William Kunstler was the flamboyant lead defense attorney in the Chicago
Conspiracy Trial. It was obvious to all that Kunstler chose sides in the
battleground of Judge Hoffman's courtroom and fully joined his clients'
cause. He ate, danced, drank, and demonstrated with the defendants, causing
the judge to observe at one point, "You get awfully chummy with your clients."
Kunstler was a man with a huge ego, and the press covering the trial frequently
accused him of "showboating." It was clear that Kunstler had the confidence
to "wing it," but often his lack of preparation showed during cross-examination
or argument. Kunstler engaged in increasingly bitter confrontations with
Judge Hoffman as the trial proceeded; some confrontations were no doubt
calculated melodrama, others spontaneous expressions of outrage. Kunstler's
performance earned him a sentence of over four years in prison for contempt.
Kunstler grew up in New York City. He described himself as "a terrible
kid until I reached high school." During his teenage year in the Central
Park West area, Kunstler belonged to a gang called the Red Devils that
engaged in such pursuits as stealing from gum machines and breaking windows.
Kunstler straightened himself out, became an "A" student, and went on to
pick up degrees from Yale and Columbia Law School.
A few years out of law school, Kunstler turned from a small business
and family law practice to civil liberties law. In his autobiography My
Life as a Radical Lawyer, Kunstler described his decades of attempting
to put the American criminal justice system on trial. His clients over
the years included Lenny Bruce, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, American
Indian Movement leaders, Jack Ruby, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and
On Labor Day, 1995, William Kunstler died at age 76.