William Kunstler Held in Contempt of Court by Justice Kenneth Browne

People v. York, 518 N.Y.S.2d 665 (App. Div. 1987)

William Kunstler was one of the most famous civil rights lawyers of his era. From 1957 until his death in 1995, Kunstler represented a wide variety of prominent defendants, including the Freedom Riders, Jack Ruby, Lenny Bruce, Martin Luther King Jr., and Assata Shakur.

He won an acquittal for the Chicago Seven. He drew up the demands of American Indians at Wounded Knee. He took apart, on cross-examination, a witness’s identification of Kunstler’s defendant as one of the inmates who had murdered a guard during the Attica prison riot. And he lent his services to the mob—according to him, for free, and according to Mafia member and former Kunstler defendant Louis Ferrante, for a hundred grand.

He is pictured here during the trial of Anthony LaBorde and James York, two former Black Panthers convicted of attempted murder in 1982. At one point in the proceedings, his impassioned defense of LaBorde and York led Justice Kenneth Browne to cite him for contempt of court.

In her memoirs, Dengrove wrote that Kunstler’s dedication to his clients was never in question.
“I only defend those whose goals I share,” Kunstler said during a 1970 interview with the New York Times. “I'm not a lawyer for hire. I only defend those I love.”