Judge Robert Carter died. He sat on the bench with quiet dignity, after a distinguished career as an attorney working with Justice Marshall and the NAACP legal defense team on Brown v The School Board. One cannot live forever, but his sense of justice can.
I tried a case before him -United States v. Chang AN-LO, a/k/a “White Wolf”, et al, 851 F2d 547 (1988) My client was Peter Yang. The case involved a conspiracy which included the murder of a journalist from Nationalist China, a heroin conspiracy and I don’t remember what else. A multi-defendant case, I sat for six weeks without asking a question on my clients behalf, allowing my co-counsel to do the work for me. Yang was at best a marginal character, the driver, at times, for the purported head of the United States arm of the conspiratorial group, United Bamboo, a person whom I argued hung around because employment opportunities in Houston forced him to find work elsewhere, a mere presence which allowed him to hear and see things without actually being involved in any of the criminal activity. The jury disagreed, convicting him. Everyone went to prison except Peter Yang. Judge Carter set him free.
When the case got to the 2nd Circuit, Bill Kunstler had substituted as counsel for my friend, Jay Gregory Horlick, who died in 1996. Horlick was a lot like Kunstler, practical and honest; he didn’t believe in anything, though, except that you didn’t want to know how corrupt the entire system was from top to bottom, because it would make you sick. Rest in peace, my last good friend. Anyway, we all wrote some fanciful dribble to satisfy our obligations as counsel, an obligation that ran from arraignment through appeal, and we ventured to the 17th floor to argue before the court, as if that would make a difference anywhere but some law school class on due process. Bill, having the lead defendant, got to go first. He rose to the lecturn, it rose to meet his height and addressed the court. “Good morning, Judge somebody. I represent appellant Chang AN_LO. Mr. Duckman will do the facts.” We had never spoken about my doing anything other than what I had to do. No matter. The conviction was affirmed.
Lots of people serve the law. Some get to the bench and forget their beginnings. Few have the insight, courage or deliberative skills which Judge Carter possessed. He helped to make the United States of America a fairer place to live.