In high school, Vincent Hallinan once agreed to be the third entrant in a mile race featuring two local track stars. He...


SAN FRANCISCO'S HALLINAN: Toughest Lawyer in Town

In high school, Vincent Hallinan once agreed to be the third entrant in a mile race featuring two local track stars. He finished a distant third, but won the most applause: ""People can go for the underdog. If you give them a show, they'll remember you."" As a trial lawyer, third-party presidential candidate, and freelance leftwing public figure, Hallinan has been giving Americans a show for over 60 years. He merits a biography, and professor Walsh's is certainly serviceable, though stronger on Hallinan the lawyer than Hallinan the public figure. The son of an Irish immigrant cable car conductor, Hallinan received a Jesuit education but soon turned violently against the Church (when one of his sisters entered the convent, he said, it broke his heart). He tried his first case in 1919--before he passed the bar exam--and soon made a name for himself as a personal injury and criminal defense lawyer who prepared his cases exhaustively and fought like a tiger, even in the face of a corrupt jury system and lying witnesses: ""I would do any damned thing I could . . . perjury for perjury."" Hallinan's courtroom repertoire included such tricks as deliberately misleading prosecutors, playing to the press, and in one case (Walsh suggests) the destruction of evidence. The 1950 Red-scare trial of leftist longshoremen's union leader Harry Bridges was a turning point for Hallinan (""I learned more about justice and its perversion than I did in thirty years of prior practice""), who himself drew a six-month sentence for contempt of court (on the trial judge: ""If I have to live forever, I'll piss on that man's grave""). Thereafter, he turned more political--Progressive Party presidential candidate in 1952, early visitor to Castro's Cuba, invited guest of the Soviets at the Gary Powers (U-2) trial, defense counsel in a campus violence case at Berkeley, and mentor of several sons who shared his beliefs (one was barred from military service for associating with his parents). To end his career with a bang Hallinan wanted, but did not get, the Patty Hearst case--Randolph Hearst thought him too radical, and Patty (says Hallinan) called him a ""senile old fuck."" Though he captures the colorful, acid-tongued side of Hallinan, Walsh's portrait is weak in two major areas: the origin of Hallinan's violent anti-Catholicism is not satisfactorily explained, and the groundwork for his midcareer radicalization is skimpy. Jurors today, says Walsh, sense that Hallinan is famous but are too young to know for what. Despite its weaknesses, the book at least answers that question.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Presidio

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1982