Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer
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Recollections of a career devoted to fighting for social justice.

Kairys (Law/Temple Univ.; With Liberty and Justice for Some, 1993, etc.) has sifted through hefty files of documents to reconstruct events in and out of court and to re-create conversations with clients, witnesses, judges and other lawyers. The result is a fully fleshed-out memoir of life on the front lines of the civil-rights movement. Beginning as a public defender, the author was not yet a member of the bar when he took up the cause of James Jiles, an escapee from a chain gang who was facing extradition to Georgia. Through legal research, impressive powers of reasoning and persuasion, plus sheer chutzpah, Kairys carried the day in this case as he would in many future ones. In 1971, with funding from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, he and a partner opened a private practice that owed much of its work to, as Kairys puts it, “the brutality and lawlessness of the Philadelphia police.” When a group of Catholic antiwar activists broke into a draft-board office in nearby Camden, N.J., his firm defended the “Camden 28,” a case that drew national attention and revealed that the FBI had provided the tools for the break-in. The Bureau took it on the chin again when Kairys represented a black man in a racial discrimination suit against the FBI. He sued the CIA on behalf of the family of a scientist who died a week after a CIA researcher gave him a dose of LSD secretly mixed in a drink. The book’s drama comes from these high-profile cases, including a free-speech suit brought by Dr. Benjamin Spock that went to the Supreme Court, but the author’s account of how he managed to bring about changes in bail procedures and methods of jury selection are equally absorbing and provide a disturbing picture of the workings of the courts.

Easy reading, pleasantly suffused with the idealism and activism of ’60s and ’70s.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-472-03310-2
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Univ. of Michigan Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2008


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