We Need More Lawyers To Defend The Underdogs


I’m sad about attorney Leonard Weinglass’ death earlier this week because we need lawyers like him around.

Lots of them.

Weinglass constantly reminded us that the Constitution is not only for average folks, but also for the most notorious among us.

It is a lesson taught in school that too many forget.

Weinglass never forgot.

He died at 77 of pancreatic cancer.


Leonard Weinglass and Chicago 7 defendant Jerry Rubin


He could have made a fortune with his Yale law school education and his brain.  Instead he chose to defend the disreputable.

Weinglass first saw what an overzealous prosecution could do during the Chicago 7 trial, when he defended anti-Viet Nam war protestor Tom Hayden. He tried the case with his colleague William Kunstler.

Young people cannot imagine the media circus surrounding that trial. Since then there has been nothing like it, except the O.J. Simpson trial.

Counterculture figures like LSD advocate Timothy Leary and poet Allen Ginsberg testified.  Anti-Viet name protestors Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin constantly clashed with the elderly pro-government Federal Judge Julius Hoffman.  Black Panther Bobby Seals was ordered chained to a chair and gagged.

Weinglass was held in contempt 14 times.

The defendants got convicted, but the verdict was overturned on appeal because of Judge Hoffman’s open bias towards the defense.

The experience helped radicalize Weinglass, previously an unknown Newark criminal defense attorney.  He decided if the government with all its power could try to silence dissent, he would be on the side of the dissenter.

His future clients were Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers. He also defended Symbionese Liberation Army members William and Emily Harris, Angela Davis, Viet Nam era terrorist Kathy Boudin and accused killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

At the time of his death he was helping the defense of five Miami Cubans accused of spying for Castro’s Cuba.

Why do I mention all this?

Because we should never forget that the Broward courthouse is full of lawyers who defend the infamous daily.

They may not be nationally known like Weingalss with big-name defendants. Still, they fight on daily for the underdog, the oppressed and the unloved among us.

We call them public defenders.

14 Responses to “We Need More Lawyers To Defend The Underdogs”

  1. Las Olas Lawyer says:

    Very nice tribute to the PDs and why many of us went to law school, although admittedly I got sidetracked. That’s why I am trying to do as much pro bono work as possible.

  2. But Buddy says:

    Great article. I think you’re getting your hippie leftist cred for writing stuff like this.

    Are you switching parties?

    Something to add to the article should be that the Florida legislature loves those that defend the underdog so much that the average PD makes as much as the assistant shift manager at a McDonalds.

    And sorry to use the name “But Buddy” when writing on an article about how the underdog would get screwed if it weren’t for these lawyers.


    Since when is it “leftist” to believe that everybody, including the underdogs, deserve the best defense that is available if they are charged with a crime?

  3. Hippie Time says:

    Excuse me while I get my poncho and my love beads. I’ll be right back.

  4. The Long Black Robe (ret.) says:

    Some of the people commenting here have a profound misunderstanding of both the law and the Constitution. It is sad and scary that these people make fun of this nation’s long dedication to the belief that defendants are innocent until proven guilty and that every defendant deserves the best defense.
    Weinglass provided many who were deemed monsters with a defense and the fact that many were acquitted proves our system works.

  5. Floridan says:

    “Since when is it “leftist” to believe that everybody, including the underdogs, deserve the best defense that is available if they are charged with a crime?”


  6. But Buddy says:

    Apologies if the sarcasm in my earlier post wasn’t as clear as intended.

    Floridan said it well.

    It has become a leftist, pinko, liberal position in this country to think that people deserve a vigorous defense when charged with crimes – regardless of their ability to pay.

    We can thank the self-righteous attitude of the right and those in the Democratic party too weak to argue for that becoming the prevailing thinking.

    To the right, if you’re a poor black man charged with a violent crime or drug offense, you’re guilty (or at least guilty of somethign) so if we short-change the lawyers that are hired to provide you a defense, it’s no great loss.

    Presumption of innocence only exists for the right if you’re Tom Delay charged with corruption or Rush Bimbang charged with doctor shopping (in Broward, if Rush were black, he would have been charged with trafficking).

    I’m proud that you’ve written this article, and think that the RPOF will be calling you shortly to tell you that you are required to change your registration for writing it.

  7. conflict counsel says:

    i give more props to the attorneys at the conflict counels office. while the pd’s are ot weel paid, at conflict they are well paid and have major restraints on their abilites to reprsent the underdogs

  8. S only says:

    What makes you think this is a “lesson taught in school”? If it’s not on the FCAT, it is not taught.

  9. Nc Ic says:

    The fact many were acquitted proves Michael J. Satz is still the elected State Attorney not that the system works.

  10. Republicans vs. the Bill of Rights says:

    “Since when is it “leftist” to believe that everybody, including the underdogs, deserve the best defense that is available if they are charged with a crime?”

    Since the Republicans successfully torpedoed Eric Holder’s plan to put Guantanamo inmates on trial in New York City, arguing that they should not receive fair trials or constitutional rights.

  11. Duke says:

    Please lets not forget the very talented attorneys, paralegals, and support staff at Legal Aid of Broward, and all the other Legal Aid offices around the nation. They handle only civil cases for poor folks,and they do a magnificent job.Rumor has it that Legal Aid offices are giving free seminars to private attorneys who are handling foreclosure defense.One can’t help but notice all the foreclosure and eviction case law that’s getting published where it’s Legal Aid on the winning side. A few good articles in law reviews too.

  12. Cat says:

    I’m a prosecutor, not in Broward. Most APDs are decent folks just trying to do a good job for their clients, just like us. But you’re not going to get a lot more of them with all the changes in the Legislature to salaries and pensions and insurance. The best and brightest won’t be able to afford the public sector as a career.

  13. McCheeze says:

    The constitution only says that “if they cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed.” Nobody ever said they are entitled to the “best defense possible”. Adequate is the requirement.

  14. PD Employee says:

    The public should only know the truth that Howard Finkelstein hardly works with the exception of giving a few interviews to keep his name out in the public. Jay Spechler has already approached lawyers about running against him.