Philadelphia Freedom: Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer

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"David Kairys is one of the grand long-distance runners in the struggle for justice in America. His brilliant legal mind and superb lawyerly skills are legendary. This marvelous book is his gift to us!"
---Cornel West, Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Princeton University, and award-winning author of Race Matters

Philadelphia Freedom is the spellbinding tale of an idealistic young lawyer coming of age in the political cauldron of the 1960s and 1970s. From his immersion in the civil rights movement to his determined court battles to quell criminal violence by Philadelphia police, Kairys recounts how he helped make history in the city of brotherly love."
---William K. Marimow, Editor and Executive Vice President, Philadelphia Inquirer, and recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes

"In the current climate of political deception and the trampling of our civil rights, Kairys's compelling book is a clenched fist, a prayer for social justice and a call to conscience."
---Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times columnist and former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist

"With engaging, insider stories of innovative legal strategies of a truly creative lawyer, this book evokes the ebullient spirit of progressive social change launched in the 1960s and should be read by aspiring and practicing lawyers as well as anyone interested in American social history. Philadelphia Freedom reads like a suspense novel and reveals how novel legal and political thinking can and does make a real difference to individuals and to the quality of justice."
---Martha L. Minow, Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law, Harvard University

"David Kairys's compelling book properly explains the vital role that civil rights attorneys play in our system of justice."
---Judge John E. Jones III, United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and presiding judge in the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case

A memoir that is also a compelling page-turner, Philadelphia Freedom is the poignant, informative, often inspiring account of renowned civil-rights lawyer David Kairys's personal quest for achieving social justice during the turbulent 1960s and 70s.

Philadelphia Freedom brings us intimately and directly into Kairys's burgeoning law career and the struggles of the 60s as his professional and private life navigated the turmoil and promise of the civil rights and antiwar movements.

Many of the cases Kairys took on involved discrimination and equal protection, freedom of speech, and government malfeasance. Kairys is perhaps most well known for his victory in the Camden 28 draft board case, in which the FBI set up a sting of the Catholic anti-war left at the behest of the highest levels of government.

The stories and cases range from nationally important and recognizable---the family of the scientist the CIA unwittingly gave LSD in the 1950s; the leading race discrimination case against the FBI; Dr. Benjamin Spock's First Amendment case before the Supreme Court; the city handgun lawsuits Kairys conceived---to those he encountered in his early work as a public defender. The characters include public figures such as FBI Directors J. Edgar Hoover and Louis Freeh; CIA Director William Colby; Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter; New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer; U.S. Attorneys General Edward Levi and John Mitchell; Georgia Governor Lester Maddox; Pennsylvania Governor, former Philadelphia Mayor, and Democratic National Committee chair Ed Rendell; Philadelphia Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo. But some of the most memorable are not well known, involving regular people caught up in the often heartless machinery of the courts and legal system.

Though it reads like a novel, with all the elements of character, plot, and suspense, Philadelphia Freedom also has historical significance as a firsthand account of the 1960s and 70s and contains social commentary about race as well as insights and major perspectives on the nature and social role of law.

David Kairys is Professor of Law at Beasley School of Law, Temple University. He was a full-time civil rights lawyer from 1968 to 1990.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
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 andmethods 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472033102
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 442
  • Sales rank: 1,565,481
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Philadelphia Freedom

Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer

By David Kairys
Copyright © 2008

David Kairys
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-11638-6

Chapter One Georgia on My Mind

A small elevator took me slowly to the eighth floor of the old office building at Thirteenth and Market Streets in Philadelphia. Clients, almost all of them black, filled the seats and standing room in a cramped reception area just outside the elevator. Beyond them, a center area and a large hallway were filled with secretaries' desks, typewriters, and file cabinets. Lawyers' offices were in small, irregular-shaped rooms around the perimeter of the floor. Two or three old wood desks and an assortment of beat-up chairs and bookshelves were crammed into each office, leaving little room for people. The ceilings were very high, and the windows were large and surrounded by fancy wood moldings. It was all painted a drab off-white, but it had the feel of a once grand workplace. Now it was home to the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the local public defender office, where I reported for work the day after Labor Day in 1968.

I stopped for a moment and looked around, struck by how alien I felt among the clients and lawyers, all of whom seemed to know what to do. After a few brief introductions, a secretary led me to a desk and handed me a stack of the basic tools of the law trade, big yellow pads and pencils. As I sat down at my desk, I couldn't imagine anything I could write to fill a whole yellow page. I wondered if, as a lawyer, I would have enough to say.

