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He is of middle Eastern descent, speaks little or no English-and he’s also your client, whose civil case or criminal defense you have to try to an American jury. Many lawyers note that representing any client who doesn’t look or sound like the jury can be a challenge. But given the atmosphere in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the Iraq War, lawyers say that the obstacles to an unbiased jury can seem still more daunting when representing clients from the Middle East. And some lawyers are finding solutions. G. Donovan Conwell Jr. of Tampa, Fla.’s Conwell, Sukhia & Kirkpatrick recently led a trial team that convinced a Central Florida jury that their client, Sheikh Ahmed Abdu Nafa, a wealthy Saudi businessman who spoke no English, was the victim of a Miami businessman’s fraud and civil theft. The jury awarded Nafa $22.4 million against Nasir Ashemimry, a Miami-based investment manager and his company, Ashestrust Investment Corp . Nafa v. Ashemimry, No. 48-1998-CA-005045-O, (Orange Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.). A shortage of Muslims “This is the first time I’ve handled a case for someone from the Middle East and I had to deal directly with a combination of characteristics that probably were going to create a lot of biases,” Conwell said. “The guy was from Saudi Arabia and born in Yemen-the people involved in 9/11 were from either one or the other and he was from both. He is a Muslim, and in central Florida there are not a lot of people around who are Muslim.” Conwell said it was vital to establish a rapport with the jurors and personalize his client. “To get them to talk about bias you have to get them to warm up to you,” Conwell said. “You talk about the case and the client and don’t beat about the bush-it’s best to be very direct.” Peter M. Bernhardt of Cleveland-based McDonald Hopkins’ West Palm Beach, Fla., office, who represents Ashemimry, did not return a message seeking comment. The direct approach In representing Nafa, Conwell said that he told the jury, “My client is from Saudi Arabia, he was born in Yemen, the 9/11 hijackers are from those places. Are you suspicious when you see someone from the Middle East?” He also asked questions such as: “When you see someone of Arab descent, are you more guarded than you ordinarily would be? Are you more guarded on an airplane when you see somebody who you think is from the Middle East? “I had people say, gosh, now that you mention it I guess that I am,” Conwell said. “Then you ask them if they think they could put that aside in considering a case involving somebody from the Middle East”-which they apparently did, Conwell said. Stephen B. Mashney, principal of a four-lawyer Anaheim, Calif., plaintiffs’ personal injury practice that has Arab clients and who is himself a naturalized American born a Palestinian Arab, said that jurors’ judgments cannot help but be colored by a “media portrayal that Arabs are enemies and culturally backward.” He suggests that his clients wear conventional Western clothes, no head coverings and shave their beards if they have them, he said. “If a client’s accent is heavy, we ask him not to say too much, or we hire an interpreter so that the jury hears the client’s words on an American’s tongue,” Mashney said. Abed Hammoud, a Lebanese-born veteran assistant prosecutor in Wayne County, Mich., said that Detroit has a large and diverse population of Arabs, and bias issues can arise just as easily in cases involving people of other races and ethnic groups. Lawyers dress themselves, their clients, victims and witnesses-whether Arab, Hispanic, black or white-in a manner intended to distract jurors as little as possible from the law and the facts of the matter before them, Hammoud said. “I haven’t felt that there’s a built-in bias,” he said, adding that “the seriousness of the courtroom, an atmosphere in which people are treated with respect, makes juries focus on the facts and the law” regardless of someone’s ethnic background.

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