On a Monday morning, on Boulevard Saint-Germain, a stone’s throw from the National Assembly, the Salle des Pas Perdus of the Seban et Associés firm looks like an anthill. The lawyers, the administrative staff, but also the clients go from one room to another thanks to the benevolent guidance of the receptionist, who offers anyone who wants a coffee.
Because to pass the door of “Chez Seban” is to enter both the largest office dedicated to local public action and a family apartment where seeing children strolling would not be surprising.
This warm atmosphere is reflected in the handshake given by Didier Seban every morning to his entire team. Nadia Ben Ayed, who worked there for seven years before joining the Yvelines department in 2018, has fond memories of the lawyer: “He is a great gentleman, he knows how to federate. He has this leadership of great statesmen. »
Attracted by freedom
“I’ve always wanted to serve public action,” he confesses, almost embarrassed, when he recalls his youth. On the benches of Sciences-po, he will also experience political activism: at Unef, of which he will become president at the age of 20, and at the Communist Party. But his asserted political commitments will be a brake for those who wish to take the ENA competition: “They would not have been compatible with a career as a senior civil servant. »
In the legal profession, he is attracted by freedom. After being sworn in in 1981, he chose criminal law to deviate from his political commitments. As if he felt branded. Jean-Louis Pelletier will teach him the tricks of the trade. “He taught me to put my foot in the door and to go through the window. »
During a year of collaboration, the young lawyer assimilates what will constitute one of his trademarks: using words to “make the crooks cry”. Now working on his own, the practitioner becomes the lawyer for the Pontoise remand center (Val-d’Oise) and defends the chain of thugs.
But, very quickly, he has “the feeling of being the foil of a justice that works badly, where the lawyer is part of the decorum”. When the mayor of Pantin (Seine-Saint-Denis) asks him to be his lawyer, Didier Seban discovers the local public world. “I quickly realized that local authorities are faced with a multitude of rules outside of public law. »
He then had an idea that would make his firm the leader in local litigation: a global offer dedicated to local authorities. To develop it, he surrounds himself with the best specialists in each public service sector. And weaves a territorial network that would make the National Agency for Territorial Cohesion blush: after Lyon, Grenoble, Toulouse, Nantes, La Roche-sur-Yon and Besançon, the firm is setting up in 2020 in Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand and Strasbourg.
A profitable strategy that will allow it to become essential within the local sphere. Fabien Tastet, the general manager of services at Grand Paris sud est avenir (Val-de-Marne), sums up this omnipresence with a quip: “If, one day, communities were waging a legal war, Didier Seban would be very unhappy: he defend them all! From the fight against toxic loans to that against slum landlords, through the defense of the mayor of La Faute-sur-Mer, the Seban cabinet is involved in all the emblematic cases of communities.
His strength, he says he owes to those around him. They prefer to speak of a “workhorse”, who “reads everything and all the time” and “knows how to listen”. Didier Seban is indeed one of the rare people who does not look at his watch or his phone when he receives you. Yet he is very connected. “He knows how to surround himself with the right people, captures what is happening ahead of time,” describes Fabien Tastet, who appreciates that his lawyer understands “the effervescence and creativity of the local world”.
In 2001, he met the woman who would give a new turn to his career as a lawyer: Corinne Herrmann. With the case of the disappeared from Yonne under his arm, this future lawyer convinced him to take an interest in the disappearance of these young disabled women.
From their collaboration will very quickly be born the media duo of the French “cold cases”. To this name, Didier Seban prefers that of “disappeared children, murdered teenagers or women gutted in general indifference”, he explains in his book (1)recalling that these cases are also those of “social, institutional and judicial” contempt.
In the files of the tandem, we meet Emile Louis, Michel Fourniret and Jacques Rançon. For twenty years, it has operated according to a well-established operating mode: Corinne Herrmann analyzes the procedures, writes the memoirs; Didier Seban pleads. With words as a weapon, the lawyer is formidable at the bar. Faced with Michel Fourniret, in 2008, he asks him if he took pleasure “in fiddling with a dead girl”. The Ogre des Ardennes is destabilized, the lawyer knocked him out.
Twelve years later, Michel Fourniret will confess to the kidnapping and murder of Estelle Mouzin, this little girl who has been missing since 2005 and whose family Didier Seban represented. Without charging his hours.
“We, lawyers of the forgotten. On the trail of unsolved crimes”, Editions JC Lattès, 2020. Back to text