But the metal desk chair and the banged-up old oak desk were sure signs that I had become a lawyer. I thought of my parents still in Baltimore, neither of whom had gone to college, who had made a sizable dent in the family finances to finance me and my career.

I soon found myself debating whether the pad should be lined up with the edges of the desk or at an informal angle. The lined up way looked orderly and symmetrical, but the angled pad made me look experienced and savvy, like a lawyer whose first day was some time ago. I felt embarrassed at my own thoughts.

Two other desks were in the room, covered with scattered papers and books. Whoever used those desks looked like they must be busy, which I felt I should be as soon as possible. I looked through the stack of forms left on my desk to greet me-forms for interviews, investigations, cases involving juveniles, and referrals to other departments. File folders for each case had blocks printed on the outside for detailed information about what happened at each stage of the process. Green files marked "Bail Case" were for clients out on bail; manila ones marked "Jail Case" were for clients imprisoned awaiting trial. I was eager to fill in some blocks.

I knew it would be some time before I got into a courtroom. I had taken the bar exam that July after graduation from Columbia Law School and wouldn't be admitted until late in December. Beginning that first September day and for the next few months, I spent my time interviewing clients, first those out on bail, the people waiting in the reception area, and later those held in prison. I learned a great deal, but it was mostly uneventful and frustrating because I took down the information and the defendants' stories but never found out how the cases turned out.

By the second or third week, I was getting bored when I happened to overhear an interview by one of the lawyers who shared the room with me. Stu had been a public defender for over a decade. He looked like so many white guys I had known in college and law school-medium height, brown hair in a crew cut, and always brown or black loafers. He was reserved, almost shy, but around the office he was known as one of the best in the courtroom. In court he became a different person, assertive, focused, often aggressive. Once I heard about his reputation, I began to observe how he worked.

That day, Stu was interviewing a large black woman whose voice caught my attention. It was gravelly and at the same time melodic and deeply resonant. She was sobbing, clutching a tissue in one hand and waving her arms as she talked to Stu. I picked up bits of their conversation. Her husband had just been arrested and was being held at the Detention Center for something that had happened in Georgia a long time ago. I started listening more intently.

"He accused of killing a man in 1944," she said, wiping tears from her face. "He escape from a chain gang." She explained that he had been arrested by Philadelphia police the day before when they had a loud argument and a neighbor called the police. When he was routinely fingerprinted, his prints matched those of an escaped fugitive.

"Was Mr. Jiles convicted for the Georgia murder?" Stu asked. "They say he was."

"The police told you that?"


Stu paused, looking down and away from her, then slowly back up to her face. "There's really nothing we can do, Mrs. Jiles," he said. "When someone is convicted and the state where it happened seeks extradition, that's the end of it. To extradite someone, all Georgia officials need to prove is that a crime was committed there and that the person held for it here is the same person they tried and convicted. That will be easy, since the fingerprints match."

"Lord help us," she gasped. She said she and her husband had four young children. "He was never in any trouble before. His work on construction support our family."

"I'm sorry, ma'am," Stu replied. "Our office advises clients to waive extradition. It can take months before the identification hearing, and your husband won't get any credit for the time he spends waiting here for extradition. If he waives and goes back to Georgia, at least he'll get credit for that time. I'll visit your husband in prison and explain it all."

She was sobbing and wheezing as if she had a bad cold. I stood up out of my chair, slowly, as I watched her leave. This murder her husband had been convicted of had happened almost 25 years ago, just about when I was born. Mary Jiles didn't know a thing about it until her husband was arrested. He had escaped, married, and made what sounded like a good life in Philadelphia for himself and his family. But now he would be sent back to a Georgia chain gang, probably for the rest of his life. She reminded me of someone I knew well, but I couldn't admit that yet, even to myself.

I had no reason to doubt Stu's assessment. He was experienced and one of the best. Yet I just couldn't accept it. There had to be something worth trying, though I had no idea what. I had a strong urge to intervene, although I was afraid it could anger him and I had no basis for thinking I could do anything that might help.

After a long silence, I casually asked, "Stu, would you mind if I look into it more?" I made the mistake of adding, "I've got nothing to do now but interview."

Stu bristled, looking more like I imagined he did in the courtroom. "Fine. You want a wild goose chase, go ahead," he said, as he held the file up in the air like something I would have to fetch. He added some good advice: "Don't let anyone hear you say you got nothing to do but interview. That's a vital function around here. We all do it, even the Ivy Leaguers."

