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”Every generation has its time to struggle. There are no green pastures.”

Those were the words of one William Moses Kunstler, at one time, probably the most hated lawyer in America.

William Kunstler was born in New York City on July 7, 1919. Self described as a “lousy student” Kunstler turned to, of all things, the military to straighten himself out. He joined the United States Army and managed to achieve the rank of Major. For his efforts during World War II he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

After his discharge, Kunstler took advantage of the G.I. Bill and decided to take up a career in law. He earned his attorney stripes at Yale and Columbia University. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1948 and started practicing family law.

As the 50’s progressed, Kunstler began to find family law boring. A new and burgeoning field was on the horizon and he moved his practice and decided to take on matters of civil rights.. He was good, damn good. As a matter of fact, he became so adept at his trade that he was named the director of the ACLU in 1964. He held on to the post until 1974.

Everybody knows that the 60’s were a kind “different” time here in America and Kunstler was right in the middle of it. Brash, outspoken and admittedly a self-promoting publicity hound, Kunstler seemed to take on the cases and the causes that nobody else wanted or thought they could win. If you want controversy, I don’t think there was cause that was radical enough for Mr. Kunstler to shy away from. In that vein, here’s a very partial list of the people and causes that William Kunstler came to defend throughout his career.

The Freedom Riders
Lenny Bruce
Jack Ruby
H. Rap Brown
Stokely Carmichael
American Indian Movement
Malcolm X
The Black Panthers
Abbie Hoffman
Jerry Rubin
Martin Luther King Jr.
Participants in the Attica Prison Riot
Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
Chicago Seven
Colin Ferguson
John Gotti

This little snippet comes from the trial of the Chicago Seven after the 1968 Democratic Convention . According to the so-called Yippies, it also represents some of the best questions ever asked in a court of law. You be the judge.

The prosecutor on behalf of the state is Mr. Foran. The witness in question is the legendary folk singer Phil Ochs.

MR. KUNSTLER: “After you arrived in Chicago did you have any discussion with Jerry?

THE WITNESS: “Yes, I did. We discussed the nomination of a pig for President.”

MR. KUNSTLER: Would you state what you said and what Jerry said.

THE WITNESS: “We discussed the details. We discussed going out to the countryside around Chicago and buying a pig from a farmer and bringing him into the city for the purposes of his nominating speech.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “Did you have any role yourself in that?”

THE WITNESS: “Yes, I helped select the pig, and I paid for him.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “Now, did you find a pig at once when you went out?”

THE WITNESS: “No, it was very difficult. We stopped at several farms and asked where the pigs were.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “None of the farmers referred you to the police station, did they?”


MR. FORAN:Objection.”

THE COURT: “I sustain the objection.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “Mr. Ochs, can you describe the pig which was finally bought?”

MR. FORAN: “Objection.”

THE COURT: “I sustain the objection.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “Would you state what, if anything, happened to the pig?”

THE WITNESS: “The pig was arrested with seven people.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “When did that take place?”

THE WITNESS: “This took place on the morning of August 23, at the Civic Center underneath the Picasso sculpture.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “Who were those seven people?”

THE WITNESS: “Jerry Rubin. Stew Albert, Wolfe Lowenthal, myself is four; I am not sure of the names of the other three.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “What were you doing when you were arrested?”

THE WITNESS: “We were arrested announcing the pig's candidacy for President.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “Did Jerry Rubin speak?”

THE WITNESS: Yes, Jerry Rubin was reading a prepared speech for the pig---the opening sentence was something like, "I, Pigasus, hereby announce my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States." He was interrupted in his talk by the police who arrested us.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “What was the pig doing during this announcement?”

MR. FORAN: “Objection.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “Do you remember what you were charged with?”

THE WITNESS: “I believe the original charge mentioned was something about an old Chicago law about bringing livestock into the city, or disturbing the peace, or disorderly conduct, and when it came time for the trial, I believe the charge was disorderly conduct.”

MR. KUNSTLER: “Were you informed by an officer that the pig had squealed on you?”

MR. FORAN: “Objection. I ask it be stricken.”


THE COURT: “I sustain the objection. When an objection is made do not answer until the Court has ruled.”

And so on and so on and so on. For his efforts on behalf of his clients, Kunstler was convicted of contempt of court. The conviction was later overturned at the federal level.


Love him or hate him, William Kunstler played an important role on just how the country viewed and continues to view unpopular causes. His position that the government not only has a moral and ethical responsibility to uphold the law and encourage instead of repress personal freedoms is one that I hold near and dear to my heart.

My personal image of him was of watching him speak many years ago about the erosion of our civil rights and how the Bill of Rights was slowly but surely being taken away. As he announced what he determined to be a transgression against the Bill of Rights, he would pull a petal from a flower that he was carrying and drop it to the floor. When the petals were all gone and he was done speaking, he picked them up and he tried to put them back. Naturally, he couldn’t, and nor can we.

William Kunstler died of a heart attack on September 4, 1995 in New York City. He was 76 years old. If there is such a thing as an “Attorney Hall of Fame”, Mr. Kunstler deserves an honorary place in it.


www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ ftrials/Chicago7/KunstlerW.htm - 4k

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