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“Sir, I have never been to Paterson, New Jersey”

Apr 30, 2008 “Sir, I have never been to Paterson, New Jersey”

Photo from website of U.S. District Court (W.D. Mi.).

Ten years ago, lawyer Michael Tigar told the Washington Post that in interviewing to clerk for Justice William Brennan, Brennan asked Tigar "Did you attend a Communist Party training camp in Paterson, New Jersey?‘ " Tigar responded: "Sir, I have never been to Paterson, New Jersey."

On Tigar’s cross-country drive to start his 1966 clerkship with Brennan, Brennan cancelled the deal over concerns about Tigar’s leftist student activities. In 1990, Brennan admitted he may have overreacted. With only $10 to his name, instead of getting a useless consolation prize, Tigar got hired by legendary lawyer Edward Bennett Williams.

In the summer of 1987, before ever hearing of Michael Tigar, each day I passed by [Edward Bennett] Williams & Connolly, when Brendan Sullivan from that firm represented Oliver North before Congress in the Iran-Contra hearings, on my way to my summer clerkship at the then-named Federal Home Loan Bank Board, during the savings and loan crisis that caught up so many banks regulated by the FHLBB. Williams died the next year, at sixty-eight

Perhaps some of Williams’s and Tigar’s positive vibes emanating from that building had something to do with my becoming a public defender lawyer four years later and sticking to the criminal defense path today.

Although I have found no online videos of Michael Tigar, who is a captivating speaker, I did find this fascinating "how can you represent those people?" Mike Wallace interview of Williams in 1957. (See Wallace chain smoking and promoting filterless Philip Morris cigarettes during his Interview program from various other segments the same year; thanks to Boing Boing for the Wallace Interview archives link.)

Certainly it did not hurt Michael Tigar’s career and 1966 initial financial straits that he graduated first in his class from Berkeley law school and was its law review’s chief editor. That makes him no less of an inspiration to me to focus my career — including arranging pro bono and low bono time — on important social justice issues, no matter the cause’s popularity or lack thereof. Thanks, Michael Tigar, for your inspiration for me to remain on that path. Jon Katz

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