Perkins Collins, working on complex civil and criminal matters in federal Court cases around the country.

 -Tinos Diamantatos:

Mr. Diamantatos, a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, is a partner at Morgan Lewis, and a seasoned trial lawyer representing individuals and organizations.

Robert A. Clifford prior to giving his opening statement for Greece; photo by Debra Davy

  The panel of exceptionally distinguished  judges included:

-The Honorable William J. Bauer, a Senior Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, formerly the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and previously a Judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

 -The Honorable Charles P. Kocoras, a Senior United States Federal Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, formerly chief judge, and earlier Chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission.

 -The Honorable Anne M. Burke, an Illinois Supreme Court Justice for the First Judicial District; formerly a judge in the Illinois Appellate Court, she is a founder of the Special Olympics.

 -The Honorable Anna H. Demacopoulos, a judge on the Cook County 15th Subcircuit in Illinois.

Patrick M. Collins opens for Britain

 The sole issue at the trial was: Whether the items known as “The Elgin Marbles”, currently in the possession of Great Britain, the United Kingdom, should be returned to Greece. The audience, the majority of the jurors, and most of the Judges agreed the antiquities should in fact be ordered back from their home for 200 years, The British Museum, to the newly created Acropolis Museum, built to house the artifacts found on the rock and on the surrounding slopes, located at the base of the Acropolis.

 The facts demonstrated that The Elgin Marbles, also known as The Parthenon Marbles, are a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures originally part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece. Crafted under the supervision of architect/sculptor Phidias, between 447-432 BC, they were comprised of three sets. The metopes were individual sculptures in high relief; there were originally 92 of them, separated by triglyphs. They were placed around the building, above the exterior columns, and depicted a number of mythical battles. The frieze, composed of 115 panels, one long continuous sculpture in low relief, was placed above the interior columns, and depicts the processional to the temple during the Panathenic festival. These two portions are part of the structure of the Parthenon itself. The now badly damaged pediment statues, at either end of the temple, are said to have represented the birth and later struggle of Athena.

Of the original metopes, 39 are in Athens, and 15 are in the British Museum in London, England. Of the original 115 panels in the frieze, 94 still exist, whether broken or intact. One is in the Louvre. 36 are in Athens, and 56 are in the British Museum. 17 pedimental statues, including a caryatid and a column from the Erechtheion temple, on the north side of the sacred rock of the Acropolis, are also in the British Museum.

Dan K. Webb closes for Greece

  How did these precious marble creations, by all accounts part of the very patrimony of Greece and priceless, come to be lodged in another country? The facts surrounding that transfer formed the very heart of the case, and were adduced in expert testimony as well as alluded to in the arguments of counsel. The British Museum’s position is that the Marbles were lawfully obtained and that allowing them to remain in England supports “cultural universalism”, the concept that all treasure belongs to all the world; Greece disagreed on both points, and further argues that all the marbles belong together and in Greece, supporting the theory of “cultural nationalism”.

 Lord Elgin was appointed ambassador of Great Britain to Constantinople in 1799. Subsequently, he spent several years, much effort, used numbers of hired helpers, and with a lot of effort, he caused the treasure to be removed- some say less than carefully- to England by ships, one of which sank. He later sold them to the British government that has since displayed them in the Museum. There are some allegations that they were damaged in careless cleaning, but all agree they now reside in a world-class exhibit hall.

 An English translation of an Italian translation of a never-produced Turkish “firman”, an order or edict of the Turkish sultan, said to be lost, allegedly gave Elgin authority to remove artifacts from the site of the Acropolis. The translations lacked evidence that would be emblematic of a firman, notably the stamp or style of the sultan, an invocation to the deity, the sultan’s monogram, a specific mention of the officials to whom it was addressed, including compliments to these same, particular modes of phrasing, a ratification, and notes of the date and place of issue- all of these were absent from the document submitted by The British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles to the House of Commons.

