Kunstler, William

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KUNSTLER, WILLIAM (1919–1995), U.S. lawyer. Kunstler was born in New York. He majored in French at Yale University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated in 1941. He served with the Army Signal Corps in the Pacific in World War ii, rising to the rank of major and earning a Bronze Star. After the war, he attended Columbia Law School, graduating in 1949. In the mid-1950s, Kunstler represented a State Department employee whose passport had been confiscated when he traveled to China as a freelance reporter. By the early 1960s he was doing work with the American Civil Liberties Union and representing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his allies in the civil rights cause, and his course was set: he became one of the best-known lawyers in the United States, championing left-of-center clients and unpopular causes. He not only made a career but also a life out of representing people and movements that were often despised. His clients' "popularity" seemed to inspire him, and he earned praise as a brilliant lawyer and a skillful and courageous litigator, but also scorn as a showoff and publicity seeker. He represented Dr. King as he battled segregation in Georgia; Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who contended that his skin color made him unpopular with Congressional colleagues, and Stokely Carmichael, who popularized the "black power" rallying cry. Among his notorious clients was a man who shot six people to death on a Long Island Rail Road train, and he had a role in the defense of suspects in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. One of his notable victories was winning acquittal of El Sayyid Nosair on murder charges in the 1990 death of Rabbi Meir *Kahane, despite eyewitnesses who said they had seen the defendant slay the militant leader of the Jewish Defense League. Nosair was convicted of gun possession and other lesser charges. Perhaps his best-known case involved the so-called Chicago Seven, who were tried on charges that they conspired to incite riots that made a tumult of the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in Chicago. His clients in the trial were people whose names were constantly linked to the turbulence of that era: Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, John R. Froines, and Lee Weiner. Bobby Seale, a member of the militant Black Panther party, was originally included in the group but his case was tried separately. The infamous trial, in which the defendants mocked the judge, ended with the acquittal of all on conspiracy charges, although five were found guilty of crossing state lines with intent to riot. For his many sharp exchanges with the judge, Julius J. Hoffman, Kunstler got a contempt-of-court sentence of 4 years 13 days. But all the convictions in the trial, including Kunstler's, were overturned on appeal. Kunstler wrote several books, including Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?: The Original Trial of Caryl Chessman, a 1961 account of a convict in California executed after more than a decade on death row, and The Case for Courage: The Stories of Ten Famous American Attorneys Who Risked Their Careers in the Cause of Justice, published in 1962.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]