The places are in his image, a sober and refined office in one of the most chic districts of the capital. Olivia Ronen receives us one morning in May, before the resumption of the hearing in the trial of the attacks of November 13, 2015 – she pleads Friday, June 24. A few months ago, the 32-year-old lawyer was known only to the microcosm of Parisian criminals, option “anti-terrorism justice”. She has shifted into another dimension since Salah Abdeslam appointed her to defend him in the case of the attacks which left 132 dead – two survivors committed suicide after the fact – and hundreds injured.
As the proceedings progressed, the white streak that stands out from her long black hair gained ground. A sign more eloquent than his rare media speeches. Since the opening of the trial, Olivia Ronen has kept a polite distance from the journalists and it was not until the end of the interrogations of the accused, in mid-April, that she agreed to give herself up. A rather unusual reserve in the profession. “It’s not distrust, rather caution”she justifies.
In the privacy of the office, the tone is relaxed and warm, the words chosen. Another eye-catching sign is this tattoo on her left wrist. This is the first name in Hebrew of his big sister Stephanie, born disabled and disappeared at the age of 28. “A bolt from the blue” in the sky of this Parisian family “very tight”. The father, born in Iran and left to live for a time in Israel, is a business manager. The mother, a civil servant at the national printing office, stopped her activity to raise her four daughters. Olivia Ronen, the youngest, no longer has “never stopped working” since that day in December 2011.
It is certainly this first confrontation with injustice that caused him to drift from a rather classic course on paper. Schooling, brilliant, is punctuated by three weekly dance lessons at the conservatory. As the doors of the Paris Opera ballet open to her, the teenager launches “headlong” in the theater, until the end of high school. Follow hypokhâgne and khâgne. But under the veneer of success, something rebellious storms. Instead of preparing for the Ecole Normale Supérieure competition, the student turns to law, and a master’s degree at the Sorbonne. The profession of criminal lawyer is at the end of the road, as “An evidence”.
She took the oath in 2016, alongside Martin Vettes. His future partner at the trial of the November 13 attacks appreciates “the mix between the lightness and the depth of the character”, which combines “discretion”, “serious” and “humor”. Olivia Ronen has some “way to cultivate oxymoron”confirms Alice, a close friend, met eight years ago during an internship at the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.
“She takes what she does seriously, but she doesn’t take herself seriously. She’s ambitious, a bit perfect, but a lot more rowdy and tortured than she looks.”Alice, a close friend
Echoing this, Olivia Ronen admits to redoing “the match every night after the trial. It tortures but makes progress”. His friend, who vows to him “an affection steeped in admiration”, is hardly surprised: “She is someone who has never slept much. She has very high demands on herself.” Rigor incarnate, with an extra soul.
It is with this disconcerting determination that Olivia Ronen applied for an internship with tenor Thierry Lévy, a figure in the fight against imprisonment, who died of cancer in 2017. She “insists”, “telephone follow-up”, “send” his memoir on “the place of prison in the fight against recidivism”. Spring “sweaty” interviews, “hurry” like a lemon. The game is worth the candle. Olivia Ronen finds herself with this sincerely unconventional lawyer, who “thinks for itself”against all odds. “I like things that are different”she says simply.
The student cuts his teeth with the master, but it is she who will inherit the file that Thierry Lévy dreamed of, as he confided to the World (paid link) shortly before his death. In the summer of 2018, a letter signed Salah Abdeslam reached him during his vacation. Olivia Ronen admits to having been won over by a “great motivation” at the thought of this “paroxysm of defense”. How did his name reach the ears of the most guarded prisoner in France? This will remain secret.
Elected at the end of 2016 among the secretaries of the Conference, an eloquence competition of the Paris Bar, Olivia Ronen made a name for herself by inheriting her first “big files” in terrorism matters. For Erwan Guillard, a former Breton soldier who left to do jihad in Syria, she obtained, with his colleague Jérémie Boccara, 11 years in prison on appeal, against 18 years required by the prosecution. The defense of Aleksander H., a 38-year-old Albanian indicted for arms trafficking in the case of the Nice attacks, is proving more traumatic. He commits suicide in prison because he “couldn’t stand the label of terrorist” and the conditions of detention that go with it, according to her. These experiences did not stay at the door of the parlor when she met Salah Abdeslam. “Olivia is an extremely empathetic person, it doesn’t surprise me that he connected with her”notes Jeremie Boccara, who is full of praise for his colleague.
