Clarisse Serre needs no introduction. Accustomed to TV sets and media files, advisor to the hit series gears, she is one of the few women to have established herself in the very masculine world of criminal justice and organized crime. In ” The lioness of the bar“, which appears these days at Sonatine editions, title coming from the nickname given to her by her colleagues, she tells without jargon the backstage of her profession. A sincere and personal book, in which she does not hesitate to write about the doubt, the discouragement and the intranquillity which await the penalists. She also draws a beautiful portrait of the bar of Seine-Saint-Denis, in which she has practiced for 10 years. Meet.
Actu-Juridique: Why did you want to write this book?
Clarisse Serre : This is my editor’s idea. I did not see myself telling my life story but I found it interesting to lift the veil behind the scenes of this profession. I am sometimes invited to participate in television or radio programs. I don’t go there to talk about my cases but I gladly agree to help listeners and journalists to decipher the language and the challenges of the legal world. In the same way, exchanges on social networks often testify to a lack of knowledge or misunderstanding of justice: of the institution, its functioning and its decisions. This is regrettable, including for us lawyers, who are court officers. I often encourage people – starting with interns from my firm – to come and watch the hearings. This book started from this simple desire. I wanted to show that justice is not limited to media affairs or a few Parisian tenors familiar with the front pages of newspapers. They are very good, but I’m a little tired of this Parisianism.
AJ: Your book also opens with a rehabilitation of Bobigny. Why ?
CS : But because Bobigny deserves it! Bobigny is sometimes nicknamed “Boboche”, in a somewhat condescending way. When we talk about Bobigny, it’s often to explain that it’s raining in the courthouse or that the judges are lax – which is also completely false! I know Bobigny well like many other jurisdictions in France where I am called. So of course, not everything is perfect in court, but there also reigns a state of mind that no longer exists in Paris. Paris is a factory, a judicial machine where you no longer see anyone. Here, there are still relations between clerks, lawyers, magistrates. The building is solid and it is held together by the state of mind of the civil servants who work there, all of whom are driven by an incredible desire to do well. I would like us to talk about Bobigny other than in pejorative terms or from a negative angle. That journalists take the time to come and see what is happening there. Good lawyers are not all in Paris. I want to testify that there exists in Bobigny a quality criminal defense, human relations and a proximity which make the exercise of this profession bearable and even pleasant. It is a young bar, which is renewing itself, which is committed and involved.
AJ: Why did you cross the ring road?
CS Like all criminal lawyers, I am rarely in my office. I am Parisian: I was born in Paris and I started my professional life there. At a certain point, I no longer saw the point of having expensive offices in a beautiful Haussmann building. More fundamentally, I wanted to do a different criminal. I then intervened in cases relating to the JIRS (specialized interregional jurisdiction) which is spread over several days or sometimes weeks. I wanted to do fewer “heavy” cases and more cases for immediate appearance. This defense is demanding: it requires seeing nullities immediately, knowing how to work in a hurry, having a spirit of synthesis. But unlike the JIRS records, the case you’re pleading ended that night. A colleague from Bobigny encouraged me to come. I left Paris and settled down. For the record, I finally gave up registering for criminal services so as not to step on the flowerbeds of my colleagues and I make few immediate appearances. I’ve always been pigeonholed as a crime lawyer, probably because that’s what I love so much. I am therefore attacking my tenth year at the bar of Seine-Saint-Denis and I have no regrets. Never. At first, some trainees were reluctant to come to Bobigny for transport reasons. But things have changed and there is no problem now. Several young colleagues based in Paris have also recently joined Bobigny.
AJ: Rare thing in lawyer’s books, you give pride of place to moments of discouragement and failures…
CS Courage and discouragement are part of this job. You must not miss one and manage to overcome the other. Always believe. Social networks, where we only talk about successes for commercial reasons that no one escapes, do not reflect reality. Who would take a lawyer who would openly say that he took more than the prosecution’s requisitions? Yet it happens. Unfortunately, we all know failure more than success. I had my share of discouragement too. In 2008, during the so-called “case of the escape of Antonio Ferrara“I was defending one of his accomplices in the first instance. The parquet had required 6 years, I took 8! The hours that followed were among the most difficult of my career. When the decision fell, at four o’clock in the morning, I didn’t have the necessary hindsight and I thought that everything was entirely my fault. The next morning, I went to see my client to tell him that he had to immediately appeal and imperatively change lawyers. I thought he needed a fresh look at his story. He replied simply: “If you don’t come with me, I won’t go”. I was trapped, because I couldn’t let her go. Without these words, I would no longer plead at the assizes today. More than ten years later, I am still in contact with him. The bond between a client and his lawyer can be very strong. I hate the term customer. I consider that my clients are more patients, even if I refuse the familiarity and I want to keep a distance.
