Leonard Weinglass (1933-2011)

By John Mage

March 25, 2011 -- Leonard Weinglass, a leading leftwing lawyer in the United States with an international perspective, died in the early evening on March 23, 2011. Len, who died on his 78th birthday, fell ill in late January while in Cuba. In the first days of February exploratory surgery at Montefiore Hospital discovered that he had inoperable cancer of the pancreas.

Lenny, a 1958 graduate of Yale Law School, became active in the US left lawyers' organisation, the National Lawyers Guild, in the course of the civil rights movements of the 1960s. He rose to fame as co-counsel with Bill Kunstler in the Chicago Seven (originally Chicago Eight) conspiracy trial of 1969-70. The seven defendants -- Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner -- were charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot and other charges arising from the mass protests in Chicago, Illinois at the time of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Weinglass (sixth from left) with the Chigago Seven.

The eighth defendant, Bobby Seale, had repeatedly insisted on the trial being delayed to permit his lawyer, Charles Garry, then recovering from surgery, to be present. The judge, the irascible Julius Hoffman, former law partner of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, had Seale bound and gagged in the courtroom when he would not cease his protests. Seale was later severed from the case, but the proceedings -- which lasted from April 1969 to February 1970 -- never recovered any semblance of justice or dignity. Judge Hoffman made no effort to disguise his open bias for the prosecution, and took a particular delight in abusing Len, whose name he claimed not to be able to remember, calling him Weinstein, Steinglass, Glassberg, etc. At the close of the trial Len was, along with Bill Kunstler, held in contempt by Judge Hoffman. He always regarded this as an honour.

In the intervening years, Len represented a continuous sequence of defendants in political prosecutions in the courts of the United States. A partial list, current to 1995, is available here (and below).

I have been co-counsel with Lenny, most recently in 2003 in Article 78 proceedings in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County, that set aside a denial of parole to Kathy Boudin and sent the matter back to the parole board for a rehearing. At the subsequent hearing Kathy was paroled. Lenny was a meticulous, well-prepared litigator, and with an extraordinary degree of practical wisdom and foresight. He had been counsel for Kathy in the 1983 proceedings that resulted in her plea and sentence to 20 years to life, for a politically motivated offence.

In the 2003 proceedings we had the extraordinary experience of relying with decisive effect on the words that Lenny, 20 years before, had fought relentlessly to have inserted into the sentencing record.

In his final struggle, Lenny was counsel for Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban 5, who had infiltrated anti-Castro terrorist organisations in Florida. Tried in a lynch law atmosphere in the Cuban exile stronghold of Miami, their convictions were guaranteed. In a magnificent piece of legal work, Lenny -- in practice acting as lead counsel for the Cuban 5 -- was able to convince a distinguished panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit that they had not received a fair trial in Miami, and indeed could not have received a fair trial there.

In the "war on terror" atmosphere of the Bush administration, which continues to this day, this was an outstanding achievement. Not surprisingly, the Justice Department was able to get the full bench of the 11th Circuit to reverse the panel. But in the eyes of all but the indoctrinated, the panel's analysis has permanently tainted the convictions of the Cuban 5. It is decisive that the US authorities were unable to get even their own judges to uphold the convictions in the normal course. Lenny continued, to his last breath, to fight to bring the injustice done to the Cuban 5 to the attention of the decent people of the world.

Len was a defence attorney. He represented clients who did not choose to be in court, and who faced the near certainty of conviction in political cases in hopelessly biased courts. Yet, without disguising the political nature of the cases nor denying the reality of the bias, he worked diligently to pursue every possibility for successful defence. As appellate counsel, none I ever worked with surpassed his ability to master every relevant detail of the record below, however long and intricate. Lenny never pursued the monetary rewards his skills would easily have made available, were he but to have put politics aside.

