jump to navigation

Remembering Ira Gollobin July 19, 2008

Posted by admin in : Ira, Testimonials , comments closed

Peter A. Schey, Los Angeles, CA

President & Executive Director, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

[The following was distributed widely via Peter’s email list.]

Ira Gollobin, a renowned civil rights and immigration lawyer, who practiced law in New York City for over 70 years, acting as attorney in many high-profile immigration and extradition cases from the 1950s to the 1980s, passed away peacefully this morning in New York, following several days of hospitalization for a staph infection. He was 96 years old.

Ira served on the Board of Directors of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law for 25 years. He was a long-time active member of the National Lawyers Guild. He will be deeply missed by those who were honored to meet and learn from him along his 96-year life journey.

Ira wrote numerous periodical articles on immigration policy, dialectics, East Asia, and Marxist theory. He is the author of Dialectical Materialism: Its Laws, Categories, and Practice (1986), and Winds of Change: An Immigration Lawyer’s Perspective of Fifty Years (1987).

Ira’s epic book on dialectical materialism is a comprehensive review of Marxist philosophy, integrated into subjects ranging from workers to politics to human consciousness. For those interested in the relationship between history, philosophy, politics, consciousness, and the struggle for freedom, this is a book you want to read. If you use a highlighter, forget it. You’ll want to highlight the whole book.

Ira served as general counsel to the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born throughout the McCarthy period. During the Cold War witch-hunt to identify and deport immigrant “communist sympathizers,” Ira and the American Committee coordinated the legal defense of immigrant workers, labor leaders, authors, and others for their real or perceived communist beliefs or associations.

In 1980 Ira put together a team of lawyers including Ira Kurzban, Rick Swartz, and me to work on the Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith case. Under his guidance, and with the help of many others, we won a major class-wide injunction that blocked an “expedited deportation program” initiated by the INS headquarters to quickly deport over 5,000 Haitian refugees deemed a “threat” to South Florida. After a class-wide permanent injunction that we won was upheld in the Court of Appeals (Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith, 676 F.2d 1023 [1982]), the first Haitian adjustment act (which Ira and Rick helped draft and get enacted) granted all class members permanent resident status. Ira was the architect of this victory. In the last chapter of his dialectics book, a chapter on wisdom, Ira wrote:

Class society places its imprint on wisdom. The musings of the sage. . . and the guile of the rulers. . . have been acclaimed as wellsprings of wisdom, while the masses’ hard-earned experience and insights, gained in labor and class struggle amid a multitude of afflictions, have been denigrated by oppressors as responses, sometimes docile, sometimes violent, of beings little above the level of brutes. On the contrary, as regards the oppressed, those with the most practical experience are the wisest and most capable. All wisdom comes from the masses. . . . The wisdom of tens of millions of creators creates something incomparably higher than the greatest prediction of genius. (Quotations and citations omitted.)

Ira was a unique intellectual adventurer and a lawyer whose passion for justice was easily matched by his clients’ love and affection for him. We will miss him, and his guidance, very deeply. We will always treasure what he brought to each of us and to humanity’s struggle for emancipation.

Lawyer’s Hero, Ladies’ Man July 19, 2008

Posted by admin in : Ira, Testimonials , comments closed

Janet Higbie, Chelsea, NY

I came to know Ira and Ruth fairly recently, when I was in my last year at New York Law School, and he was a young man of 93. I was researching Kong Hai Chew v. Colding, one of Ira’s greatest cases, and I was fascinated to listen as he talked for hours about his life and work. One line in particular has stayed with me from those talks.

ira-higbieIra, like others in the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born and the Lawyers Guild, represented clients called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington and its New York State counterpart in the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. There was a continuing debate among the lawyers about how to handle their clients’ predicament: If they testified that they had done nothing wrong, they would be jailed for perjury; if they refused to answer certain questions, they would be found in contempt; if they invoked the Fifth Amendment, they sounded like criminals.

Ira and some of his allies came up with a strategy that essentially turned the tables. Since the committee was ignoring the principle of relevance, they would too. At mock hearings, they prepared their clients to confront the committee members with questions about their voting records, lectures on the Constitution, and free-association riffs on any question they were asked. One client, asked to state his name for the record, answered, “My mother named me Patrick, because St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland!” This would enrage the committee, and Ira would be asked to control his  client; he would just shrug and try not to laugh. Eventually, the client would claim the Fifth, but not without lecturing the committee on its purpose, to protect people from false accusations.

Ira summarized the HUAC-baiting strategy with a wry rhetorical question. “It’s a game of cat-and-mouse,” he said, wagging his finger. “But who is the cat and who is the mouse?” I love that line, and find inspiration in it, because it encapsulates the determination, resourcefulness, and humor that carried him through dark times.

My other favorite memory is more recent. When Ruth fell ill, Ira, then 96, threw himself into caring for her, approaching the problem like a legal case — reviewing the options, researching the medical aspects, conferring with experts, and hiring a top-notch lieutenant, Wendy Clarke. Still, he found the energy to keep up his reputation as a ladies’ man, though in actual practice that involved nothing more than heavy-duty flirting and big hugs to friends of any gender. One day this January, I was at St. Vincent’s, where a small crowd, including Jocelyn McCalla, the long-time Haitian rights advocate, had gathered to try to help Ira help Ruth, who was barely conscious. After a half-hour, I headed down the hall with Jocelyn to go out for a bite to eat and some computer advice. Ira, feigning envy, waved his hands in the air and called after us, “Oh, to be 90 again!”