May 16, 2012

VIDEO: Goodwin at 100: Partners Play Instrumental Role in Nuremberg Trials – 1945

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the face of Goodwin Procter changed along with the rest of the nation. Eight of the firm’s 15 lawyers took leave to serve in the military, and others lent vital assistance to the war effort. Partner Charlie Post helped plan air force bombing runs in the South Pacific (and earned a Bronze Star in the process) and partner Joe Knowles helped administer provisional government in liberated France.

The firm’s most conspicuous contributions came in Germany after the war, however, when partners Leonard Wheeler and Frank Wallis played instrumental roles in the historic Nuremberg Trials.

Both Wheeler and Wallis had served in legal divisions during the war, but with Germany defeated, new orders arrived. Allied objectives turned to the question of how to deal with German political and military leaders – and more specifically, how to hold surviving high ranking Nazis accountable as occupation exposed the horrors of the Holocaust.

In June 1945, Wallis was assigned to the staff of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, U.S. Chief Prosecutor of Axis Criminality, and soon found that his fellow partner Wheeler was in charge of war-time intelligence gathering at Nuremburg and would be his immediate superior officer. The reunited partners, along with a small, dedicated team of other lawyers, plunged into their work, combing through caches of captured German documents, interrogating prisoners of war, and devising procedures for carrying out the trials themselves.

As Wallis observed in a diary he kept during the trials, the process they devised was “a compromise of the divergent views of the four powers, inasmuch as continental jurisprudence and procedures of trial are quite different from Anglo-American.” Eventually, compromises were struck and a charter for the trials was drawn up – making “a real step ahead in international law,” Wallis believed.

The trials themselves were dramatic and historic. Wallis, who presented much of the Americans’ part of the case against the Nazis, was clearly moved. “It was a most amazing and thrilling experience for me to participate in this International Four Power Conference,” he recorded, “representing the U.S. and knowing that I was participating in making history.” He was “speaking to the world,” Wallis knew, “not only the world of today but the world of future generations.”

To watch Wallis addressing the Tribunal at Nuremberg, click here

For more on our firm's history, click here.