His politics were constitutive of his person, and present in every waking moment. His modest office/living loft, his cabin in the Catskills, were sufficient for his needs. To the end he cheerfully, and as effectively as was possible, served those who resisted the all-pervasive injustice of these United States.

[John Mage is director of the Monthly Review Foundation.]

Served as counsel in the following cases

[Excerpted from Refuse & Resist.]

1994: The defence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, leading spokesperson for the African- American commmunity and broadcast joumalist, who was sentenced to death in 1982, He has been on death row in Pennsylvania for over a decade and is the only political prisoner on death row in the United States.

1994: Advisor to the Aburto family regarding the assassination of Presidential Candidate Colossio, who was allegedly killed at the hands of tbeir son, Mario,in Tijuana, Mexico.

1994: The defence of 160 Americans who travelled to Cuba without the prior approval of the US government and in defiance of the embargo.

1993: The defence of 200 students at Brown University who seized a building in protest over the university's policy of discrimination against the admission of poor students.

1993: The defence of Marjorie Peters, an aide to the first African-American mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, charged in a politically motivated prosecution brought by the Bush Justice Department.

1993: The defence of five Iranian nationals who seized and destroyed the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in protest over the bombing of an Iranian camp in lraq.

1992: The defence of Peter Lumsdaine, an anti-nuclear war activist, who was charged with destroying a Navstar satellite, part of a first strike system, at a Rockwell Intemational facility just prior to its being launched.

1992: The defence of Shawn Hellier, a gay rights political activist who opposed the war in the Persian Gulf and disrupted the victory parade in New York City.

1989: The defence of Juan Segarra Palmer III, an advocate of Puerto Rican independence who, along with 14 others, was cbarged with planning and receiving the proceeds of a 7 million dollar robbery from Wells Fargo.

1988: The defence 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.

1987: The defence of seven Palestinians and a Kenyan who faced deportation from the US as the result of political support for a Palestinian bomeland, and specifically the PLO.

1987: The defence of Amy Carter charged with 15 other students at the University of Massachusetts with the seizure of a building in protest over CIA recruitment.

1987: The defence of Ron Kaufman, an anti-war activist, charged with having placed explosive devices in nine banks around the US to protest the war in Vietnam and racial injustice.

1986: The defence of Stephanie Stearn, together with Vincent Bugliosi, Esq. as co-counsel, who was charged with murder in connection with the disappearance of a couple on Palmyra Island in the Pacific.

1986: The defence of Spiver Gordon, a black political organiser and former associate of Martin Luther King, charged in Alabama with voter fraud as the result of organising a voter registration drive.

1986: Consultant to the defence team representing Catholic clergy and lay leaders for giving sanctuary in Phoenix, Arizona to political refugees from Central America.

1995: The defence of Stephen Bingham, an attorney charged with smuggling a gun into George Jackson in his attempted escape from prison in 1971.

1984: The defence of Kathy Boudin, a member of the Weather Underground charged with the robbery of a Brink's truck.

1983: The defence of James Simmons, a Muckleshoot Indian from Oregon who faced the death penalty as the result of charges that he killed a guard at the Walla Walla prison in the state of Washington.

1982: The defence of Alvin Johnson, a black inmate in the state of Georgia who faced the death penalty as the result of charges that be killed a prison guard at the Reidsville prison.

1982: The defence of Salpi Kozibiukian, an Armenian patriot, charged with being part of a conspiracy to plant a small explosive device at a freight terminal of Canada Airlines at the Los Angeles International Airport.

1981: The defence of Kiko Martinez, a Mexican American attorney and political activist charged with a series of attempted bombings in Colorado.

1980: The defence of Mark Loo, a Chinese-American member of the Communist Workers Party, charged with the attempted bombing of the National Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, Cafifornia.

1978: Tbe defence of Paul Skyhorse and Richard Mohawk, two organisers for the American Indian Movement, charged with first degree murder in the longest trial in the history of Los Angeles, California to that point.