“She’s one of the best of her generation. What’s quite remarkable about Olivia is her stamina and how she handles pressure.”Jérémie Boccara, lawyer
Where a Sven Mary, the terrorist’s first Belgian lawyer, mocked the“empty ashtray intelligence” of her client, Olivia Ronen endeavored to restore her human face. “I consider him a normal person that I assist”, underlines the interested party. Mirroring this, the lawyer avoids the side effects that some more seasoned colleagues are accustomed to. Some put to his credit, and that of Martin Vettes, the evolution of Salah Abdeslam. The accused did not make it easy for them. We had to come to terms with his provocations − including the famous “I am an Islamic State fighter” on the first day of the trial −, his unbearable justifications, his variable geometry silences, his “mountain of contradictions”, in the words of Georges Salines, father of Lola, killed at the Bataclan.
Olivia Ronen managed to get words of apology for the victims and some tears, shed on the very last day of her interrogations. On the benches of the civil parties, this mea culpa drew a line of demarcation between those who were sensitive to it and those who did not believe it. Lawyer Claire Josserand-Schmidt will keep “long in memory” the way his sister opposite “managed to push Salah Abdeslam far enough to let go, to extract him from this community in which he is locked up.” Olivia Ronen’s own tears after this streak did not escape the audience. The person concerned modestly admits having “realized that we had touched something important”. otherslike the lawyer Didier Seban, saw in it a number “well prepared”, even though the work done to achieve it inspires the “respect”.
Tirelessly, Olivia Ronen has risen in recent months to point out the flaws in a monumental file or the contradictions of a witness. His incisive questions to former President François Hollande on the chronology of French strikes in Syria and Iraq seemed to legitimize his client’s rhetoric. Salah Abdeslam has repeatedly maintained that the attacks were a response to the bombings. “It is not to support his arguments, but to effectively dismantle themassures the lawyer. It is in these gray areas that misconceptions thrive.”
Tightrope walker in each of her interventions, Olivia Ronen has never fallen. But “his sarcastic tone” and “his useless insolence” displeased a few on the other side of the bar. Gérard Chemla, figure of victims’ lawyers, sees in it a “mistake of youth” and an attempt to “to copy” Thierry Levy and his famous maxim: “Eloquence is the discipline of shouting.” Olivia Ronen shrugs: “I wonder what they could expect from Salah Abdeslam’s defence. Whether it’s silent? Smooth? Isn’t there a bias about being a woman and having a determined tone?
On the benches of the defense, on the contrary, his brothers and sisters salute this voice which becomes “powerful” as soon as she puts on the dress and this ability not to “submit to authority, without being outrageous”. Olivia Ronen “swimming against the tide”formulates Negar Haeri, who defends the accused Mohamed Amri. Marc Bailly, a colleague from the Conference of Lawyers, supports: “You don’t do this job to be liked. She embodies that.”
This is not what holds Martin Vettes, who owes to Olivia Ronen his presence in this file, whereas he had “never had a terrorist trial”. Mutual trust took precedence over the rest.
“Sad passions are a bit foreign to her. She charts her course, she doesn’t want anyone hurt, she wants good for those she loves.”Martin Vettes, lawyer for Salah Abdeslam
No battle of egos in this duo, whose harmony is, for once, unanimous. To speak of one is to speak of the other. The two thirty-somethings are the same age as their client. Arthur Dénouveaux, the president of the association of victims of November 13 Life for Paris, sees in this shared youth an asset, when “a Sven Mary and a Franck Berton – Salah Abdeslam’s first French lawyer – broke their teeth there”. Olivia Ronen celebrated her birthday on January 7. She runs after time, walks for lack of dancing and runs on an apple-Kinder Bueno diet. It is she who will plead last, Friday, June 24. His thoughts “will be put on paper at the last moment, to get the last impression”. His years on the boards taught him to “to pose [sa] voice, [se] move”. The comparison ends there. “I can’t plead something I don’t believe in. I don’t play.” The verdict worries him more – irreducible perpetuity has been requested against his client. And the after: “The fear of emptiness is there.”
To begin with, Olivia Ronen should remain the lawyer for Salah Abdeslam, judged from October in the trial of the attacks of March 22, 2016, in Brussels. “The idea is not to get involved in a lawsuit and walk away.” And then there will be all the other files, materialized by the files that fill the cupboard of his cabinet. The lawyer may find the time to reconnect with her hobbies. She plans to go see the film on dance by Cédric Klapisch, In body.
Olivia Ronen is not one to cultivate her garden. Above the “single plant” that she managed to keep alive hangs her epitoge, the scarf that lawyers wear over their robes. Her tongue forks and now she points to her “epitaph”. The slip is right on target. If it took a sentence to define Olivia Ronen, it would be without hesitation the lawyer’s oath: “I swear to exercise my functions with dignity, conscience, independence, probity and humanity.”