Jacques Isorni (1911–1995) was a French lawyer and memoirist. He came to prominence for his role as defending counsel in a number of cases involving prominent figures on the far right as well as for his own involvement in right wing politics.
Jacques Isorni was the son of Antoine Isorni, a native of Locarno who emigrated to France to make his way an artist in the fashionable Rive Gauche area of Paris, and Marguerite Feine, the daughter of a Catholic family who embraced republicanism and was noted as a Dreyfusard. His parents married only three weeks after they first met and Feine's whirlwind marriage to an immigrant scandalised her traditionalist family. The young Isorni was raised in the high end Faubourg Saint-Germain district, although he found himself a regular target for scorn from his schoolmates due to his Italian roots and unusual surname. Isorni followed his father politically by associating himself with conservatism and whilst attending the Ecole Alsacienne he became involved in groups affiliated to Action Française.
Legal career before 1945
He studied a joint honours degree in law and literature at the University of Paris and was sworn in as a lawyer in 1931, making him the youngest practising lawyer in France at the time. He quickly built a reputation as a highly innovative lawyer with a high success rate in his cases. Following the outbreak of World War II Isorni had a brief period of admiration for Charles de Gaulle, before transferring his allegiance to Philippe Pétain, arguing that after the Fall of France Petain was the country's best hope. A law passed by the Vichy regime however briefly debarred Isorni from continuing in the legal profession as all who were not fully French were barred from practising although before long exceptions were made for "prominent" lawyers and he returned to the bar.
Post-war political activity
Isorni came to wider prominence in the immediate post-war years when he was chosen to defend Robert Brasillach and then Pétain himself in their trials for collaboration with Nazi Germany. However Isorni's earlier success rates deserted him as not only were both men found guilty both were also sentenced to death, albeit with the sentence commuted to life in the latter case on account of the Marshal's age and fragile mental state.
Nonetheless Isorni quickly became associated with a new tendency that sought to defend the reputation of Pétain and the Vichy period and he became a regular writer for René Malliavin's Ecrits de Paris, a journal dedicated to this cause. Isorni helped establish, and became leader of, the Union des nationaux indépendants et républicains, a political party that supported Pétainisme and he ran as a candidate for this group in Paris during the 1951 elections. The group was fairly disparate, being largely a fairly loose coalition of many tiny far right groups that had sprung up in the immediate aftermath of the war. Whilst campaigning Isorni had a young Jean-Marie Le Pen as his personal bodyguard. The party failed to capture high levels of support but did manage to get four deputies elected, Isorni among them. That same year Isorni was also the driving force behind the Association for the Defence of the Memory of Marshal Pétain, a group that campaign for the "Hero of Verdun" to be released from prison.
A later case saw Isorni defending General Raoul Salan, the leader of the Organisation de l'armée secrète, on charges of treason. Although Salan was found guilty of the charge Isorni was able to ensure that he was given a life sentence rather than the standard execution. By this point he had largely left active politics, although he would emerge from time to time to lend his support to electoral candidates, notably François Mitterrand in 1965 and Jean Royer in 1974. Whilst maintaining rightist views he was by this time identified almost exclusively with anti-Gaullism rather than with any one tendency.
- Alice Yaeger Kaplan, The collaborator: the trial & execution of Robert Brasillach, University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 109
- Kaplan, p. 110
- Kaplan, p. 114
- Kaplan, pp. 114-115
- James Shields, The extreme right in France: from Pétain to Le Pen, Routledge, 2007, pp. 54-55
- Shields, p. 55
- Piero Ignazi, Extreme Right Parties in Western Europe, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 88
- Shields, p. 63
- Shields, pp. 115-116
- Shields, pp. 130, 177
- Shields, p. 345