Fernand Labori (1860 - 1917)

Fernand Labori


Judges & lawyers

Fernand Labori was the lawyer for Lucie Dreyfus, as well as for Zola, Colonel Picquart and senator Trarieux in 1898, and he defended Dreyfus during the Rennes trial along with Edgar Demange. He was born in Reims on 18 April 1860.

His father was an employee and then an inspector for the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de l'Est. He suggested a career as a champagne merchant to his son, but supported him in his legal studies in Paris, never imagining that he would be forced to resign in the wake of his Fernand's Dreyfusard activities.

Fernand Labori won top honors in both the civil code and written law, and became a member of the Bar in 1884. He was editor-in-chief of La Gazette du Palais from 1886 to 1893, and Second Secretary of the Conference in 1887-88. He edited the twelve volumes of the Répertoire Encyclopédique du Droit Français through 1896, the year in which he founded a monthly review, La Revue du Palais, which published texts by Léon Blum, Anatole France, Ernest Lavisse and Charles Péguy.

As the lawyer for the anti-Boulangists and court-appointed assistant to the anarchist Vaillant, he was chosen by Mathieu and Lucie Dreyfus to represent them as private parties in the trial of Esterhazy. He defended Zola at the Courts of Assizes in Paris and Versailles, and was described by J. Reinach as "an ingenious master of the proceedings (…) his speech vibrant." He won permission to mention Dreyfus and managed, via General de Pellieux, to have mention made of the secret documents from the first trial. His disruption strategy led General de Boisdeffre, head of the general staff, to reappear before the Court on 18 February 1898: "If the nation does not have confidence in the leaders of its army, in those who bear the responsibility for national defense, they are prepared to leave this heavy task to others."

Caricatured in the foreign press as a bull tossing about the bodies of the general staff officers, Labori was the target of an assassination attempt in Rennes on 14 August 18998. Marcel Proust hailed "the great invincible giant (…) who no longer has cause to envy a soldier's magnificent privilege: that of spilling his blood." Absent from the trial until the 22nd, he abandoned the idea of pleading-with Jaurès saying that this would make Dreyfus's acquittal a certainty! This added insult to injury, and his criticism of the pardon led to a break with the Dreyfus family in December 1900, and fueled his anti-Semitism. Even though Mathieu wrote in his memoirs that he had "had enough of his endless recriminations, of his bitterness constantly renewed," Alfred made a point of writing him: "I will always guard the memory of your admirable devotion during those ill-fated years."

Labori defended Thérèse Humbert, prosecuted for fraud in 1903, and was deputy from Seine-et-Marne from 1906 to 1910. He was the rapporteur for a bill to eliminate court martials, but returned to his career as a lawyer. A member of the Bar Council from 1905 onwards, he was elected president of the Paris Bar in 1911 with more than 77% of votes cast. He died at age 56, on 14 March 1917.