Infamous civil rights lawyer

February 19, 2010
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From IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger:

A documentary film about the life and civil rights cases of William Kunstler by his daughters was well attended at the Indianapolis Museum of Art Thursday night, and I’m happy I was able to be a part of it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the name Kunstler, you might have heard of some of the people he represented: revolutionaries who protested at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago; inmates who started an infamous riot at Attica prison in New York in 1971; the American Indian Movement members who demonstrated at Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973; a man convicted of and later exonerated for allegedly beating and raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989; a house cat named Tyrone who was held for crimes against humanity in a mock trial on TV in 1989; and those accused of bombing the World Trade Center in 1993.

Maybe you didn’t know about Tyrone, but the facts of the other situations continue to resonate among those who follow civil rights issues.

The film was made by his two daughters, both born in the late 1970s. They revered him growing up, but ultimately disagreed with some of the clients he chose to represent.

Following the film, civil rights attorneys JauNae Hanger and Richard Waples of Waples and Hanger in Indianapolis answered questions moderated by Fran Quigley, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

Quigley only asked the first question – what would Kunstler do if he was a civil rights attorney in Indianapolis in February 2010?

Hanger and Waples suggested he’d likely still work with prisoners, and would probably be a criminal defense attorney who would make sure all people would have their day in court.

Hanger also discussed her work with juvenile justice issues, including the recent Senate approval of House Bill 1193, which will create a study group to look at best practices for how schools and police handle situations involving students.

For this reporter, born around the same time as Kunstler’s daughters, I was somewhat ashamed for not knowing more about the cases he worked on, which may be why the film seemed so powerful to me. Then again, there seemed to be some details the daughters mentioned that news reports of the time didn’t, and as a reporter, that might have also riled me up because those other reporters either weren’t given the right information or they chose to report things in a way that put Kunstler’s clients in the worst light possible.

The film is not in wide release at this time and Indianapolis was one of the first cities to show it, thanks to sponsorship from the Indianapolis International Film Festival, the law firm, and the IMA, but attorneys with an interest in this area should make a point to rent it or see if it ever is in a theater nearby.
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  • I wished I would have known about this program as I would have attended. Was a recording made of the discussion afterwords and can one buy (if reasonably priced) a copy of the film for home viewing?

    Thanks.

    Glenn
  • If you go to http://www.disturbingtheuniverse.com/ you can get more information on the movie and pre-ordering a DVD. Looks like a DVD will cost you $25-$35, depending on which one you want.
  • I\'m not aware of a recording of the discussion, but the organization hosting it, the Indianapolis International Film Festival, has a newsletter of films and discussions similar to this one. You can go to their Web site, http://indyfilmfest.org/, and sign up. It\'s how I heard about this event.

    Thanks for reading!
    Rebecca
  • Sorry -- just noticed the Web link didn\'t work for me. Here it is again:
    http://indyfilmfest.org/

    Thanks!

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