REMEMBERING LEONARD WEINGLASS (August 27, 1933 – March 23, 2011)

Len Weinglass & William Kunstler, 1970, attorneys for the Chicago 8. Photo by Gary Settle, NY Times.

Our friend and comrade — and one of my heroes — attorney Leonard Weinglass — died on March 23, 77 years old, of complications stemming from pancreatic cancer.

Len Weinglass was a humble man and a great attorney. His life’s work was to support radical activists who were under attack by the system of injustice that prevails in the United States. From the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, to Mumia Abu-Jamal, to the Cuban Five — with many, many stops in between (the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, Kathy Boudin, Angela Davis, and many others) — Len could always be counted on to defend those who most needed his assistance.

There will be a public memorial for Len on Friday, May 13, at 7 pm (doors open at 6 pm), at the NY Society for Ethical Culture, 64th Street and Central Park West, in Manhattan.

To hear my interview with Leonard Weinglass concerning what the trial of the Cuban Five is all about, please click here: LEONARD WEINGLASS on the CUBAN FIVE, an interview with Mitchel Cohen

Below are tributes written by:

  • Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo — one of the Cuban Five, for whom Lenny was lead attorney — from his prison cell in California;

  • The National Lawyers Guild;

  • Ricardo Alarcón; and

  • Francis Boyle.

In memory of Leonard Weinglass

Not that long ago Len came to visit me and we worked for several hours preparing for the next step of my appeal. I noticed at the time that he was tired. I was worried with his advanced age that he was driving alone after a long trip from New York. The weather was bad and the roads from the airport up to Victorville wind through the mountains surrounding the high desert. I mentioned my concern to him but he did not pay it any attention. That was the way he was, nothing stopped him.

When we would meet the same thing would always happen. At some point in our conversation, while listening to him talk, my mind would separate from his words and I would focus on the person. I would realize that here is this great man, the tremendous lawyer, the legendary fighter for justice, right here in front of me. I told him that I had seen images of him in documentaries on TV dedicating himself to important legal cases that he had participated in from a very young age. With pride I would tell people watching, “that is the lawyer of the Five”. It did not matter how much I read or heard about Len I knew through his humility and modesty that there was a lot I still had to discover about this man who had dedicated his life to his profession.

Len always insisted that our case, like the others that he had dedicated lots of his time to, was essentially a political one. He cautioned us from the start that this struggle would be long and difficult. His experience with the “system” had taught him that. For our part, beyond the professional relationship we had, we always thought of him as one compañero in the battle for justice.

Len leaves us at an important moment, but he leaves us prepared to carry on the path. On more than one occasion he expressed his admiration and respect for the other lawyers on our legal team, and I think that he has left confident that our case is in good hands.

Like other people, who during these years have accompanied us in our struggle to make justice prevail, he will not be with us to see the inevitable triumph. We are confident that day will arrive and to Len, and to all the others, we will pay them a well deserved tribute in our homeland.

On behalf of the Cuban Five, and our families, and from the millions of Cubans, and brothers and sisters from all over the world who trusted and admired him, we send our most sincere condolences to Len’s family and friends.

Leonard Weinglass, Presente!

Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo

USP Victorville, California

March 23, 2011

from the National Lawyers Guild

New York: The National Lawyers Guild mourns yesterday’s passing of an extraordinary criminal defense and civil rights attorney, Leonard I. Weinglass. A long-time member of the Guild, he now joins the pantheon of great lawyers who have devoted their careers to making human rights more sacred than property interests.

Weinglass graduated from Yale Law School in 1958 and went on to defend some of the most significant political cases of the century. He represented Tom Hayden of Students for a Democratic Society when Hayden was indicted in the Newark riots. During the Vietnam War, he represented Anthony Russo in the Pentagon Papers case, and in 1969 he co-counseled in the Chicago Seven case, with the eventual overturning of the guilty verdicts. He also represented Jane Fonda in her suit against Richard Nixon, Puerto Rican independence fighters Los Macheteros, and eight Palestinian organizers facing deportation known as the LA 8.

When he represented Amy Carter in 1987 after her arrest for protesting CIA recruitment, Weinglass told the Hampshire County District court, “the students’ reaction in that incident was the reaction any right-thinking American, peace-loving American, would have in the face of the serious harm the agency has done.”

Weinglass served as lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on death row for nearly 30 years. Other well-known clients included former Weatherman Kathy Boudin, Angela Davis when she was charged with murder for the Marin County shootout, and Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five. He also represented Bill and Emily Harris, members of the Symbionese Liberation Army who were charged with the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.

