Nikola Kostich, a friend and fellow attorney with whom I tried cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, passed away last week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am finally free to confess to the Great Serbian- American Bar Association Hoax. So, ever so belatedly, here is the truth, the nitty-gritty, the real skinny on that caper.
Brits and Americans have this penchant for associations catering to inane and arcane interests – witness the International Association for Bear Research and Management, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and the British Llama Society. Cambridge University alone boasts of more than 200 registered clubs and societies while the United States Internal Revenue Service recognizes some 90,908 trade and professional associations and hundreds of thousands of philanthropic and charitable associations, so who is going question yet another?
Nick and I were licking our legal wounds after suffering ignominious defeat at the hands of the Feds in the Nikola “Lovać na Tita” Kavaja/Boško “The Yugo” Radonjić/SOPO trial and the hijacking of American Airline Flight 293; for those of you for whom the names and events do not ring a bell, Google away for a bit of history. “Drowning” might be a more apt description of the activity since we were drinking I.W. Harper’s bourbon on the terrace of my office, high above Madison Avenue in New York City.
From those bourbon infused fumes was born the idea of founding yet another futile endeavor – the Serbian-American Bar Association. With many a hoot and holler we expanded on the idea. Not satisfied in just expounding on the idea between sips of bourbon we set about in writing a press release announcing its birth and then, besotted, sent it out to the media.
To our morning after consternation the Associated Press, United Press International and even The New York Times ran with the story:
“There are associations for Jewish lawyers, Protestant lawyers and Roman Catholic lawyers, black lawyers, Hispanic lawyers, all kinds of lawyers. And now, there is an association for Serbian-American lawyers.
Two Serbian-born lawyers, Deyan Ranko Brashich of New York and Nikola Kostich of Milwaukee, last week announced the formation of the Serbian-American Bar Association.
The group’s goals include protecting the civil rights of those of Serbian origin, assuring that those with Serbian backgrounds are well represented in the legal profession and ”identifying the great contributions of the Serbian minority in the profession to Anglo- American jurisprudence”.
According to Mr. Brashich, a New York lawyer, there are as many as 2,000 Serbian-American lawyers.
Mr. Brashich, who was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, said the group was in part a response to judges and lawyers insensitive to Serbian-American concerns – who balk, for instance, at requests for court postponements on Jan. 7, when Serbians celebrate Christmas.
He admitted, though, that some details of the undertaking were tongue-in- cheek. In this category, he included the site of the group’s first convention – the A-1 Motel and Resort, on Secaucus Avenue in Jersey City.” The New York Times, November 13, 1983
Of course Nick and I could not leave well enough alone, much less confess to the bourbon induced prank; we moved from simple misdemeanors to premeditated felonies. We registered our Association with the authorities, the powers that be, inventing a non-existent Board of Governors peopled with fictitious State and Federal judges, bogus partners in Wall Street, Chicago and San Francisco law firms and make believe law professors from Yale and Harvard Law Schools. Truly a bar association to be proud of.
We championed causes and made national policy statements in the name of our Bar Association which never had more than 2 members:
“To the Editor, The New York Times, February 6, 1985:
As president of the Serbian-American Bar Association, I must comment on your recent front-page article ”3 Yugoslav Dissidents Given Mild Sentences” (Feb. 5).
That you can suggest that an 18- month prison sentence in Yugoslav jails for a term paper written at Brandeis University is ”mild” is disingenuous, at best.
At worst, your reporting displays a callous disregard for an individual’s right to freedom of speech.
It would have been far better, and certainly far more honest, for you to call Milan Nikolic’s sentence for ”hostile propaganda” what it was: a dastardly display of a totalitarian regime, crushing freedom of speech with brute force and a contempt for law.”
The Association’s most daunting challenge was to deny membership to aspiring attorneys that would have exposed the hoax. This was accomplished by never announcing an enrollment period or establishing membership criteria. The Association flourished with its two original and only members.
Maintaining the charade, filing the forms, paying the fees, responding to inquiries and dodging the bullet became onerous. The solution and salvation came from a group of real Serbian American attorneys who approached us for leave to use our moniker “The Serbian-American Bar Association” and not have it conflict with theirs, “The Serbian Bar Association of America”. Nick and I graciously ceded the rights to the name and bowed out of the Bar Association game. The hoax was never exposed, that is until now with Nick’s passing and the expiration of all statutes of limitation.
Deyan Ranko Brashich, an attorney, Op-Ed columnist, resides in New York City and is a frequent contributor. He is the author of Letters from America and Contrary Views. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com