• This biography of William "Bill" Moses Kunstler is published in two parts. This is Part 2 and continues from Part 1.

< ... continued from Part 1 ... >

At one of the rallies at which he spoke, his new colors were brightly cast:

“The time for words is over. You must resist and if resistance doesn’t work, revolt.”

The FBI took an interest in his speeches. His attendances sparked riots, especially in Santa Barbara, after which the city tried to get an injunction against his public speeches.

Then the prison riot at the Attica State Prison, New York occurred, starting on September 9, 1971. Hostages were taken by the prisoners who demanded better conditions many related to human rights, such as a request for African-American guards and an entitlement to minimum wages. Kuntsler was asked by the rioters to negotiate. He accepted and walked into the volatile situation. But he turned into an activist for the inmates.

[Kunstler circa 1990]Meanwhile, over 500 army and police officers surrounded the prison and took positions. Kunstler asked for more time but soon after he was turned away from the prison doors to meet with his clients. On September 13, the assault began. Over four thousand bullets were spent while 32 inmates were killed. In the rain of bullets, all nine hostages were also killed.

Kunstler called it racism.

Kunstler returned to his New York City law practice and remarried (Margaret Ratner Kunstler).

In 1972, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated all of the contempt convictions and later reversed most of Justice Hoffman's convictions. Writing for the Court, Justice Fairchild noted that during the Chicago Conspiracy trials:

"(Justice Julius Hoffman's) deprecatory and often antagonistic attitude toward the defense is evident in the record from the very beginning."

Kunstler's civil tights hot-line rang again in February, 1973. American Indians occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, causing an armed stand-off with the US Army. The army sealed the town, letting only the lawyer through.

After 71-days, the standoff ended peacefully but several Indian leaders were indicted. Kunstler was quick to turn the trial into theatre, enlisting Harry Belafonte and Marlon Brando to sit in the courtroom close to the jury.

The accused were acquitted out when the judge took issue with the heavy-handed FBI investigation techniques revealed at trial.

“You have polluted the waters of justice and an acquittal is the only cure.”

[Disturbing the Universe poster]Kustler was celebrated for the civil rights victory and it helped him heal some of the personal wounds of the failure at Attica.

Kustler again returned to his New York criminal bar defense work, working out of a basement office in his New York City townhouse.

Kunstler defended "some of this century's best-known terrorists, scoundrels, underdogs and martyrs."3 Protests sprung up at his trials vilifying not the defendants but Kunstler.

He defended the black defendants in the Central Park jogger. Kunstler lost that case but his client was later released as a wrongfully-accused defendant.

Joey Johnston was arrested in 1984 for burning the American flag. He turned to Kunstler who brought the case to the United States Supreme Court where he argued:

“(This) case … goes to the heart of the First Amendment. To hear things or to see things that we hate tests the First Amendment more than seeing or hearing things that we like. It wasn’t designed for things we like.  "He" never needed a First Amendment. This amendment was designed so that the things we hate can have a place in the marketplace of ideas and can have an area where protest can find itself.”

Kunstler won that case but a few months later he defended Larry Davis, a drug dealer who shot nine police officers in November 1986. At jury selection, Kunstler argued with the judge over the eligibility of white jurors, even going so far as to accuse the judge of seeking to convict Davis to further the judge’s career.

Davis’ defense rested on a self-defense theory that Davis had been a drug-pusher for several New York police and that they had come to kill him when he fell out of their favor. Davis was found not guilty.

But Kunstler was gradually losing his veneer as his law career wound down, with the lowest moment coming when he embraced John Gotti, the infamous Mafia boss of New York City on the step of a New York City courthouse.

Later, he stooped to buffoonery, defending a cat on a made-for-TV special.

He defended El-Sayyid Nosair, a New York Arab suspected of the 1990 murder of an outspoken Jewish rabbi. Nosair was suspected of having gunned down rabbi Mary Konn an extremist who advocated violence against Arabs.

The trial against Nosair ended in an acquittal when no eyewitnesses to the murder could be found.

This legal retainer seemed entirely inconsistent with Kunstler's earlier public statement that:

"I only defend those whose goals I share. I'm not a lawyer for hire. I only defend those I love."

Kunstler’s new wife was furious but Kunstler didn’t listen. Bullets were received in the mail at the law office.

Kunstler lost a lot of public support. The Jewish Defense Organization began to picket his law practice, with placards that called Kunstler a self-hating Jew. Kunstler, never one to shy away from any form of publicity, brought the protesters coffee even as they screamed hate messages at him.

Kunstler began to have heath problems, and was fitted with a pacemaker. He died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 76.

African-American, Indians and others bemoaned the loss of one of America’s greatest crusader of racism and defender of the unpopular.

The enigma was gone but his legend of standing up to injustice lives on.

When his daughters toyed with, and eventually produced an award-winning film on their father's life, they called it Disturbing the Universe.

 

• This biography of William "Bill" Moses Kunstler is published in two parts. This is Part 2 and continues from Part 1.

REFERENCES:

  • Coyne, Randall, Defending the Despised: William Moses Kunstler, 20 Am. Indian L. Rev. 257 (1995-1996)
  • Kunstler, Emily and Sarah, Disturbing the Universe
  • NOTE 1: Justice Hoffman's contempt for Kunstler was remarkable and are fully detailed especially in the footnotes to United States v. Dellinger.
  • NOTE 2: While true in theory, such a theory requires some explanation to those uninitiated in law, as it encourages contempt of Courts, of the rule of law and foments anarchy.
  • NOTE 3: Mauro, Tony, Lawyer Kunstler Dead at Age 76, USA TODAY, Sept. 5, 1995.
  • United States v. Dellinger, 472 F. 2d 340 (1972)