Len was not a 1960s radical. He was something more unusual, a 1950s radical. He developed his values, his critical thinking and worldview in a time when non-conforming was rare. In 1980, he told a newspaper interviewer in
The 3rd of 4 children, he grew up in a Jewish community of 200 families in
There was a story that he liked to tell about his college job running an elevator at the Senate Office building. Lyndon Johnson was cold and rude to Len when riding in his elevator car. The one Senator who chatted with Len and always inquired as to how he was doing was Richard Nixon, whom Len was later to confound by winning a dismissal for Daniel Ellsberg and Tony Russo in the historic Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers case.
Len went from Yale in l958 directly into the Air Force. In those days, because of the draft, there was no choice. Len was a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corp and rose to the rank of captain. While Len was with JAG, the Air Force charged a black airman with some sort of crime. Len was assigned the case and got him acquitted. which infuriated the brass who were used to exerting their command over military trials.
Len was then transferred to
He was discharged in l961 and went on to set up a law practice in
We all know of Len from his famous legal work in the Chicago Seven case with Abby Hoffman, Dave Dellinger, and Tom Hayden during the Vietnam War. We remember his expertise in advocating for death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal. He got Kathy Boudin out of prison after 23 years. He represented Puerto Rican independentista Juan Segarra for l5 years. In the
The Cuban Five was Len’s last major case. He worked on it for years up to the time of his passing, even reading a court submission from his bed in
What Len said about the use of the conspiracy charge is illustrative of his precision and clarity of thought: “Conspiracy has always been the charge used by the prosecution in political cases. A conspiracy is an agreement between people to commit a substantive crime. By using the charge of conspiracy, the government is relieved of the requirement that the underlying crime be proven. All the government has to prove to a jury is that there was an agreement to do the crime. The individuals charged with conspiracy are convicted even if the underlying crime was never committed. In the case of the Five, the
A sampling of some of his cases over his 53 years of practicing law are:
· l971: Represented Kenneth Gibson who became the first African-American mayor of
· 1971: The defense of Anthony Russo who was charged with Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers trial for the release of classified documents on the history of U.S.-Vietnam relations.
· 1972: The defense of John Sinclair, chair of the White Panther Party in
· 1973: The defense of Angela Davis who was charged with murder in connection with a shootout at the Marin County Courthouse in an attempted escape by inmates in
· 1974: The defense of eight Vietnamese students who faced deportation from the
· 1975: Represented Jane Fonda in her suit against Richard Nixon, et al. for unlawful harassment and violation of her constitutional rights of free speech and assembly resulting from her public activities in opposition to the war in
· 1976: The defense of Chol Soo Lee, the only Korean on death row in the
· l976: The defense of Bill and Emily Harris, members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, charged with the kidnap of Patricia Hearst.
· l977: The defense of the Altmore Brothers, black inmates in
· l978: The defense of Paul Skyhorse and Richard Mohawk, two organizers for the American Indian Movement, charged with first degree murder in the longest trial in the history of
· 1980: The defense of Mark Loc, a Chinese-American member of the Communist Workers Party, charged with the attempted bombing of the National Shipbuilding Company in
· l981: The defense of Kiko Martinez, a Mexican-American attorney and political activist, charged with a series of attempted bombings in
· l982: The defense of Salpi Kozibiukian, an Armenian patriot charged with being part of a conspiracy to plant a small explosive device at a Canada Airlines freight terminal in the
· l982: The defense of Alvin Johnson, a black inmate in the state of
· l983: The defense of James Simmons, a Muckleshoot Indian from
· l985: The defense of Stephen Bingham, an attorney charged with smuggling a gun to George Jackson in his attempted prison escape in 1971.
· 1986: The defense of Spiver Gordon, a black political organizer and former associate of Martin Luther King, charged in
· 1987: The defense of Amy Carter, daughter of President Jimmy Carter, charged with l5 other students at the
· l988: The defense of Katya Komisurak, an anti-nuclear activist, charged with destroying a computer at Vandenberg Air Force base, which was part of a first strike weapons system.
· l992: The defense of Peter Lumsdaine, an anti-nuclear activist, who was charged with destroying a Navstar satellite, part of a first-strike system, at a Rockwell International facility just prior to its being launched.
· l993: The defense of Marjorie Peters, an aide to the first African-American mayor of
· l997: Legal advisor to a former Green Beret who was investigating the deaths of thousands of Laotians, particularly children, who had been victimized since the end of the Vietnam War by unexploded anti-personnel bombs dropped by U.S. aircraft.
· l998: Represented Larry Hildes, a California attorney, who was arrested and had his hand broken by California police while serving as a legal observer for protestors opposed to the logging of redwoods in the headwaters of California.
· 1998: Represented Majid Saatchi, an Iranian national residing in the
· l999: Filed a habeas corpus action in the federal court in Philadelphia on behalf of Mumia Abu Jamal, an African American journalist and political activist, who has been on death row in Pennsylvania for a quarter of a century awaiting execution for the killing of a police officer, a crime he has steadfastly denied.
· 2001: Filed application for parole on behalf of Kathy Boudin, a member of the Weather Underground, who was sentenced to 20 years to life in l984 for her participation in the robbery of a Brinks truck.
· 2002: Filed a federal habeas corpus action in the Federal Court in
Len was a long-time member of the National Lawyers Guild and served for a time as the co-chair of its interna
tional committee. He was the recipient of the Guild’s Ernie Goodman Award, named after the extraordinary Detroit socialist lawyer and Guild leader who helped build the auto workers union and later organized the Guild to send its members down south to protect black people during the civil rights movement.
Len kept his sense of humor even during those terrible final days at
Len died in the evening of March 23, 2011. He had plans to celebrate Passover in April, as usual, with his family in
He had plans to tend his fruit trees on the side of the hill next to his Catskill cabin. He would have put in a vegetable garden near his three-block-long driveway, which frequently washed out and which he repaired with sysiphean regularity. He would have set out birdseed on the cabin’s porch rail, where he would sit in a lounge chair on a platform and watch the songbirds feed. He loved being out on that porch, high up on a hill, particularly at day’s end, seeing the sun go down over the Rondout reservoir which supplied some of the drinking water to New York City. Back in l976 he told a student reporter for UCLA’s Daily Bruin that leading a committed life was satisfying, fulfilling, and that was what made him happy.
The Dean of Yale Law School Robert C. Post wrote Len’s sister Elaine to express his sympathy, writing that “Leonard Weinglass lived a full and admirable life in the law and exemplified the spirit of citizenship that lawyers at their very best display. He brought great honor to the legal community and to
He will be remembered as a good, generous, and loyal friend, a gentle and kind person, a persuasive speaker, an acute analyst of the political scene, and a far-seeing visionary. Len Weinglass will live on as one of the great lawyers of his time.“Lenny cannot be replaced,” wrote his friend Sandra Levinson. “There are no words for the loss we all feel. Do something brave, put yourself out there for someone, fight for someone’s dignity, do something to honor this courageous just man.” Leonard Irving Weinglass: Presente.
Michael Steven Smith is an activist, lawyer, and the author, editor, and co-editor of six books, most recently editing The Emerging Police State, by William M. Kunstler. He is a co-host on the radio show “Law and Disorder,” organizes the Left Forum in NYC, and serves on the board of directors for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Photo 1: Len Weinglass and William Kuntsler, 1970, photo by Gary Settle; photo 2 is Weinglass talking to reporters regarding the Cuban 5 case, 2009, photo from www,freethefive.org; photo 3 is o Weinglass speaking at an anti-war rally, 2003, photo by Gloria Williams.