Have you ever heard of the Alipore bomb case?
On April 30, 1908, two Indian revolutionaries tried to kill a British magistrate known for handing down harsh sentences against other freedom fighters. They missed their target. The bomb they threw landed in the wrong carriage, killing the wife and daughter of an English barrister.
Within just a couple of days, the British arrested 33 suspects, including the suspected ring leader, Aurobindo Ghosh. Aurobindo, who was educated at King's College, Cambridge University, retained the pro bono services of the hitherto unknown defense lawyer Chittaranjan Das.
C.R. Das, pictured, faced an uphill battle. The trial lasted a year, included more than 200 witnesses, and more than 5,000 exhibits. On top of it all, he had a client who was his intellectual equal.
You might think that having a smart client would be an asset to the trial lawyer. Oftentimes, however, the client thinks he knows best and can't resist being a backseat driver at the trial -- scribbling notes to the lawyer, dictating trial tactics.
During the Alipore bomb case trial, Sri Aurobindo had trouble fighting the urge to feed notes to C.R. Das and to suggest strategy. Then he received a "command from within" telling him to, in essence, let his lawyer do his job.
In the end, 17 of 36 defendants were acquitted, including Sri Aurobindo. (Sri Aurobindo's younger brother, Barindra, was one of two found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Their sentences were later commuted to life, and in 1920 they both received amnesty.)
C.R. Das went on to become a leading figure in the independence movement of India. But before we leave his story, let me suggest that C.R. Das was the best kind of lawyer. He wasn't a tool for his client's whim.
He didn't restrict his advice to good news. He wasn't a yes man.
I think it's safe to say that C.R. Das told his clients what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. That's what a good lawyer does.
The client never likes to hear bad news, but it's often the only medicine that will help.
So it is with the Center.
The Center as an organization faces a threat to its existence that is not of its making. It is suffering from a late stage organizational cancer that can only be cured by radical action -- action that I fear the Center's leadership would rather not hear about, much less consider.
The outlines of this action have already been put forth in this excellent comment by reader "Legal Eagle." I don't know who "Legal Eagle" is, but at the heart of his or her advice is this: the need for an independent investigation.
Like it or not, that's the only course of action that can save the Center as an organization.
To be precise, it's the only voluntary action the leadership of the Center can take. There are, of course, involuntary possibilities.
It is, I suspect, only a matter of time before a major media outlet takes an interest in this story. Imagine, for example, if any of these individuals take an interest in the sordid events that have been revealed over the last few weeks. Although indirect, the ensuing publicity nightmare would force unpredictable changes upon the Center.
Likewise -- though I have no knowledge of any concrete plans by anyone in this regard -- I'd assess the likelihood of legal action over the near to mid-term as high. What a misfortune that would be for all involved. In this regard, let me make one thing clear to my friends in the Center.
Though I've been asked, I've advised nobody about litigation against the Center. Nor shall I do so. Though it's my profession, litigation is -- by its very nature -- a destructive path. It should be avoided at all costs.
I won't be a part of such an action.
I don't think I'm giving away any secret, however, when I say that despite its destructive nature, litigation is good at solving some types of problems, one of which is a corporate board of directors that doesn't follow formalities, that doesn't investigate reported wrongdoing, and that revokes the membership rights of its members without due process.
Nevertheless, the leadership of the Center should take heed. Voluntary reform is cheaper, it provides certainty, and it affords some measure of control. These are things that I expect the Center's corporate counsel already knows. In this case, corporate counsel's challenge is to convince the rest of the Center's board members of this.
Like all corporate counsel, however, it should never be forgotten that the duty of an organization's lawyer is always to the organization. Where the organization's interests diverge from the interests of the corporate counsel's fellow board members, the lawyer's duty is to the organization.
In this case, the Center is sick and only a neutral, independent quest for the truth will save it.