Sunday, September 20, 2009

Activist Lawyer Who Defended Angela Davis Dies

[4 articles]

Activist Lawyer Who Defended Angela Davis Dies

Posted Aug 19, 2009
By Debra Cassens Weiss

A left-wing lawyer who helped win an acquittal for Angela Davis has
died after suffering a stroke.

Lawyer Doris Brin Walker died at the age of 90, the San Francisco
Chronicle reports. Walker, who was known as Dobby, became the first
female president of the National Lawyers Guild in 1970. A long-time
Communist, she fought blacklisting and helped Angela Davis win
acquittal on charges that a weapon registered in her name was used in
the murder of a California judge.

Walker "spent her career bucking the prevailing winds," the Chronicle
story says. The article notes she was the only woman in her 1942 UC
Berkeley law school class . It also recalls her sponsorship of a
state bar resolution calling for a congressional investigation of
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over the wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Doris Walker - fought to acquit Angela Davis

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Attorney Doris Brin Walker, a political radical who fought Cold War
blacklists and helped left-wing professor Angela Davis win acquittal
on charges of murdering a judge, died Thursday in a San Francisco
hospital after suffering a stroke. She was 90.

Ms. Walker, known as Dobby, spent her career bucking the prevailing
winds, from her days as the only woman in her 1942 UC Berkeley law
school class to her sponsorship of a resolution at the State Bar's
2004 convention calling for a congressional investigation of
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over the wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"She inspired many generations of progressive lawyers," said Marjorie
Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, which Ms. Walker
headed as its first female president in 1970-71. "When she talked,
everyone listened."

Ms. Walker, a native of Texas, was an early member of the lawyers
guild, established in 1937 as an alternative to the then-whites-only
American Bar Association, and remained active in the organization
until the end of her life. The guild was not immune from the
prejudices of the day; when Ms. Walker ran for president in 1970,
Cohn said, one male opponent called her "a man in a woman's skirt."

Lifelong Communist

Ms. Walker joined the Communist Party as a UCLA undergraduate in the
late 1930s and remained a member the rest of her life. In the 1950s,
she represented individuals subpoenaed by the House Un-American
Activities Committee as suspected Communists, and testified to the
committee herself in 1953.

She was also an avid hiker and a 49ers season ticket holder for more
than a half century.

"She lived with the contradictions of the system," said Sacramento
attorney David Nawi, who practiced law in the 1970s in the firm
headed by Ms. Walker and Robert Treuhaft, husband of writer Jessica Mitford.

The lawyers divided their time between bread-and-butter divorces and
consumer complaints and political work on behalf of war protesters
and dissidents, Nawi said. The firm's summer interns in 1971 included
Yale law student Hillary Rodham, the future secretary of state.

After being fired from her first law firm - a dismissal she
attributed to her gender - Ms. Walker left legal practice in the
mid-1940s to become a labor organizer, holding a series of low-level
jobs at canneries from which she was fired when her employers learned
she was a Communist.

She found work at Cutter Laboratories in San Francisco in 1946,
became a union leader and was fired once more, in 1949, touching off
an epic legal battle.

A labor-management arbitration panel found that the company had long
known Ms. Walker was a Communist and had improperly dismissed her for
union activity, but its reinstatement order was overturned by the
California Supreme Court in 1955.

In a 4-3 ruling that reflected the political atmosphere of the time,
the court majority said Communists pose a "clear and present danger"
to employers, fellow workers and the public and have no right to a
job, even under a union contract.

Angela Davis case

She returned to law practice, where she eventually played a central
role in the successful defense of Davis, the Marxist professor
charged in the murder of Harold Haley, a Marin County judge killed in
an attempt to free a prisoner from his courtroom in 1970. Davis,
registered owner of the gun, was acquitted in 1972. Her lawyers were
among the first to use consultants in picking a jury.

Ms. Walker, whose late husband Mason Roberson was African American,
was also a longtime civil rights advocate. She was arrested in
Mississippi in the late 1940s in a protest of rape charges against a
black man, and was one of eight international observers in 1996 at
South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

She is survived by her daughter, Emily Roberson of San Francisco; a
granddaughter, Iris Feldman; and a sister, Jean Zemrosky of Minneapolis.

The family is planning a memorial service and requests contributions
in Ms. Walker's name to the National Lawyers Guild, 132 Nassau St.,
Room 922, New York, N.Y. 10038.

E-mail Bob Egelko at


Doris Brin Walker dies at 90; radical lawyer helped acquit Angela
Davis of murder,0,4522095.story

A lifelong Communist and the only woman in her Boalt Hall law school
class in 1942, she was a tenacious advocate who took on many
difficult cases without pay.

By Elaine Woo
August 23, 2009
Doris Brin Walker, a radical lawyer who fought anti-communist
hysteria in the 1950s and helped clear activist Angela Davis of
murder and kidnapping charges in the 1970s, died of a stroke Aug. 13
at a San Francisco hospital, her daughter, Emily Roberson, said. She was 90.

A lifelong Communist and the only woman in her Boalt Hall law school
class in 1942, Walker was a tenacious advocate who took on many
difficult cases without pay. Among these was the 1959 trial of John
W. Powell, a writer accused of sedition for publishing an article
alleging that the United States used germ warfare during the Korean War.

