Advice To The Senate From Marcus Tullius Cicero
This comes from his first great legal victory. Cicero prosecuted Gaius Verres for crimes he committed while governor of Scicly. Theft of artworks, unlawful dentention and execution of Roman citizens. The crimes were numerous and heinous. The biggest hurdle facing Cicero in his prosecution of Verres was that the ill gotten gains had been used quite liberally as bribes in the case. The jury was composed of Senators and the defense counsels were Hortensius and Metellus Pius who, at the time, were both consul-elect.
Knowing that there was a very limited time for the trial (if it progressed into the new administration there would be no chance at all of a conviction) Cicero rose on the first day of court and said this:
"Gentlemen of the court, at this great political crisis there has been offered to you, not through man's wisdom but almost as the direct gift of heaven, the very thing you most need---a thing that will help more than anything else to mitigate the unpopularity of your Order and the suspicion surrounding these courts. A belief has become established---as harmful to the republic as it is to yourselves---that these courts, with your senators as the jury, will never convict any man, however guilty, if he has sufficient money.
But the character of the many I am prosecuting, is such that you may use him to restore your own good name. Gaius Verres has robbed the Treasury and behaved like a pirate and a destroying pestilence in his province of Sicily. You have only to find this man guilty, and respect in you will be rightly restored. But it you do not---if his immense wealth is sufficient to shatter your honesty---well then, I shall achieve one thing at least. The nation will not believe Verres to be right and me wrong---but they will certainly know all they need to know about a jury of Roman Senators!
Let me tell you of the impudent and insane plan that is now in Verres's mind. It is plain to him that I am approaching this case so well prepared that I shall be able to pin him down as a robber and a criminal, not merely in the hearing of this court but in the eyes of the whole world. But, in spite of this, he holds so low an opinion of the aristocracy, he believes the senatorial courts to be so utterly abandoned and corrupt, that he goes about boasting openly that he has bought the safest date for his trial, that he has bought the jury, and just to be on the safe side, he has also bought the consular election for his two titled friends who have tried to intimidate my witnesses! (at this point the consuls-elect as defense attorneys began to shout and disrupt the proceeding, Cicero wheeled on them and strode over to the defense table)
What? Did you count on my saying nothing of so serious a matter? On my caring for anything except my duty and my honor, when the country and my own reputation are in such danger? Metellus, (Metellus Pius, co-council for the defense, consul-elect, imperator of the 9th and 11th legions, triumphate for Spain, pontifex maximus, brother of the current governor in Sicily) I am amazed at you. To attempt to intimidate witnesses, especially these timorous and calamity-stricken Sicilians, by appealing to their awe of you as consul-elect, and the power of your two brothers---if this is not judicial corruption, I should be glad to know what it is! What would you not do for an innocent kinsman if you abandon duty and honor for an utter rascal who is no kin of yours at all? Because, I tell you this: Verres has been going around saying that you were only made consul because of his exertions, and that by January he will have the two consuls and a president of the court to suit him!
(Again, pandemonium erupted in the court. The defense was going apeshit, the gallery was screaming, Verres was shouting death threats and being physically restrained by the lictors of the court. When order was restored Cicero continued)
So, these are their tactics. Today the court did not start its business until the middle of the afternoon---they are already reckoning that today does not count at all. It is only ten days to the games of Pompeius Magnus. These will occupy fifteen days and will be immediately followed by the Roman Games. So it will not be until after an interval of nearly forty days that they expect to begin their reply. They count on being able then, with the help of long speeches and technical evasions, to prolong the trial until the Games of Victory begin. These games are followed without break by the Plebeian Games, after which there will be very few days, or none at all, on which the court can sit. In this way they reckon that all the impetus of the prosecution will be spent and exhausted, and that the whole case will come up afresh before Marcus Metellus, who is sitting there, on this jury.
So what am I to do? If I spend upon my speech the full time allotted me by law, there is the gravest danger that the man I am prosecuting will slip through my fingers. 'Make your speech shorter' is the obvious answer I was given a few days ago, (by Terentia his wife) and that is good advice. I shall go one better. Gentlemen, I shall make no speech at all!
That is right Hortensius, I am not going to play your game and spend the next ten days in the usual long address. I am not going to let the case drag on till January, when you and Metellus as consuls can use your lictors to drag my witnesses before you and frighten them into silence. I am not going to allow you gentlemen of the jury the luxury of forty days to forget my charges so that you can then lose yourselves and your consciences in the tangled thickets of Hortensius's rhetoric. I am not going to delay the settlement of this case until all these mutitudes who have come to Rome for the census and the games have dispersed to their homes in Italy. I am going to call my witnesses at once, beginning now, and this will be my procedure: I shall read out the individual charge. I shall comment and elaborate upon it. I shall bring forth the witness who supports it and question him, and then you, Hortensius, will have the same opportunity as I for comment and cross-examination,. I shall do all of this and I shall rest my case within the space of ten days.
Today, the eyes of the world are upon us, waiting to see how far the conduct of each man among us will be marked by obedience to his conscience and observance of the law. Even as you will pass your verdict upon the defendant, so the people of Rome will pass their verdict upon yourselves. The case of Verres will determine whether, in a court composed of Senators, the condemnation of a very guilty and very rich man can possibly occur. Because all the world knows that Verres is distinguished by nothing except his monsterous offenses and his immense wealth. Therefore if he is acquitted it will be impossible to imagine any explanation except the most shameful. So I advise you, gentlemen, for your own sakes, to see that this does not occur.
I call my first witness---Sthenius of Thermae."
The day before the guilty verdict was pronounced which would have stripped him of his citizenship and wealth Verres fled Rome for Africa. The final settlement of the things that he left behind barely covered the expenses Cicero incurred undertaking this prosecution. Cicero did, according to the laws of Lucius Cornielius Sulla, assume the Praetorian rank of Verres which assured his being allowed time to speak in the Senate.
I sent a copy of this speech to both John McCain and John Kyl. I don't think they will see the parallels to the situation of our government today that I do, but it doesn't matter. The White House is already talking about dragging the subpoena process along until they are out of office. The Senate, being mostly sheep, will probably let that happen.
Would that we had a Cicero.