Socrates found not guilty in mock trial

Socrates was found not guilty in a mock trial conducted Monday May 22, with Robert A. Clifford and Sarah F. King, partners of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, and Dan Webb, co-executive chairman of Winston & Strawn in Chicago, defending him before hundreds of jurors.

In a three-hour event sponsored by the National Hellenic Museum, Socrates was “re-tried” on charges of breaking Athenian laws 2,500 years ago when he was found guilty and put to death at the age of 70 in Ancient Greece.

Clifford and Webb defended Socrates 10 years ago on charges of corrupting young people with his ideas and disrespecting the Greek gods and lost, although Socrates’ life was spared then. In the real trial in 399 B.C., Socrates was put to death by hemlock. This year was a much different outcome with King examining Socrates on the witness stand and two groups of jurors finding him innocent on the charges.

In the closing argument, Clifford, founder and senior partner of the firm, who told the group he grew up on “the south side of Athens,” said, “He did not disrespect the gods. He engaged in a purposeful examination of his own life, and he encouraged his allies and the young men that were around him to do the same. There is not a single shred of evidence to support impiety or that he attempted to introduce different gods. There is not a single shred of evidence that he corrupted the youth by telling them at some points you need to question democracy, and he inspired the youth through self-examination. ... We all grow as a society by engaging in discourse with our friends. ... He said we should all strive to be good. We should all strive to do good deeds and that’s what he preached to those young men. He told you we should all perform acts of charity; we should all engage in good acts. And he told you that it was his duty as a philosopher to seek truth and to question everything. And for that he should be put to the death?”

As in ancient Greece, the Chicago audience of 500 became the jurors who decided Socrates’ fate by placing a white chip in a bag for innocence and a blue chip for guilt. They were collected at the end and then placed on a scales of justice where it was overwhelmingly not guilty. The defense team immediately hugged each other in success because it meant Socrates was free to go and continue to speak publicly about the fragilities of democracy.

A 13-member “celebrity” jury on stage also found him not guilty 10-3. The four judges who heard the case from benches across Chicago found him guilty, with U.S. Federal District Court Judge Jorge Alonso of the Northern District of Illinois finding Socrates not guilty on the second charge of corrupting Athens’ youth. He found him guilty on the first charge of impiety or disrespecting the gods, as did the other judges: Illinois Supreme Court Joy Cunningham, and Cook County Circuit Court Judges Anthony C. Kyriakopoulos and Anna H. Demacopoulos. U.S. District Court Judge Charles P. Korcoras, Northern District of Illinois, delivered an opening greeting for the crowd explaining the importance of the lessons still to be learned from ancient Greece including the foundation of democracy and trial by jury.

Webb argued in his opening statement that Socrates, in fact, was a war hero and even became a general in ancient Greece fighting in three battles to defend democracy. “Socrates is not accused of tyranny whatsoever, and yet think about it for a moment. Is everyone who taught someone in school and later if some of those students do bad acts that the teachers are responsible, are the persons responsible for those bad acts, because that’s what they are saying about Socrates.” He went on to say that Socrates believes that the gods are not vindictive, but instead are benevolent and he respects them, and the philosopher asked others to question the true nature of the gods, which relies on the freedom of speech.

Patrick Collins partner at King & Spalding, prosecuted the People’s case along with Tinos Diamantatos of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, and Julie Porter of Salvatore Prescott Porter & Porter PLLC. Actor and Second City alumnus John Kapelos (“The Shape of Water,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Forever Knight”) portrayed Socrates.

The ticketed event was held at the Harris Theatre in Chicago. It was the eighth trial involving ancient Greece in the past 10 years sponsored by the Museum.

Support for The Trial of Socrates is generously provided by lead sponsors The Jaharis Family Foundation, Calamos Investments and Clifford Law Offices.

Socrates’ trial has fascinated and troubled generations who have struggled to comprehend the death of one of history’s greatest philosophers at the hands of a lawful jury. Convicted in Athens in 399 B.C.E. with impiety and corrupting the youth, Socrates’ pursuit of wisdom was seen as a threat to the survival of Athenian democracy. National Hellenic Museum’s The Trial of Socrates invites audiences to consider anew the fragility of democracy, the limits of freedom, and the imperfection of human justice.

The NHM Trial Series highlights the enduring relevance and value of Greek thought and history. For additional information about the series and NHM, visit
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