AJ: What happened after this affair?
CS This was the start of an important reflection. When you are a criminal lawyer, you live with this job 24/24. I think about it at night, I think about it at the weekend, I think about it on vacation and I like it, even if, with age, I try to hide it! After this case, however, I began to take a step back. A criminal lawyer is narcissistic, he needs to be comforted, to be told that he has pleaded well. But we must not lose sight of the fact that it is also a profession of humility because the decision is not ours. It is the work of a collective of magistrates and jurors gathered in the court of assizes… We can bring our stone to the building, but it is never just a stone.
AJ: You also explain that you hardly go to prison anymore. Why ?
CS Indeed, I go there less than before and I write it without detour. When I was younger, like many criminal lawyers, I went there every week, and even several times a week. In prison, there is the visible and the invisible. What is visible are cockroaches and rats, even though improvement work has been undertaken in several establishments. And there is the invisible, even more trying. A detention center is a place that concentrates all the violence from the outside. It is not a question of saying that we must close all the prisons but we must be aware of what it is. There aren’t enough supervisors. In summer, it is very hot there. It’s a pressure cooker. There are the security checks, the overshoes that have to be put on, the interminable waiting times, the detainees upset because they haven’t seen their families, the constant noise. It’s still very tense. In Meaux, we see the prisoners who turn between them in a concrete courtyard. It is in itself quite a symbol. They are told to do activities but there are none! In Marseilles, the inhabitants of the neighborhood of the Beaumettes prison can no longer bear to hear the detainees calling out to each other while banging on the gutters… All this, I resolve to do more and more with difficulty.
AJ: On the other hand, in your book, you encourage magistrates to go to prison. Why ?
CS I take ENM trainees every year and I always take them to prison. Magistrates and investigating judges can visit remand centers and detention centers as much as they want in the performance of their duties. I would like to know how many have exercised this right to go to a remand center over the last six months? 5%? 10%? Is this normal? Admittedly, the magistrates are overwhelmed, but a judge who summons a detainee to question him and sees him arrive very tense would understand him better if he went to prison. When we decide to put someone in pretrial detention, the minimum is to know what this pretrial detention looks like. Especially since this detention is often less temporary than announced. They must know what they are talking about, be able to make the difference, for example, between isolation and permanent quarters. Quite honestly, you never hear a magistrate say that he has been to visit the prisons. And my colleagues, my sisters and I never meet them…
AJ: Why come back to Metoo in your book?
CS Because of the excesses of the time. Like all lawyers, one day I can be called upon to defend an abused woman and the next day a man destroyed by baseless accusations. I remember very well a boy released after custody. He said he wouldn’t go near a girl anymore…I can’t stand these public trials without adversarial argument anymore. For me, it’s impossible to imagine. It’s back to the time of the stake. We must remain firmly on the main principles of the presumption of innocence and the adversarial principle and constantly remind them! Of course, women’s voices must be heard. They must be able to speak in confidence and there must be more structures to receive and hear them. All of this is very healthy but should not prevent us from saying for example that some girls or some boys may have had a one-night stand and regret it the next morning. My colleagues say they can no longer make such comments. I who am a woman, I can. In 2012, I intervened in the media trial of the rotating Fontenay. The journalists presented all the defendants as guilty, even though they did not even have access to the proceedings, because the defendants appeared behind closed doors before an assize court for minors. In the end, ten of them were acquitted and five were given mixed sentences. I have a terrible memory of it.
AJ: Let’s go back to your life as a lawyer. You present defense as a collective practice. Are lawyers therefore not as individualistic as they say?
CS Collective defense is pure happiness for me. I’m already delighted to exercise this profession that I love, but if I could be in pairs in all cases of assizes or correctional, I would be fulfilled. Together, when we are complementary, we are extremely effective. Alone, we always have weaknesses. A good pair is a strength. And then, I always prefer to share: acquittals like convictions!