Remembering Lenny Weinglass

March 25, 2011 2:40:33 PM PDT
There may be higher callings in life than being committed to fighting injustice. But I can't think of one that quickly. Certainly not today. Certainly not after hearing that Lenny Weinglass had died.

He's being described today as a "modern day Clarence Darrow" for his lawyering skills and for his penchant - passionate penchant - for taking on cases that seemed unpopular, that bent the boundaries of conventional wisdom, and that questioned both authority and "the establishment."

Weinglass, born and raised in New Jersey, and made a name for himself in the nation's three biggest cities: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

He was 78 when died of pancreatic cancer.

There are those who disagree with the cases he took on, but it's hard to argue with his fervent belief in justice and in a fair trial for everyone.

He was co-counsel in the Chicago Seven trial - the conspiracy to incite case that turned into a circus when seven anti-Vietnam War activists were indicted, tried and found guilty for organizing demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Their convictions were later overturned, and the judge in the case much-criticized for his handling of the trial and his bias against the defendants.

You can Google Lenny Weinglass to see the bibliography of his legal career. Again, whether you agree with the politics of his clients, or not, his passion for the law and for justice was indisputable.

I had one dealing with him - during the Pentagon Papers trial. I was asked to do some research into a former commander of the Marines in the Pacific during the Vietnam War. He was testifying at the trial against former Defense Dept. analyst Daniel Ellsburg - who was charged with leaking top-secret papers exposing various government lies and cover-ups about the war.

The government, furious at Ellsburg and the ensuing tilting of public opinion against the war, brought charges of espionage.

I was a young, budding reporter at the time - having come from the anti-Vietnam War movement. And I remember getting the research, rushing into court, with the former Marine commander on the stand, and handing the work to Weinglass. I'm sure it was far more dramatic for me than it was for him or his legal team. But Lenny Weinglass - even then, back in 1973, was larger than life - taking on perceived wrongdoing and not caring about what level it occurred.

And so Lenny Weinglass' death, very much on my mind, as we work tonight on the 11 p.m. newscast.

We're watching events unfold tonight in Albany, where Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature are reportedly this-close to having a budget compromise. The state is more than $10 billion in the red, so it will be interesting and perhaps painful to see how that gap's going to be closed. One thing that will likely not be included in the budget proposal: extending the so-called "millionaire's tax" that was introduced two years ago to deal with the recession. Actually "millionaire's tax" is a misnomer, because it kicks in with anyone making $200,000, or couples making $300,000. In Syracuse, you'd be rich; in New York City you could just about qualify to live in rent stabilized housing.

We're at a memorial tonight for the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village. The fire, which killed 146 garment workers - mostly young, immigrant and female - sparked a revolution in worker safety laws.

And they're dimming the lights on Broadway tonight in memory of Elizabeth Taylor.

And Nina Pineda tonight has the story of one senior citizen who has been trying to get back more than $4,000 she gave to a contractor. No work and no money back - that's what she got, until she contacted Nina and got 7 On Your Side.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11, right after 20/20.

And a final note: I'll be on vacation next week. This column will return a week from Monday.


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