A Life Representing People Against Power
by Richard Zitrin
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Pub Date 07 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 16 May 2022
On August 21, 1971, six people, including Black Panther leader George Jackson, were killed at San Quentin State Prison. One of the most violent episodes in the history of American prisons, it has remained an enigma. The trial, when it finally occurred, was then the longest criminal trial in American history. Today, little is remembered, less is clear, and much remains unknown and unknowable. From the beginning, the case was filled with conspiracy theories and to this day, basic facts about the case on the Internet and even mainstream media are full of factual inaccuracies. What is known is that three of the six Black and brown defendants were acquitted of all charges, and the only person who was convicted of murder had his conviction overturned twice by an appeals court and was freed over thirty years ago. He was Richard Zitrin’s first client, Johnny Spain.
Richard Zitrin became an internationally known legal ethics professor. But from this very first case as a young law student, he embarked on a parallel forty-year career as a trial lawyer. Zitrin’s work as a trial lawyer placed him on the front lines of fighting systemic racism, pervasive elitism, and injustice against individuals in the legal system. Throughout his one-of-a-kind career, he has worked on dozens of cases that underscore the inherent biases of the legal system – towards people of color, the poor, the less educated, and those who just don’t appear to fit the mold of whatever society considers “normal.”
Part memoir, part social critique, Trial Lawyer: A Life Representing People Against Power shares details of the most compelling cases Zitrin has encountered, exposes the ethical dilemmas he faced, and explores the systemic racism and elitism he witnessed. His personal stories bring the reader inside the courtroom to experience a unique cast of characters, strange-but-true facts, brilliant trial tricks and tactics—and not-so-brilliant ones that failed miserably. Each had its own lessons: about social justice, fairness, strategy, ethics, morality, and more. Showcasing the profound, the consequential, the shocking, the bizarre, even the humorous, Trial Lawyer brings to life what it means to represent people against power.
Pervasive bias, of course, has many forms, and Zitrin has seen it used against all kinds of people: a young Vietnamese man whose family faced racial targeting and hostility and who was then accused of a serious crime just for talking about protecting his family; an indigenous woman who became an addicted street hooker because her life experience left her so few choices; a teenager from a Middle Eastern background who was racially profiled by a cop in an upscale white, suburban town; a poor Latina whose truthfulness was disputed because of her language skills and status – and because her community’s July 4th celebration occurred at a local bar instead of a country club. These stories pull back the curtains of our justice system to show the truth of what really happens inside our courtrooms. Trial Lawyer is a captivating and vivid picture of how one lawyer has overcome the powers aligned against his clients by determination, innovation, and simple human understanding.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Richard Zitrin's career as a trial lawyer has involved fighting for individuals against powerful forces in both criminal and civil trials. As a professor, he has taught for over forty years at the University of San Francisco and UC Hastings law schools. He has received numerous awards for service to the community, including the national American Bar Association's Pro Bono Publico award for public service, the California Bar's 2019 award for "outstanding long-term contribution to the advancement of attorney professional standards in California," and many statewide and local awards for promoting equality and diversity. Zitrin is the author of over 100 articles and three other books, including The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer: Truth, Justice, Power & Greed. He has also served as a legislative consultant to several national and California legislators.
A Note From the Publisher
Author is available for interviews, blog tours, autographed tours, autographed book giveaways, contests, and book club discussions
"I don't think I can adequately describe how absorbed I was in reading what Richard wrote. Richard put into words not only what was happening and what we did, but more importantly provided a real living context that seems to be disappearing in everyday life."-Johnny Spain, one of the San Quentin Six
"Richard Zitrin has written a powerful, moving and deeply human memoir, replete with gripping, heartbreaking and inspiring stories, about his life as a criminal defense attorney and the people he has represented. Zitrin offers a timely example of what it truly means to be antiracist, and how this by necessity entails personal risk, ethical grounding, and an unswerving commitment to justice."-Chad Williams, Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies, Brandeis University
"Richard Zitrin is a great lawyer because he is a great storyteller. These are his best stories. They are compelling not only because they are true but also thanks to the behind-the-scenes details, which bring to life what an advocate must do for his cause and his client. Any lawyer or law student would benefit from this book. Anyone interested in law and justice will enjoy it too. Zitrin has brought the law to life."-Frank H. Wu, President of Queens College, CUNY, and the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White
"Richard Zitrin's book should be read by every lawyer, everyone who wants to be a lawyer, and anybody who wants to understand why lawyers do what they do."-Steven Lubet, Professor & Director, Bartlit Center for Trial Advocacy, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
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