Monday, February 05, 2007


The death of his mother, the sins of his father, then his fathers’ debilitating stroke, left my dad “on his own” at age thirteen. He finished the eighth grade. Then he was supporting himself.

I think his peers thought of him as “poor Joe,” who had, through no fault of his own, slid out of their social strata. My dad would see his old friends but they wouldn’t exactly socialize.

It’s a motif that I’m just picking out—that through his sons, my dad’s family would regain it’s rightful place in SF’s middle class.

Growing up I became aware of a San Francisco fixture named Vincent Hallinan. He was six years older than my dad, but part of the same Irish Catholic, St Ignatius-USF group. I’d pick up these things listening to grownups talk at dinner parties.

Vincent Hallinan (wikilink) was a famous left wing attorney, more atheist than Leninist, whose antics my dad greatly enjoyed. Hallinan was a rich pinko, having bought SF real estate cheap during the depression.

I think my dad, through some connections, was allowed to stay rent free in a vacant Hallinan-owned apartment for a while when times were hard.

Hallinan had more than one courtroom run-in with the Catholic Church. A favorite story of my dad’s concerned a probate case in which Hallinan represented the disinherited relatives of some old coot who left his money to the Catholic Church.

Hallinan’s contention was that the bequest was part of a fraudulent bargain, that the Church had promised the deceased that he would go to heaven if he left is money to the Catholics.

According to my dad, Vincent Hallinan got a priest on the stand and demanded to know the exact location of heaven. Hallinan had brought globes, and maps, and atlases and starcharts. He handed them to the priest, asking in turn if any contained the location of this so-called heaven.

My dad, a devout Catholic, thought this was hilarious. For may dad, you could be a Catholic as well as a man of the world. Except in matters of sex. My mom never figured that out.

Vincent Hallinan was a third-party candidate for president and a federal convict (tax evasion). He defended Harry Bridges. My dad looked up to him.

In 1968 I was one of approx 400 people arrested at a San Francisco State gathering that was part of a long student strike. The city decided to press charges. Almost all the arrestees pleaded not guilty, so the city had a judicial mess on its hands.

The city (Joe Alioto, mayor) could have had a single mass trial, with 400 defendants, in some large venue such as Civic Auditorium, but that would have been too much of a circus. (It would have been so much fun!)

So they decided to try us in groups of ten, with the usual three charges, unlawful assembly, trespass, and failure to disperse. It sounds bizarre, but they actually did thirty or more full blown trials.

I was in a nice group, a couple of community people, some clean cut supporters from Say Jose State, a couple of PLers and a couple of SWPers.

As I recall there was no significant SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) as SF State at that time. The white left was split between PLP (Progressive Labor Party-Maoists) and SWP (Socialist Workers Party-Trotskyists). Man, talk about big ideas!

It turned out the dominant person in our group was an SWPer who called herself a “pink diaper” baby. She said that growing up, her family had to move a lot because they were hounded by the feds. I believe it. She was a nice lady. I don’t remember her name, maybe it was Jane.

At some hearing our group of ten was assigned a pro-bono attorney with whom we met for about an hour. A nice enough guy, Arleigh something, non-political, maybe a little drab. Later, in a group meeting pretty much led by Jane, we decided that we didn’t like Arleigh and that we (Jane) would shop around.

So a week later Jane calls to say she’s set up a meeting with another attorney who’s agreed to represent us pro bono, Vincent Hallinan.

This wasn’t a huge deal in our house (I was living with my folks at the time) but my dad found it amusing and a somewhat impressive that I would be associating with this famous man whom he admired.

The ten of us met with Mr Hallinan in his office on Franklin Street. He must have been in his seventies, which to us seemed pretty old. Of course he was very dignified and impressive, tall and thin as I remember.

He did most of the talking, telling us how he would handle the case.

“You have no chance with a local jury. There’s no point in going for an acquittal,” he said, “so we’ll treat the trial as a soapbox. Each of you can take the stand and tell the judge and jury exactly what you think. Let ‘em have it.”

After our meeting with Hallinan our group of ten defendants went to some cheapass Chinese cafeteria, civic center was even drearier in those days, to discuss.

Jane’s position, bless her heart, was that Vincent Hallinan was over-the-hill, that there was no reason to embrace his defeatism. Of course the PLers didn’t’ like him because they considered him a Stalinist.

So we told Mr Hallinan, “No thanks,” and continued shopping.

Eventually Jane got us a hot young guy from Bob Treuhaft’s office (pink pink pink) named Mal Burnstein who had just assisted Charles Gary on the Oakland Seven trial.

Bob Treuhaft was married to authoress Jessica Mitford. Both quit CPUSA in the late 1950s. Some right wingers accuse Hillary Clinton, because she interned in Bob Treuhaft’s office, of openly associating with communists.

Mal teamed with a bright young public defender in a seven week trial that resulted in acquittals on all charges for all of us ten defendants. My dad attended once or twice a week. He was in the audience when I took the stand.

There was a huge victory party and I was sort of a guest of honor. Lot’s of heavy hitting lefties were showing me respect. I was a true snot nose, not even old enough to drink. I did a tiny dose of mescaline, and just a smidge of tequila and smiled all night.

We never discussed it per se, but I’m sure my dad was amused that his son had turned down the chance to be represented by the great Vincent Hallinan.

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