Patrick J. Fitzgerald closes for Britain

 Highlights of the trial included:

Robert Clifford in opening statement made his points logically and succinctly, with dry wit, urging that the evidence presented, combined with the jury’s compassion, justice, sense of history and the morals of a civilized society would mandate a verdict for Greece. “Lord Elgin did not possess proper ownership or title and you can’t sell what you don’t own”, he advised. The Ottoman Empire, a theocracy, only operated in such instances by use of a proper firman and none was extant in evidence at the trial. “Lord Elgin grossly exceeded his authority”, Clifford averred, most carelessly removing the precious pieces. “He was no saint, not a preservationist”. Elgin was a plunderer, Clifford noted, who had money troubles of his own. He sold the marbles to Britain, which held a lien on them and were afraid he’d sell them to France, which had captured Elgin and held him hostage. The idea of “cultural universalism”, put forth by Britain, was simply a pretext for keeping the loot.

 Patrick Collins opened for Britain, and delivered a lot of laughs. He also depicted Elgin as an artistic savior of the integrity of the marbles, describing how much of the Parthenon had been destroyed in prior warfare. He noted how Greece had not filed suit in 150 years, thereby constituting a waiver.

 Sam Adam examined Dr. Fiona Rose-Greenland, an antiquities expert, with great style and much verve. She was steadfast in defending the failures of the document allegedly translating the nonexistent firman. She also pointed out the repeated historical requests made by the Greek government to Britain seeking the return of the marbles, and the failed promises made by Britain to give them back.

Counsel for Greece: Robert A. Clifford, Sam Adam, Jr., and Dan K. Webb

 Molly Morse Limmer, an art historian for Britain skillfully questioned by Timos Diamantatos, attempted to establish that Elgin went through proper channels to obtain the firman, hired and used some 25 workers over 3 years to remove, pack and ship the marbles. “It was hardly done under shadow of night”.

 Dan Webb, closing for Greece, always startlingly logical and eloquent, described how the Parthenon Marbles virtually “Tell the story of Democracy”. He urged that the jury’s job was to “Decide what happens to the Marbles now”. In doing justice, he intoned, the jurors must bear in mind 2 indisputable facts: 1) The Marbles represent the civilization of Greece and symbolize Greek culture and 2), The arrogance of the British Museum’s claim of cultural universalism, a pretext for their belief that “We’re better than they are”.

 Patrick Fitzgerald, closing for Britain, gave a careful argument quoting Aristotle, “Law is reason free from passion”. He noted Webb’s argument had been “Filled with passion devoid of reason”. Fitzgerald urged the Court to consider that Elgin must needs have had valid permission or he could never have effected the removal of the artwork. Perhaps his best point was the lack of legal precedent or statute invoked as authority by Greece.

 It was hardly surprising that the impanelled jury, as well as the audience, many of whom were Greek, would decide resoundingly in favor of Greece. The stated opinions of the Judges were cogent and beautifully phrased, Judge Kocoras, as always, noting that “Law must be just”. Judge Demacopoulos mentioned that “The unique nature of The Marbles distinguishes them from anything else in the world”. Judge Burke ruled that “The case falls on the accuracy of the firman”, noting there had been no original produced and “A shaky chain of custody”. Judge Bauer quipped that if cultural universalism were to prevail, he “Looks forward to returning California to Mexico”. Judge Posner was the sole holdout. He very cleverly and wryly stated that his verdict might “Cause him to be trampled, and if trampled, martyred”. His decision for Britain was based on being convinced that the Turkish Empire had the authority to give away the Marbles, did so legitimately, and that Greece had lost it’s rights due to the lapse of time.

Distinguished Counsel: Tinos Diamantatos, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan K. Webb, Patrick M. Collins, Robert A. Clifford, Sam Adam, Jr.

 The trial was a brilliant exercise in marshaling facts and evidence, extremely entertaining, and a wonderful opportunity to hear these great representatives of the legal profession and the Bench.


For information about the National Hellenic Museum and all it's terrific events, go to the National Hellenic Museum website



Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Dimitri Eliopoulos  



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