The Ivy League comment reflected a tension in the office I would become familiar with. Until the 1960s, public defender work was usually not sought by graduates from the Ivy League. Most public defenders went to local schools, often, like Stu, at night so they could work and support themselves. Law practice is very hierarchical, and public defender work was near the bottom. This changed in the 1960s, however, as the nation turned its attention to civil rights, poverty, and the rights of people accused of crimes. Criminal defendants' rights are often discussed as if they were an innovation of the 1960s, but they were also the main subject of the Bill of Rights.

Just then, Mrs. Jiles came back into the room to get her purse, which she had left on a chair, making an awkward moment more awkward. "I will be visiting your husband in jail," I said, "to look into whether there is anything that can be done."

"Thank you, sir. May the Lord Jesus bless you," she said.

The word Jesus was startling. I never imagined that Jesus would care about me. It feels strange to be blessed so personally if you believe in a different religion or don't believe in any religion as much as the person blessing you. I felt her blessing deeply, although I had never been very religious. I was raised to be proud of my Jewish heritage and aware of the historic oppression of Jews, although my family seldom attended synagogue and I hadn't felt personally oppressed. Right then I thought I needed a good legal theory more than a prayer.

* * *

That night, I worked late at the law library in the office, but I was finding only what I had already been told: Georgia would have to prove just two things-that the crime occurred and that Jiles was the person convicted for it. He was, after all, a fugitive who had escaped from prison. That was the beginning and end of the analysis. It didn't matter that 25 years had passed, that James Jiles had led a good and productive life in Philadelphia, or that there might have been discrimination or unfairness in his trial. All of that was up to Georgia and could be presented in the Georgia courts and then the federal courts once Jiles was returned to the chain gang.

I started with Corpus Juris, a legal encyclopedia that covers just about everything, a good place to look when you don't know anything. It had a section on extradition and cites to many cases. I also found an article in American Law Reports, which summarizes the law on particular issues, on the requirements for proving the identity of a fugitive. Extradition was mainly a matter of state law. Pennsylvania had adopted the Uniform Extradition Act, standard in most states. From all these materials, I got references and citations to over 100 cases. I browsed the cases almost randomly, looking for some opening to challenge Jiles's extradition.

I found a 1963 New Hampshire case that refused to extradite a man to Massachusetts for failing to pay child support. This was because the guy had never been to Massachusetts, so that case didn't help. Recent cases in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., mentioned the hardship an extradition could cause to family members but didn't refuse extradition on the basis of hardship. I was getting nowhere. I knew it didn't make much sense for the state where a prisoner fled after escaping to retry or pardon him, even if that's what he deserved. Maybe I was wasting time. That's always a hard call, particularly when you've got no experience.

The list and definitions of crimes and available defenses are different in each state, and most law schools don't teach the laws of any particular state. Every state has crimes like murder, rape, burglary, and assault, but even those have differing definitions and defenses. I had no idea of particular crimes or defenses in Pennsylvania.

The library was only a little larger than my office, the walls lined with the numbered volumes of books I knew well from law school. There were hundreds of volumes of court decisions, statutes, general reference books, and practice guides. I liked the look of them. They held answers to puzzles I wanted to solve, but their sheer volume was daunting.

I settled on Title 18 of the Pennsylvania code, which covered the state's crimes. The list and definitions seemed pretty standard, but I noticed some strange ones. It was a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania to break the ice on a frozen pond or to tell fortunes.

Anyone who "pretends for gain or lucre to tell fortunes or predict future events" commits a misdemeanor, said 4870, adopted in 1861. I liked the squiggly section marks--which reminded me of my earlier education in science. They look like a squashed integral sign in calculus.

I looked up the full opinions of a few cases. I was reading intensely when I had that feeling of being observed. I looked up, and there was Stu, peering in the doorway.

"Find anything helpful?" he asked, with a slight, knowing grin.

"No, but now I know all about the crime of fortune telling."

"Is that a crime?"

"Well," I said, happy that I knew at least one thing he didn't, "a faith healer, David Blair, was prosecuted in 1927 in Chester County for advising someone to avoid spells and restlessness by placing salt in his bed in the form of a cross. The court found the advice 'foolish' but let him off because he 'did not furnish the salt' and had 'assumed the usual attitude of prayer.' They exempted what looked like established spirituality."

"Are there more?"

