William Kunstler

William Kunstler

William Moses Kunstler (July 7, 1919 - September 4, 1995) was an American self-described "radical lawyer" and civil rights activist.

Early life

The son of a physician, Kunstler was born in New York City and educated at Yale College and Columbia University Law School. While in school, Kunstler was an avid poet, and represented Yale in the Glascock Prize competition at Mount Holyoke College.

Kunstler served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the Pacific theater, attaining the rank of Major, and received the Bronze Star. He was admitted to the bar in New York in 1948 and began practicing law. He was an associate professor of law at New York Law School (1950-1951).

Career as a movement lawyer

He was a director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from 1964 to 1972, when he became a member of the ACLU National Council. In 1969 he cofounded the Center for Constitutional Rights. Kunstler also worked with the National Lawyers Guild. He was a socialist who publicly declared his refusal to criticize any socialist country, such as the People's Republic of China, which fellow lawyer Alan Dershowitz criticized him for doing.

Kunstler's image was that of a strident radical who defended controversial clients, including Salvador Agron, Lenny Bruce, William Worthy, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, American Indian Movement (AIM) leaders, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, Jack Ruby, Abbie Hoffman, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Jerry Rubin, Martin Luther King, Lemuel Smith, Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, Ibrahim A. ElGabrowny, Gregory Lee Johnson, Wayne Williams, Larry Davis, Michael X and Gary McGivern. In the Brown case, Kunstler worked with Baton Rouge civil rights attorney Murphy Bell.

He gained national renown for defending the "Chicago Seven" (originally "Chicago Eight") against charges of conspiring to incite riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. During the trial, he and co-defense attorney Leonard Weinglass were cited for contempt (the convictions were later overturned).

From 1983 until Kunstler's death in 1995, he employed future radio personality Ron Kuby as a junior partner. The two took on controversial civil rights and criminal cases, including cases where they represented Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, head of the Egyptian-based terrorist group Gama'a al-Islamiyah; Colin Ferguson, the man responsible for the LIRR shootings, who would later reject Kuby & Kunstler's legal counsel and choose to represent himself at trial; Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, accused of plotting to murder Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam; Glenn Harris, a New York public school teacher who absconded with a fifteen year-old girl for two months; Nico Minardos, a flamboyant actor indicted by Rudy Giuliani for conspiracy to ship arms to Iran; Darrell Cabey, one of the victims of the Bernard Goetz shooting; and associates of the Gambino crime family. During the first Gulf War, they represented dozens of American soldiers who refused to fight and claimed conscientious objector status. They also represented El-Sayyid Nosair, the assassin of the late Jewish leader Rabbi Meir Kahane.

During the 1994-95 television season, Kunstler starred as himself in an episode of "Law & Order" titled "White Rabbit". It was based on the 1971 shooting of a policeman in connection with the robbery of a Boston Brinks truck by members of the Weatherman Underground.

In late 1995, Kunstler died in New York of heart failure at the age of 76. In his last major public appearance, at the commencement ceremonies for the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, Kunstler lambasted the death penalty, saying, "We have become the charnel house of the Western world with reference to executions; the next closest to us is the Republic of South Africa."

William Kunstler was survived by his wife Margaret Ratner Kunstler and daughters Karin Kunstler Goldman, Jane Drazek, Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler and grandchildren Jessica Goldman, Daniel Goldman and Andrew Drazek. Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler are currently producing a documentary about their father entitled that will be completed in fall of 2008.

List of books

*"Our Pleasant Voices", 1941
*"The Law of Accidents", 1954
*"First Degree", 1960
*"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt? The Original Trial of Caryl Chessman", 1961 & 1973
*"The Case for Courage: The Stories of Ten Famous American Attorneys Who Risked Their Careers in the Cause of Justice", 1962
*"And Justice For All", 1963
*"The Minister and the Choir Singer: The Hall-Mills Murder Case", 1964 & 1980
*"Deep in My Heart", 1966
*"Trials and Tribulations", 1985
*"My Life as a Radical Lawyer", 1994
*"Hints & Allegation: The World (In Poetry and Prose)", 1994
*"Politics on Trial: Five Famous Trials of the 20th Century", 2002
*"The Emerging Police State: Resisting Illegitimate Authority", 2004

Pop culture references

*In the film "The Big Lebowski", Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski (played by Jeff Bridges) demands representation by Kunstler or Ron Kuby during the Malibu Police Station scene.

*Kunstler also appeared as himself for one episode of the television series "Law & Order" in the 1994 episode of "White Rabbit".

*Kunstler also appeared as a lawyer for Jim Morrison in "The Doors" (Oliver Stone, 1991) and as a judge in "Malcolm X" (Spike Lee, 1992).

*Kunstler was parodied as an attorney representing R. Kelly during his trial for ‘soliciting a minor’ and/or ‘sex with a minor’ on the animated comedy series "The Boondocks".

*In the 1996 Law & Order episode "Blood Libel" Jack McCoy says, "He's a political prisoner? Alice please, Bill Kunstler is spinning in his grave."

External links

* [http://www.esquilax.com/flag/kunstler.html A Remembrance of William Kunstler]
* [http://www.counterpunch.org/jackson05072003.html Kunstler's speech at the University of Buffalo]
* [http://www.ccrjustice.org Center for Constitutional Rights]
* [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0475267/ William Kunstler at imdb.com]
* [http://kunstler.org William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice]

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