The Trial of The Chicago 7

If you’re watching The Trial of The Chicago 7 on Netflix, here’s a fabulous photo from the trial, courtesy of David Fenton, who took it from the trial at age 17.

I tried a criminal case in 1990 (Danbury) against William Kunstler (far right) who believed no press was bad press. The movie doesn’t do him justice, predictably. Kunstler was as good a natural cross examiner as I’ve ever seen. And he was rather theatrical in our little CT trial. I learned many valuable lessons from that trial and from being opposing counsel.

Photo: From left Lenny Weinglass, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Lee Weiner, Dave Dellinger, John Froines, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and Bill Kunstler. Courtesy of David Fenton

The trial was so colorful, so impactful, it is a real shame Aaron Sorkin didn’t recreate it accurately. I expected more from Sorkin, don’t you?

Photo: Leonard Weinglass, left and William Kunstler, right, after Kunstler was sentenced for contempt. Photo: David Fenton

Lessons I learned from Bill Kunstler:

  1. The trial is not over when the case is presented to the jury. Never stop arguing, advocating. Kunstler beat me during jury deliberations on read-back strategies.
  2. You can’t fight history. The judge was dealing with a legend and was going to give him the benefit of the doubt in every ruling.
  3. There is no such thing as bad press. Kunstler was running out of the courtroom through the whole trial making pay-phone calls to journalists as he read the daily headlines in the NY Times.
  4. A really good cross examiner through a skilled cross will pounce on the exposed weakness of a witness.
  5. Take really good notes during the trial, or have somebody do it. Kunstler took exquisitely detailed notes during the jury deliberations. I asked him why he was doing that. “I once won a case on it,” he said. And his second seat, the famous Ron Kuby, helped with note taking. But not much more.
  6. You’d be surprised how a well delivered line can have an impact on a jury. During his summation Kunstler, in a booming deep voice, warned the jury that if they convicted, ruined, this “pillar of the community” doctor on such flimsy evidence, one day they would “wake up screaming.” What a great and vivid image.
  7. Take the long view on life. There was more at stake in the case than me, a 31 year old rookie prosecutor, winning that one case.

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