The Judge and the G-Man

A radical on the bench weighs an FBI agent's fate

For his role in the building takeovers, Reichbach was hauled before the university's disciplinary committee. In an article he wrote for the law school's newspaper condemning those proceedings, he echoed the battle cry voiced by student leader Mark Rudd, who had borrowed it from poet LeRoi Jones: "Up against the wall, motherfuckers—this is a stick-up." The article resulted in the newspaper being defunded for two years.

There were other repercussions. When he sought admission to the bar, Reichbach was subjected to nine hearings over 18 months while the court's Committee on Character and Fitness debated whether he deserved a license to practice.

The counts against him included his campus protests, several arrests, and co-authorship of a guide called The Bust Book. This offense was considered especially grave, since one of Reichbach's co-authors was Kathy Boudin, who was then on the FBI's Most Wanted list, having fled a fatal explosion in a Greenwich Village townhouse where would-be revolutionaries were assembling homemade bombs.

The older members of the committee, however, appeared to be most troubled by the aspiring lawyer's use of profanity. "It was a scene out of Lenny Bruce," Reichbach recalled last week. "They couldn't bring themselves to say 'motherfucker.' Instead, they kept talking about 'an obscenity I will not now repeat.' "

His main antagonist was an aging senior partner at a leading law firm and chairman of the Metropolitan Opera, who repeatedly cited this transgression. Representing Reichbach at the hearings was Paul O'Dwyer, the late Irish-American politician and lawyer who reveled in defending lost causes. During one session, the opera fan again raised the candidate's printed curses. "He said, 'Well, Mr. O'Dwyer, I thought I had heard it all. But in my entire life, including serving in the U.S. Army, this is the worst language I have ever heard.'"

Reichbach recalled O'Dwyer's response. "Paul said, 'Well, sir, perhaps that was the result of your having served in a segregated unit in the armed forces.' "

When the hearings were over, Reichbach, assuming it would be his first and last chance to do so, insisted on giving his own summation. "It was certainly the most hostile jury I could ever face," he said. "In the invulnerability of youth, I spoke for one and a half hours in a most unapologetic fashion."

Somehow, he carried the day. Now, Justice Reichbach sits in judgment of others as attorneys seek to persuade him with eloquence of their own. And as a small reminder that justice doesn't always wear an official face, he keeps a few rebels of old hanging around his courtroom.

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