"Yeah. One not-so-established fellow, Charles Dice, was convicted in 1924 for convincing someone that an invisible black dog was circling his house and casting a curse. The curse and the dog were removable for a fee of $36, of which $32 was for curse removal and $4 for the house call. Jeanne Viscount attempted to defeat a curse by burying animal hearts in a backyard and a cemetery. The court called this 'weird' and felt a duty to protect 'the ignorant, superstitious and credulous who, like the poor, are always among us.' It doesn't seem any weirder than a bed full of salt."

"I guess not. I'll stay away from black dogs and animal hearts," Stu said, "and maybe you should get some sleep and tomorrow get back to interviewing."

* * *

After an unproductive evening of law books and daydreams, I headed for the small second floor apartment I had rented on Spruce Street west of Rittenhouse Square. On the way, I stopped for dinner. I had a strong, almost urgent feeling that was familiar but no idea what to do about it. Whenever something seemed important, I couldn't wait. Any delay might change it, ruin it. My tendency was always to try to make things happen right away.

As I watched a black man mop the floor of the restaurant, something that had bothered me earlier came into focus. My thoughts centered on Mrs. Jiles. She was such an appealing person. She struck me as someone with real integrity, a religious woman deeply devoted to her family. But it was also clear that she was tough and had seen the harder side of life.

Now I understood why I had such a strong positive reaction to her. She reminded me of Queeny, my family's maid when I was a child growing up in Baltimore. The connection was embarrassing, though nobody knew it but me. Her nickname, Queeny, seemed a noble's title for a servant, as if mocking her place in life. After my father, who worked for a slipcover manufacturing company, was promoted to manager of the factory, Queeny had cooked and cleaned and taken care of me in my younger years, particularly when my mother was sick for a time.

I loved Queeny, who worked part- or full-time for my parents until I was seven or eight, though most of my concrete memories of her are gone except her face and her walk. I remember the time she let me watch her give herself insulin for diabetes. We were in the laundry room, down in the basement. The skin of her leg was so tough that she had to jab the needle in. Her fist wrapped around it, then her arm slammed it down. She had to do it every day. The shots I got for typhoid and tetanus seemed easy after that.

The civil rights and antiwar activists I had gotten close to in college and law school would find the relationship of this kind, hard-working woman to my family repugnant. So did I, although it provided the only real contact I had with black people until my high school was integrated in the late 1950s. Why is it some people have every opportunity, I wondered, while others have none? Here I was a lawyer, and before that I wanted to be an engineer. Maid or butler wasn't on my list, and engineer or lawyer wasn't on hers or her kids'. Knowing her was part of my bewilderment later in life that white people were so nasty to black people.

In the restaurant where I was eating, the black man continued to mop the floor so I and other patrons, almost all white, could dine in a clean place. Black people cleaned our homes and workplaces, cooked our food, parked our cars. I knew most whites didn't notice such things, and I often wondered why I did. Maybe it was all Queeny's doing, or maybe I was open to Queeny and saw the injustice of her plight because that's the way I am. Back then I thought I would probably never know, and perhaps I never will.


Excerpted from Philadelphia Freedom by David Kairys Copyright © 2008 by David Kairys. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Under the Bridge 1

Pt. I Beginnings in Crime

1 Georgia on My Mind 7

2 Bailed Out by the Great Writ 41

3 Sexual History, Going Out for Ribs, and Juries without Peers 76

4 Civility, Stop Smiling, and a Surprise Jury Trial 105

Pt. 2 A Small Civil Rights Law Firm and a Big War

5 Rizzo's Police 139

6 War without End, or a Declaration by Congress 162

7 "One of the Great Trials of the Twentieth Century" 184

8 Free Speech and the Baby Doctor 226

9 Celebrating Freedom, Free Speech, and a Book to Speak About 242

Pt. 3 After the Movement

10 Sins of the CIA 265

11 More Juries, Less Peers 287

12 Going to School at the Electric Company 306

13 Round Up the Usual Suspects 318

14 The Cities Shoot Back 335

15 Hoover's Legacy 354

Epilogue 389

Author's Note 397

Notes 401

Index 415

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2008

    Government Corruption Exposed!

    Kairys has exposed the seedy side of government. From the local police to the FBI and CIA with their total disregard for the truth and the law itself. Kairys represented every race and gender in an effort towards equal justice. It was amusing to watch how Kairys had outwitted the FBI in their blantantly bad deeds during the Camden 8 trial and the FBI's racial abuse of a Black FBI Agent. His unselfish dedication to civil rights is amazing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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