Her most high-profile case was the sensational 1972 trial of Davis,
an avowed Communist and recently fired UCLA professor who faced the
death penalty because a gun registered in her name was linked to the
1970 slayings of a Marin County judge and three abductors. The mix of
race, politics and murder drew international attention to the case.
Walker, one of two women on the four-member defense team, prepared
witnesses and helped the other attorneys plan novel strategies, which
included using consultants to pick a jury and experts to debunk
eyewitness testimony.

"She was way ahead of her time," Harvard University law professor
Charles J. Ogletree Jr. said of Walker, who in 1970 became the first
woman to head the National Lawyers Guild. "She was a living example
of the wonderful, critical and timely contribution of women to the
legal profession."

Known by her nickname, Dobby, Walker "was known for fighting for
people's rights," said Leo Branton Jr., Davis' lead attorney. "She
was a very strong advocate of people's rights, no matter who they
were, working-class people as well as minority people. She got that
from her Communist background."

Walker was born in Dallas on April 29, 1919. She enrolled at the
University of Texas at 16, transferring after a year to UCLA, where
she became a Marxist and joined the Communist Party. She graduated
with a degree in English in 1939 before earning her law degree from
UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall in 1942.

She went to work in a law firm as a labor lawyer but was fired; she
believed it was because she was a woman. Finding law practice "not
radical enough," she became a labor organizer at California canneries.

In 1946 she was hired as a clerk-typist at Cutter Laboratories, a Bay
Area pharmaceutical company, but was fired three years later. An
arbitration panel found she had been wrongly dismissed because of her
union activity and Communist Party membership, but the California
Supreme Court overturned the panel's reinstatement order, citing the
"clear and present danger" that a Communist posed to co-workers and employers.

Walker appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1956, but
it refused to hear the case. Justice William O. Douglas, in a dissent
that was also signed by Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice Hugo
Black, wrote that "the blunt truth" was that Walker was fired not for
any misconduct but for "her legitimate labor union activities or
because of her political ideology or belief."

During the 1950s she helped represent 14 clients who had been
convicted under the Smith Act of advocating the violent overthrow of
the government. In 1957, Walker, with Branton, Ben Margolis and other
attorneys, won a Supreme Court reversal of the convictions in Yates
vs. United States.

"We effectively did away with the Smith Act," Branton said. "The
government never used it again."

Walker took on the Powell case in 1956, when Powell was indicted by a
federal grand jury on 12 counts of sedition stemming from a story he
wrote for the China Weekly Review alleging the U.S. military's use of
biological weapons during the Korean War.

The case ended within days of the start of the 1959 trial when San
Francisco newspapers misconstrued the judge's remarks and erroneously
reported that he believed Powell was guilty of treason, a far more
serious crime. Walker won a mistrial on the grounds that the media
coverage had been inflammatory and could taint jury proceedings.

The Powell case "entered U.S. criminal law as one of the earliest
precedents for declaring a mistrial because of prejudicial
publicity," Neil L. O'Brien wrote in a 2003 book on Powell's long legal battle.

From 1961 to 1977, Walker was a partner in a law practice with
Robert Treuhaft, a prominent leftist who was married to Walker's
close friend, writer Jessica Mitford. The firm, Treuhaft, Walker and
Burnstein, hired Hillary Rodham, the future first lady and secretary
of State, as an intern in 1971.

During the 1970s Walker promoted civil and human rights as vice
president of the International Assn. of Democratic Lawyers. In 1996
she served as one of eight observers at hearings on the effects of
apartheid held by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In 2005 she was reunited with Davis and other members of the defense
team on a panel at Harvard moderated by Ogletree. Ogletree called the
Davis defense lawyers "the true Dream Team of the legal profession."

Walker was married for 25 years to Mason Roberson, a founder of the
Spokesman, one of the first black newspapers in the Bay Area. He died in 1977.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a sister, Jean
Zembrosky, of Minneapolis; and a granddaughter, Iris Tamara Roberson
Feldman, of San Francisco.

Memorial donations may be sent to the National Lawyers Guild, 132
Nassau St., Room 922, New York, NY 10038.


Doris Brin Walker, defender of civil rights, free speech, dies at 90

by Marilyn Bechtel

SAN FRANCISCO Doris Brin Walker, an attorney famous for her brilliant
and tenacious defense of political activists including Angela Davis
and earlier, Smith Act and other McCarthy-era political defendants
died Aug. 13 following a stroke.

Having become a Marxist during her student years, Walker joined the
Communist Party USA after being sworn in as a member of the
California State Bar. She remained a party member for the rest of her life.

In her law practice, Walker focused on cases involving civil rights,
free speech and during the Vietnam war, draft resistance.

Walker was elected the first woman president of the National Lawyers
Guild in 1970, and served as vice president of the International
Association of Democratic Lawyers from 1970-1978.

A staunch opponent of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, she contributed
commentary on San Francisco anti-war ballot measures before last
November's election.

A fuller appreciation of Doris Brin Walker's life is forthcoming.


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