From Smirking Chimp
In the great tradition of Clarence Darrow, Charles Garry, Ernest Goodman, William Kunstler, Carol Weiss King, Arthur Kinoy, Constance Baker Motley and Michael Ratner, legendary people's lawyer Leonard Weinglass defended the poor and disenfranchised who struggled for social justice.
Weinglass is now immortalized in Len: A Lawyer in History, a valuable graphic historical work by cartoonist/writer Seth Tobocman. The book features some of Weinglass' most significant cases, analyzing them in the historical context of the political movements in which they took place.
"I want to spend my time defending people who have committed their time to progressive change. That's the criteria," Weinglass said. "Now, that could be people in armed struggle, people in protest politics, people in confrontational politics, people in mass organizations, people in labor." Weinglass' calling, editor Michael Steven Smith noted in the book's introduction, was defending people against "the machinery of the state."
Weinglass, a longtime member of the National Lawyers Guild, was a brilliant attorney who empowered his clients. Unlike many lawyers, he understood that the case belongs to the client, who must live with the consequences of the result. His clients had the final say about what strategy and tactics to employ. Weinglass took cases other lawyers would not, sometimes for no fee.
"[Weinglass] wasn't drawn to making money. He was drawn to defending justice," said Daniel Ellsberg, whose leak of the Pentagon Papers helped end the Vietnam War. "He felt in many cases he was representing one person standing against the state. He was on the side of the underdog. He was also very shrewd in his judgment of juries," Ellsberg added.
A former military analyst and Marine who served in Vietnam, Ellsberg worked at the Rand Corp. and the Pentagon. He risked decades in prison to release 7,000 top-secret documents to The New York Times and other newspapers in 1971. The Pentagon Papers demonstrated how five presidents consistently lied to the American people about the Vietnam War that was killing thousands of Americans and millions of Indochinese.
Ellsberg's courageous acts led directly to the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon's resignation. Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national security adviser, called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America" who "had to be stopped at all costs." But Ellsberg wasn't stopped. Facing 115 years in prison on espionage and conspiracy charges, he fought back.
Weinglass represented Ellsberg and Tony Russo, who helped Ellsberg copy the Pentagon Papers. The case was ultimately dismissed due to egregious misconduct by the Nixon administration. Ellsberg's story was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film, "The Most Dangerous Man in America." Edward Snowden told Ellsberg that film strengthened his resolve to release the National Security Agency documents.
Another of Weinglass' cases highlighted in Tobocman's book is the Chicago Eight trial. Tens of thousands of people protested the Vietnam War outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. In the face of widespread police brutality captured on television, Nixon charged eight people with the federal offense of crossing state lines to incite a riot. Weinglass and Kuntsler represented seven of the defendants. Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, denied the right to represent himself when his attorney, Charles Garry, was unable to appear, was bound and gagged by the ruthless judge Julius Hoffman.
The seven were Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Lee Weiner and John Froines. "Judge Hoffman was not impartial, but an activist seeking combat. He took things personally and turned the court into an armed camp," Tobocman wrote. The judge refused to allow the defense to call police experts to testify about police overreaction or ask potential jurors whether pretrial publicity would affect them.
Froines and Weiner were acquitted, but the jury convicted Hayden, Hoffman, Rubin, Davis and Dellinger. Weinglass succeeded in getting the appellate court to reverse their convictions. "Bobby Seale soon beat the murder rap too," Tobocman noted.
Weinglass' final case was the appeal of the convictions of the Cuban Five. For more than 40 years, anti-Cuba terrorist organizations based in Miami had engaged in countless terrorist activities against Cuba and anyone who advocated the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Terrorist groups, including Alpha 66, Omega 7, Comandos F4, Cuban American National Foundation, Independent and Democratic Cuba, and Brothers to the Rescue, operated with impunity in the United States.
Five Cuban men -- Gerardo Herna'ndez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino, Rene' Gonza'lez and Fernando Gonza'lez -- traveled from Cuba to the United States in the 1990s to gather information about terrorist plots against Cuba. The Cuban Five peacefully infiltrated these organizations. They then turned over the results of their investigation to the FBI.
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