Pubdate: Sat, 30 Jan 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Sam Roberts


Michael J. Kennedy, who as a criminal lawyer championed lost causes 
and deeply unpopular defendants - including John Gotti Sr., Huey P. 
Newton and Timothy Leary - and finally won freedom for Jean S. 
Harris, the convicted killer of Dr. Herman Tarnower, the Scarsdale 
Diet doctor, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 78.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, which developed while he 
was being treated for cancer, his wife, Eleanora, said.

A steadfast defender of the underdog and the First Amendment, Mr. 
Kennedy represented radicals including Rennie Davis, Bernardine Dohrn 
and Mr. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. His clients 
also included the Native American protesters at Wounded Knee, S.D., 
the family of the rogue real estate heir Robert A. Durst; Mr. Leary, 
the LSD guru; and Mr. Gotti, the mob boss.

He also represented High Times magazine from its inception (and was 
later an owner) and shared its agenda to decriminalize marijuana 
possession. As matrimonial counsel for Ivana Trump in 1991, Mr. 
Kennedy publicly rejected as insufficient a divorce settlement - 
trumpeted by her husband, Donald J. Trump - in which she was to 
receive more than $10 million and their Connecticut home and 
Manhattan apartment. The settlement was renegotiated.

Mr. Kennedy prided himself on membership in a reviled circle of 
radical lawyers from the 1960s on, including William M. Kunstler, 
Gerald B. Lefcourt and Michael E. Tigar, who could often afford to 
represent shunned clients at a discount because of the hefty fees 
they collected from defending organized crime figures. (Mr. Kennedy 
was said to have been paid $250,000 in the mid-1980s Pizza Connection 
drug-smuggling case; his client, a former Sicilian Mafia don, was convicted.)

Mr. Kennedy was so aggressive as a guardian of constitutional rights 
that he sometimes needed a lawyer himself.

In 1968, he was ejected from a congressional hearing investigating 
the violent demonstrations during the Democratic National Convention 
in Chicago. The next year he was held in contempt with three other 
lawyers by Judge Julius J. Hoffman for failing to appear at the trial 
of eight leaders of the previous summer's protests, including Mr. Davis.

Mr. Kennedy was even the stuff of fiction. The actor Raul Julia 
consulted with him before playing the defense lawyer Sandy Stern in 
the 1990 movie version of Scott Turow's novel "Presumed Innocent."

Michael John Kennedy was born in Spokane, Wash., on March 23, 1937, 
the son of Thomas Kennedy and the former Evelyn Forbes. He was sent 
to a Jesuit boarding school when he was 4. He earned his bachelor's 
degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and he graduated 
from the University of California Hastings College of the Law, in San 

His first marriage, to Pamalee Hamilton, ended in divorce. In 
addition to his wife, the former Eleanora Baratelli, who worked with 
him as a trial consultant, he is survived by their daughter, Anna 
Safir; two children from his first marriage, Lisa Kennedy and Scott 
Hamilton Kennedy, an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker; and five 

Mr. Kennedy immersed himself in radical causes from the start, 
representing Cesar Chavez and his migrant farm workers' union in 
their rent strike against California landlords who charged exorbitant 
rents for barely habitable shacks.

In New York, as staff counsel for the National Emergency Civil 
Liberties Committee, he represented conscientious objectors, draft 
resisters and deserters, clogging the legal system by entering not 
guilty pleas and demanding trials.

His clients included two Columbia University students - both of whom, 
he proudly pointed out, became judges - who were being disciplined 
for trying to shut down Columbia's law school to protest the war in Vietnam.

In 1980 he negotiated the surrender of Ms. Dohrn, the Weather 
Underground leader, after she eluded the law for more than 10 years. 
Federal charges against her had been dropped. She pleaded guilty to 
aggravated battery and bail jumping stemming from violent antiwar 
protests and was fined $1,500 and placed on probation for three years.

In 1982, Mr. Kennedy persuaded a Brooklyn jury weighing charges 
against five men accused of conspiring to smuggle weapons to the 
Irish Republican Army that the Central Intelligence Agency had 
sanctioned their gunrunning.

"It is up to the government to prove that the C.I.A. was not involved 
with the defendants," Mr. Kennedy declared, "not our burden to prove 
that it was."

In 1993 he persuaded Gov. Mario M. Cuomo to grant clemency to Mrs. 
Harris, the former private school headmistress who in 1980 killed Dr. 
Tarnower in what she said was a botched suicide attempt but which 
prosecutors proved was vengeance by a woman scorned. She had suffered 
at least two heart attacks in prison.

And the following year, he stunned fellow lawyers by arranging for 
his client, Ricardo S. Caputo, to explain in a television interview - 
before he surrendered to the police - why he had killed several 
women. The tactic apparently helped spare him the death penalty.

Speaking of Mr. Tigar, Mr. Kennedy might just as well have been 
referring to himself when he said in 1995: "He understands that the 
way we measure the value of our justice system is how it treats 
society's pariahs. It's easy to treat the popular people well."
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