The National Lawyers Guild honored Weinglass on several occasions, including at its 2003 national convention with the Bill Goodman Award. “For most lawyers, the work that Len did on any one of countless cases would be the achievement of a lifetime, not just for the brilliance of his advocacy but also for the causes he espoused and the passion with which he fought,” said Guild President David Gespass.

The National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. The Guild’s headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.

For Lenny

By: Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

On the afternoon of March 23rd, the same day he marked 78 years of an exemplary life, Leonard Weinglass’s heart stopped beating.

He’d suffered a terrible illness that since January had brought him to a critical and especially painful phase of his life, yet he never stopped working for even a moment. During the last months of his life, as he struggled heroically against illness and physical pain, he dedicated himself body and soul to the preparation and presentation of a Habeas Corpus appeal for Gerardo Hernández Nordelo and for Antonio Guerrero, without stopping to work on the appeals for the rest of the Five.

Just before entering the hospital where he would undergo an urgent operation, he put the final touches on the appeals for Gerardo and Antonio and turned the rest over to other colleagues who were to do the same while he was in recovery. Only then did he agree to take care of himself.

And that’s how he always was. While still a very young man, he joined a firm that, under the direction of Victor Rabinowitz and Leonard Boudin, waged countless battles on behalf of the unions, civil liberties and justice in the United States. With his brilliant defense in 1968 of the Chicago Eight, Lenny began an uninterrupted and admirable career that included the cases of Jane Fonda, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Angela Davis, Mumia Abu Jamal, Amy Carter, Kathy Boudin and many others, up to and including the Five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters, and his most recent collaboration with the defense attorneys for Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. The story of the struggles of the North American people cannot be written without the name of Leonard Weinglass being highlighted on each page.

Now and forever, our homage and gratitude go with him.

The loss of Lenny is a difficult blow for Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René. He was their best and most tireless defender, someone who dedicated all his energy and talent to their cause, and struggled for them until the end, amidst his own suffering and agony, until his last breath.

The struggle for the liberation of our comrades must continue, in conditions that are now even more difficult than before, without Lenny. We renew our commitment to move forward until we achieve freedom for all of them.

Let’s do it ceaselessly, without resting. It’s the least that we could do for the tireless fighter, the selfless and lucid combatant who was always our dear comrade, Leonard Weinglass.

The writer is the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba, and for 30 years Cuba’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

Translation: Machetera

* * * * *

Len Weinglass, People’s Hero

Speaking of the Chicago Conspiracy trial, I once told Len that it was pretty cool that he was being played by Elliot Gould in the Chicago 7/8 movie: Mr Cool for the 1970s, starting with MASH. But Len was not impressed. Did not tell me why. But hey, I was impressed.

Back in 1985 Len, Ramsey Clark and I went down to Nicaragua for one week to investigate Contra atrocities, including going up to the war zone at Matagalpa. The contras had just publicly threatened to kill all Americans on the grounds that they were pro-Sandinista. So we went down there under a Death Threat. They would later murder Ben Linder from Urbana, a hydrologist who brought fresh water to the campesinos. At the end of the week I was breathing a sigh of relief that I was going home in one piece. I asked Len about his plans. Len said he was going directly to Guatemala to investigate human rights violations. Guatemala? In 1985? All by himself? When Reagan’s henchmen were in the process of exterminating 250,000 people there? Guatemala was an Auschwitz compared to the Dachau of Nicaragua where Reagan’s people exterminated 35,000.

Len and I did the Amy Carter/ Abbie Hoffman case together. After the UMASS/Amherst 14 were arrested, Abbie said to the rest of them: “I’ve got a great lawyer who can defend us.” Len got them all off: CIA ON TRIAL! We beat the hell out of the CIA! Argued that legally they were just like the SS and the Gestapo — the theory of the defense, which we proved in court. Len was brilliant, as always.

I mention this because years later after Len was off Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case, the new team of lawyers decided to launch their next round of appeals by personally attacking the courage, the integrity and the principles of Len Weinglass. They were just a gang of sleaze-ball shysters! Len was the REAL DEAL.

So I do hope you would be so kind as to have this story told at his Memorial tomorrow by his Friends: In 1985 Len Weinglass went off to Guatemala to investigate human rights atrocities all by himself. I bid him farewell. I wished him the best of luck. It tells you something of the character of the Man.

RIP: Abbie and Len.

Francis A. Boyle

Law Building

504 E. Pennsylvania Ave.

Champaign, IL 61820 USA


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *