“The City of Falling Angels” a Book by John Berendt

Legal Issues That Are Referenced Throughout the Book

The book ‘City of Falling Angels’ is an interesting story that reflects how normal activities in life can lead to legal consequences for an individual. As the story begins, we are presented with a case of fire outbreak, an event that would later lead to other legal issues as the story progresses. There are numerous legal issues presented in this case. The following are some of these issues.

  1. Ilona Staller, an actor of pornographic films and a member of the Italian parliament, is invited to a sculptor display ceremony organized by De Luigi. Luigi is a renowned artist in Venice. He did not inform the authorities that he would invite Staller, popularly known as Cicciolina, a name she earned while working in the porn industry. She is known to be very radical and sometimes her actions go against the law of the land. True to her character, she arrived at St. Mark’s, the venue, topless (Berendt 18). Given that she had a parliamentary immunity that protected her from prosecution, Luigi the host was arrested instead. In Court. Luigi defended himself, stating that he did not expect that Cicciolina would take off her clothes in public. The court sentenced him to five months in prison, a sentence that was later vacated to general amnesty (Berendt 19).
  2. The events leading to the second fire outbreak at Fenice also presents a legal issue. It turns out that the first and second fire outbreaks were not accidental. The same pattern of arson had been witnessed before at Petruzzelli Opera House (Berendt 24). In this case, a mafia boss paid the manager some amount of money so that after the arson, he would be given the contract for the reconstruction. It is suspected that the same mafia was involved. It is believed that the arson is a warning to the judge to stop the trial of the mafia boss for the crimes he has been convicted of. This is a very likely case because in the recent past an anti-mafia judge, alongside his entire family, was killed while handling a similar case. It means that this is a legal case that needs a thorough investigation.
  3. The burning of Fenice brings out a case of negligence by the management of the facility and the authorities in the city of Venice. The two fire outbreaks were not effectively managed because of the dry canals, leading to insufficient water to manage the fire. The city prefect had written a letter to the city mayor, stating that the empty canals posed a serious threat in cases of fire outbreak. No reply was given to the prefect and after six months, he wrote another letter and no reply came from the highest authority till the day of the fire. It is strongly believed that this was an act of negligence and that the fire could have been prevented (Berendt 64).
  4. The people who were involved in the renovation of Fenice after the first fire were also held responsible for criminal negligence. The experts investigating the cause and course of fire outbreak blamed its lack of care and responsibility on the part of the individuals who were involved in the repairs. The mayor was one of the defendants, alongside other prominent city officials (Berendt 92).
  5. Prosecution and the process of gathering intelligence is another legal issue that comes out prominently in this novel. Cason is presented as a no-nonsense prosecutor who goes beyond what the police officers present to him. He digs dip to find the truth. He is handling the case of fire outbreaks at Fenice. The manner in which he arrests the culprits and gets their confession is unique based on the standards that had been set by his predecessors (Berendt 94).
  6. The revelation of the existence of a secrete group called Gladio also presents a serious legal issue. Gladio was a secrete organization started by powerful people in the society and was responsible for several cases of bombing within the country and attempted coups. This case also presents the relevance of immunity for those holding some offices in the country. For instance, the prosecutor was able to establish that the president was one of the people who participated in organizing Gladio (Berendt 95).
  7. Another legal case is presented when Jane steals important documents to disinherit Mary de Rachewiltz. It turns out that Jane solicited the help of Philip and the narrator to steal this document. The two accomplices did not know that they were helping Jane to commit a felony. However, the law states that ignorance is no defense, and as such the two accomplices would also face the law if the issue were to be taken the court. Jane, after receiving help from Philip and the other friend, blackmails the two, telling them not to share the information about the file with anyone. Mary sought the help of a lawyer to help protect her inheritance (Berendt 192).
  8. The fire outbreak was rekindled after the prosecuting attorney insisted that the committee of experts had to redo the investigation. Their findings in the second investigation revealed that arson was the only explanation about the source of the fire. This meant that the case that had been previously treated as a simple act of negligence had to be retried. This time around it was a case of arson (Berendt 240).
  9. As the case about the arson attack at Fence progresses, the issue of using a person as a scapegoat emerges. Enrico is finally convicted of the crime of causing a fire at Fenice. Another legal issue that emerges from this conviction is that Enrico and his family did not take the issue of being questioned by the prosecutor seriously hence they did not consider hiring a lawyer. They did not get the timely legal assistance that is often very critical when one is faced with such a trial (Berendt 254). The family never thought that the prosecutor believed their son was a suspect.
  10. It is also clear from this case that a prosecutor would have to prove to the court that a suspect had a motive to commit a crime when dealing with circumstantial evidence. In this case, the prosecutor had neither an eye witness nor a strong exhibit that would make the court believe that the suspect committed a given crime. As such, he had to rely on circumstantial evidence to prosecute the suspects (Berendt 20). The prosecutor argued that the motive of Enrico causing a fire at Fence was his desire to avoid fine for his failures as a contractor in the project.

