It was with great pleasure that NORML presented the first annual Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award this past week to criminal defense attorney Gerald H. Goldstein, a long-time NORML activist and senior partner with the firm of Goldstein, Goldstein and Hilley in San Antonio, TX.
The award, named after the late Michael J. Kennedy, the legendary civil rights and criminal defense attorney (and general counsel for High Times magazine from its inception in 1974 until his death in early 2016), was established, with the blessing of the Kennedy family, to honor those individuals who, like Michael Kennedy, dedicate their lives to advancing the cause of social justice in America. Eleanora Kennedy, Michael’s window, and their daughter Anna Safir, spoke at the ceremony, reminding us of Michael’s 40-year support for NORML and our mission to legalize marijuana, and suggesting he would be thrilled that his colleague Goldstein would be the first recipient of this annual award.
The inscription on the award reads as follows:
“To Gerald H. Goldstein, in recognition of your lifetime commitment to achieving social justice for all people, including especially those without the resources or social standing to achieve justice on their own. Your willingness to speak for the underdog, the disenfranchised and the unpopular, like Michael Kennedy himself, has defined your exemplary personal and professional life.”
And few lawyers in America better fit this description than my dear friend Gerry Goldstein.
Goldstein first became involved in the struggle to end marijuana prohibition back in 1972, when he volunteered to represent NORML in the state of Texas, which, at that time, was the state handing down the harshest marijuana sentences in the country. In fact, Texas at the time had more than seven hundred people serving sentences of ten years or longer for (mostly) non-violent marijuana offenses, with more than thirty people serving sentences of thirty years or longer, and thirteen people serving life sentences.
We realized it was important to publicize that cruel reality, and with Goldstein’s help, we managed to arrange a tour of the Texas prison system with major media, including the New York Times and the AP, to interview a sampling of these poor souls. As a result of the national publicity that resulted, the governor established a panel to review the sentences of those marijuana offenders, and most were subsequently released years earlier than would otherwise have been the case.
Goldstein also became the go-to-guy to represent Vietnam War draft resisters during that era, as well as other protesters willing to challenge unfair policies of the government.
And there have been many occasions over the years when Goldstein would fly across the country to represent a marijuana defendant facing a lengthy prison sentence because he understood the injustice of marijuana prohibition and could not look the other way. He is an extraordinarily talented and committed individual who has no fear of challenging those who would oppress the less fortunate among us. His personal and professional life has been a tapestry of helping others, and a model for those who seek to assure a more just society for all.
Over time, Goldstein joined the ranks of the elite criminal defense attorneys in the country, serving as president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and a founding member of the NORML Legal Committee (NLC), where he, along with noted San Francisco criminal defense attorney Michael Stepanian, were named “co-chairs for life.”
He has represented clients as diverse as Manual Noriega and the movie “Deep Throat” before the US Supreme Court; has represented many clients pro bono on behalf the Innocence Project, including the exoneration of Michael Morton, who served 25 years for a crime he did not commit — a case which led to the prosecutor and sitting Texas judge being sentenced to jail for Morton’s wrongful conviction. Goldstein has met with several US Attorney Generals to discuss issues confronting the criminal justice system; and has made himself available to fight some of the toughest battles with the government to protect the right of every citizen to a vigorous defense and the assistance of competent counsel when accused or suspected of a crime.
Goldstein received NORML’s Al Horn Memorial Award in 1999, and the Lester Grinspoon Award in 2011 for his lifetime of advocacy and support for ending marijuana prohibition; the Robert C. Heeney Memorial Award for the outstanding criminal defense attorney in the US from NACDL; the John Henry Faulk Civil Libertarian of the Year Award from the ACLU; and was named a “Legal Legend” by the State Bar of Texas and is a member of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Hall of Fame, as well as scores of additional awards (literally too numerous to list) recognizing his commitment to social justice in America.
And throughout his storied career, Goldstein has never lost sight of the plight of “the underdog, the disenfranchised and the unpopular,” which is why he richly deserves this first annual Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award.
Thank you, Gerry, for a lifetime of fighting for the underdog.
This column was originally published on Marijuana.com.