Lawyers You’ll Like : Attorney Linda Backiel
As part of our Lawyers You’ll Like series today we speak with attorney Linda Backiel. She’s a lawyer and poet living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She’s played an instrumental role in defending independentistas in the fight against colonialism in Puerto Rico. As part of that struggle she defended those who were ultimately successful in kicking the military out of Vieques. A small island near Puerto Rico. For 40 years of law practice, she devoted much of her energy to the defense of political prisoners often with her friend and mentor, Lenny Weinglass. A Poem For Lenny Weinglass.
Guest – Attorney Linda Backiel, a criminal defense attorney and poet living and practicing law in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Here is Linda Backiel’s transcript from the talk she gave at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Criminal Justice Act.
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter 1937-2014
In April of this year, celebrated boxer and prisoner-rights activist Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died at the age of 76. He had become an international symbol of racial injustice after his wrongful murder conviction forced him to spend 19 years in prison. Carter was arrested for a triple murder in his hometown of Patterson, New Jersey. He said he was innocent, was convicted by an all white jury, and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. In 1976, the New Jersey State Supreme Court overturned his conviction on grounds the authorities withheld material evidence from the defense. But Carter was convicted again in a second trial in 1976. In 1985, that conviction was overturned by a U.S. district court judge, who concluded the state made an unconstitutional appeal to racial prejudice. In 1988, the Passaic, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office dropped all charges against Carter.
- He was a defendant in a criminal case in New Jersey involved the triple shooting and three murders of 3 people in the Lafayette bar in Patterson, New Jersey.
- He and his co-defendant John Artis were represented at the first trial and they lost, (convicted) and Rubin started his campaign to get out of jail and wrote his book the 16th Round.
- He was charismatic and powerful, a great thinker, very very intellectually strong person as well as being spiritually strong.
- Almost a typical case, high profile case, where you get people who are vulnerable and easily manipulated because of their need for their own benefits to falsely testify.
- We set aside the convictions when we learned about the benefits that were given to the witnesses.
- We went again to trial in 1975. At that time the atmosphere had changed. There was a new prosecutor, they came up with a theory that it was actually a racial revenge killing.
- Earlier that night, a white former bar owner had shot and killed the black purchaser of the bar from him.
- That was always known and there was no motives attributed to the killings in the first trial but the second trial really based on speculation and bias, they argued persuasively to the jury that this was a racial revenge killing.
- Mr. Bellow who was the supposed eye witness who testified, there were two of them in the first trial, was being questioned by me on the stand as to why he recanted his recantation. The prosecutor persuaded him to again tell the story he told at the first trial, identifying Rubin and John and I was trying to establish that they had falsely manipulated him when I was pulled into the chambers along with my co-counsel Louis Steele who represented John Artis and told that if I question him further, the jury would learn that he passed the lie detector test, supporting what he said at the first trial. Supporting his identification (of Rubin Carter)
- We did have that test. It seemed like that was the result because that’s the way it was written. In fact that was a fraud.
- The polygraph results were completely opposite of what they were purported to be.
- The prosecutors in that case, two of them became judges, rewarded for what they did.
- Rubin was not a popular person, he had been an outspoken civil rights person. It was a cesspool of rumors without any evidentiary basis.
- The entire community there almost in Passaic New Jersey treated us like we were the devil.
- It was the coldest community reception I ever encountered in any place.
- Rubin would call every year (from Canada) on the anniversary of his release. He got a group of Canadian do-gooders and free thinkers to join him in fighting to set aside convictions for people who were wrongly convicted in Canada.
- He would vet the briefs that we sent. He was a very unusual client.
- Rubin refused to act as a prisoner because he wasn’t anyone who was guilty he said.
- So, he didn’t eat prison food, he didn’t take prisoner assignments, he didn’t wear prison clothes and somehow or other he was able to pull that off.
- People think of it as being another time, I’ve been practicing law long enough and I don’t think anything changes.
- The same kind of bias runs deep throughout the community its just masked somewhat differently.
- You make your luck in these cases, you have to forge ahead.
- His insistence on being an innocent person and will not compromise with the system is the kind of inspiration that pushes us on as lawyers.
Guest – Attorney Myron Beldock, graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1946, Hamilton College in 1950 and Harvard Law School in 1958. He served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1954 and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York from 1958 to 1960. After several years as an associate with a small New York City firm and as a single practitioner, he brought together two friends and former Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Elliot Hoffman and Larry Levine, to form Beldock Levine & Hoffman in 1964. He is best described, by his own definition, as an old-time general practitioner. He concentrates on trial and appellate litigation, in state and federal courts, in defense of criminal charges and in pursuing plaintiffs’ civil rights actions based on police and prosecutorial misconduct and employer and governmental discrimination. He regularly consults and defends charges of professional discipline. He represents plaintiffs and defendants in a wide variety of personal and business related matters, working with others in the firm’s various practice areas.