Analysis of the Issue: Ilona Staller’s Public Indecency Case

The case about Ilona Staller’s public decency is one of the most interesting legal issues presented in this book. Staller was invited to a sculptor display that Ludovico De Luigi had organized. She was given a normal invitation, just like any other visitor who had attended the ceremony. However, two factors made her a special guest in this function. She was a member of the parliament and was a very controversial person who had been very active in the adult film industry.

During the event, Staller arrived topless and captured the attention of the public when she climbed onto a horse proclaiming that she was living a work of art (Berendt 18). The police officers had to act because her actions were considered public indecency by the Italian laws. However, the authorities could not arrest her because she was a member of parliament. She enjoyed parliamentary immunity that protected her from prosecution in minor cases such as that of public indecency.

However, an action had to be taken to send a message that the authorities are keen on maintaining public decency and those who go contrary to the set laws can be prosecuted and sent to jail. Ludonico De Luigi, the host in this event who had invited Staller, was prosecuted for the indecency of one of his guests. The prosecution blamed Luigi for not having informed the authorities about the intended visit by the Member of Parliament. He was convicted and sent to prison for six months. This case presents some fundamental principles of the legal system in Italy.

It is clear that the law holds the organizers of events responsible for the actions of their visitors, even in cases where those responsible can be individually identified. In this case, Luigi was found guilty by the court and sentenced to six months in prison for a misdemeanor that was committed by someone else. Given that the lady enjoyed parliamentary immunity, he had to be responsible for the misdemeanor. The Italian legal system has some similarities with that of the United States.

In both cases, members of parliament enjoy public immunity. The United States’ legal system also offers parliamentarians immunity from prosecution when it is a case of a misdemeanor. The immunity can be lifted by the parliament or a court of justice if it becomes necessary that the parliamentarian should face justice. In this case, it is not clear if the immunity can be lifted based on the case presented about Staller.

It was the organizer who had invited Staller that went to prison instead of her. The other similarity between the Italian law and that of the United States is that people who organize events must ensure that they are responsible for everything that takes place in such forums, especially in cases where they fail to inform the police. The law requires every American citizen to organize a function that is to be attended by many people to inform the local police so that they can be given security.

If the organizer fails to do that, then he or she shall be fully held accountable for any eventualities, especially when the group starts to engage in unlawful activities. In this particular case, one of the attenders broke the law by taking off her clothes publicly. Informing the police would probably not have stopped her from going topless in public during this function. However, it would have taken the blame from him as the organizer to individual attenders and the authorities expected to maintain security, law, and order during the function.

It is also clear that the legal system in Italy is very strict on the issue of contempt of court. When Luigi made a statement on a light note that he as an artist would imagine the judge, who happened to be a woman, taking off her clothes in court, the response from the judge was very clear.

She said, “I too have an imagination, and I can imagine sending you to jail for five years for contempt of court,” (Berendt 19). Just like in the United States, the Italian law is very strict when it comes to the manner in which people should present themselves in court. Casual statements or any form of disrespect can be construed as contempt of court and can earn one a jail term. The presiding judge made that very clear to the defendant. In the United States, many people- some of who are very prominent- have been fined or even jailed for contempt of court (Johns and Perschbacher 56).

The case also shows that there are some remarkable differences between the legal system in Italy and that in the United States. Not unless Luigi treated this issue very casually and ignored the need to have a lawyer, he did not deserve a sentence based on what the prosecutor presented in the court. The fundamental issue, in this case, was whether it was legal or not for Luigi to organize the function and to invite people he considered important for his work.

In court, he was never accused of organizing an illegal forum. It shows that he was acting within the law when she planned and invited different people into this event. This argument is important because it will help in dismissing the claim by the officers that the main mistake made by Luigi is that he did not inform the authorities of the attendance of the controversial member of parliament. In fact, the explanation of the prosecutor was that Luigi did not inform the relevant authorities that Staller will be attending the forum.

This statement can be interpreted in two ways, both of which will absolve Luigi of any wrongdoing. The first interpretation is that Luigi informed the authorities of the planned event and his only mistake is that he never stated that in attendance will be the legislator. The second interpretation is that Luigi never informed the authorities because it was not necessary in the first place to inform them. In either way, Luigi committed no mistake.

It is true that the actions of Staller were against the law, especially if children were some of those in attendance. However, it is illogical to hold the organizer responsible for such an action because Staller, just like any other person in attendance, was invited to the event. If the law states that Staller can only be invited to such a forum after seeking permission from the authorities, then Luigi would be held responsible.

If such laws do not exist in the country, then it is unlawful to hold him responsible because Staller would have gone topless anywhere and not necessarily at the forum. Moreover, she has no known mental weakness that would have prompted the host to treat her in a special way.

Works Cited

Berendt, John. The City of Falling Angels. London: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.

Johns, Margaret, and Rex Perschbacher. The United States Legal System: An Introduction. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2007. Print.

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