1977: The defence of the Atmore Holman Brothers, black inmates in Alabama who organised a prisoner's union, on charges of murder.

1976: The defence of Bill and Emily Harris, members of the Symbionese Liberation Army charged with the kidnap of Patricia Hearst.

1976: The defence of Chol Soo Lee, the only Korean on death row in the United States, in Califomia.

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 Vietnam. Brought on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union.

1974: The defense of eight Vietnamese students who faced deportation from the US as the result of their political activities in opposition to the war.

1973: The defence 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 California.

1972: The defence of John Sinclair, chairman of the White Panther Party in Detroit, Mich. The case became U.S. v. U.S. District Court on appeal to the US Supreme Court, a landmark decision prohibiting the government's use of electronic surveillance without a warrant.

1972: The defence of Anthony Russo who was charged with Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers trial for the release of classified documents on the history of US-Vietnam relations.

1970: The defence of Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial.

1969: Represented Kenneth Gibson who later became the first African-American mayor of Newark, New Jersey in a taxpayers suit which led to his candidacy and reclaimed the city's largest real estate asset.


1. Travelled to Cuba in 1968 as a guest of Fidel Castro.

2. Travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam in 1972 as a guest of the V.S./Vietnam Friendship Association.

3. Travelled to the West Bank in 1979 as the guest of the Arab American University Graduates Association.

4. Travelled to Iran in 1980 as a member of the Ramsey Clark delegation during the hostage crisis.

5. Travelled to El Salvador in 1982 to investigate the killing by goverment forces of a young American, Michael Kline. Later filed suit on behalf of his family.

6. Travelled to Nicaragua in 1985 with Ramsey Clark as a member of an official delegation of attorneys and lay leaders.

7. Travelled to the Philippines in 1986 to meet with recently released political prisoners.

8. Escorted Mr Hsu, a leader of the dissident movement in Taiwan, in his attempted return to his country prior to national elections in December, 1986.

9. Observed a trial of political dissidents in Lisbon, Portugal as part of an international delegation in 1986.

10. Returned to the Philippines in 1987 with Ramsey CIark as part of an international fact finding delegation investigating political violence.

11. Returned to Vietnam in 1989 to observe the changes made in the 14 years since the war ended.

12. Lectured at the graduate law faculty in Shanghai, China and observed the demonstrations of the Democracy Movement in August, 1989.

13. Lectured at the Foreign Ministry in Hanoi, Vietnam as an advisor to the government in 1991.

14. Lectured at the law faculty in Varonesch, Russia on US legal procedures in 1993.

15. Returned to Cuba representing a group of Americans who travelled there without governmental approval in 1994.

16. Observed a trial in Berlin, Germany of Turkish and Kurdish dissidents as part of an international delegation of human rights attorneys in September, 1994; reported to a human rights organization in Turkey.

Other activities

Organised the Newark Law Collective in 1970.

Taught criminal trial advocacy at the University of Southern California Law School from 1974 to 1976.

Taught criminal trial advocacy at the People's College of Law from 1974 to 1975.

Elected to the board of trustees of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice in 1976, an association of criminal defence attorneys.

Elected co-chair of the international committee of the National Lawyers Guild


Selected as the first recipient of the Clarence Darrow Award in 1974.

Recipient of the Humanitarian Award for 1980 of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.

Recipient of Outstanding Achievment Award in 1994 by the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice

This is substantially incorrect:
"1987: The defence of Ron Kaufman, an anti-war activist, charged with having placed explosive devices in nine banks around the US to protest the war in Vietnam and racial injustice."

His hand written notes to newsmen across the country mentioned absolutely nothing about Vietnam. None of his activity before planting his bombs was anti-war related. However, he was big in Civil Rights action, from SNCC. What he actually mentioned in his notes does support civil rights action. Copies of his bomb threat notes from Mike Royko's FBI file can be found at http://TimeBomberBook.blogspot.com