José Luis de Castro: passion for litigation

By Mercedes Galán

Understanding the experience, approach and perspectives of a professional such as José Luis de Castro can provide valuable information. Iberian Lawyer has had the opportunity to speak with him. The founding partner and director of DE CASTRO, ESTUDIO DE ABOGADOS, has a long professional career as a lawyer, in which his dedication to the protection of fundamental rights through the formulation of amparo claims before the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights has always stood out. He has collaborated with the Spanish League for Human Rights and has acted as amicus curiae before a US court for the recovery of the ownership of a work of art subject to Nazi despoilment. In June 2018, he was elected first president of the Board of Trustees of the Fundación Pro Bono España.

Among other things, you have been head of the Litigation and Arbitration Department at the international law firms Linklaters and Bird & Bird. What led you to found your own law firm, De Castro Estudio de Abogados?

The main reason was the search for independence of judgement in how to handle cases and clients. After my experience at Linklaters and Bird & Bird, I specialised in the formulation of extraordinary appeals, mainly in cassation, but also in amparo and amparo actions before the Strasbourg Court. In the process, a relationship with the clients developed in which I wanted to impose my own professional judgement on the treatment, payment and approach to matters. That, let’s say, was the decisive reason that led me to the idea of setting up on our own.

You work in the field of complex litigation. What have been the most significant moments or the most interesting cases you have worked on during your career?

The Cassirer case is undoubtedly one of the most interesting for many reasons. First, because the litigation has been going on for 22 years. It is still open because the California court has now been forced to rule again, taking into account that the applicable law is no longer Spanish law. This is because the US Supreme Court established that California’s own law was applicable. This matter has had so many comings and goings that it has even reached the US Supreme Court three times due to different incidents in the process and it is still “alive”. It is a very complex matter because it has aspects of international private law, public law, civil law or Spanish private law, and because it involves a lot of feelings. The person who is claiming ownership of the painting is a grandson of the former owner and it is a canvas that he used to see at his grandmother’s house in Munich and which was plundered by the Nazis. I intervened as amicus curiae of the California court on behalf of the grandchildren, of whom there were several at the time. I acted on behalf of the Cassirer family against the Kingdom of Spain and appealed the California court’s rulings. From a legal point of view, I also had another very curious and novel experience that I would like to share. I was counsel in an arbitration against the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. The case, which was of great difficulty, involved several branches of law, and the hearings were held at the courthouse in The Hague, because it was there that the arbitrators determined which arbitrators should be appointed.

Which areas of law are you most passionate about and which ones does De Castro Abogados specialise in?

My training is in commercial law, I did my doctoral thesis in commercial law and I am a full professor at the Autonomous University. But I have always studied general contract theory, i.e. civil law. And given my experience as a magistrate in the Provincial Court of Madrid, I also became very interested in and skilled in procedural law. In the cases we handle, there are always important procedural issues that are either civil law or commercial law.

In this regard, your firm has teamed up with Caliope Art Law, the legal boutique specialising in art law. What is the aim of this collaboration?

The aim is to substantiate the claims of the heirs of works of art seized by Franco’s regime during the civil war and the dictatorship, and also by the Republican government during the war. There are still many families who do not know where the works of art seized from their grandparents are, and now, thanks to the new rules of historical and democratic memory, they are in a position to locate them and claim them later. From Caliope, Laura Sánchez Gaona is organising these kinds of claims and asked us to support her in the legal substantiation of the claims of families who are beginning to locate seized works of art.