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Simpich writes: "My friend Ron McGuire is a lawyer. He is involved in a case of life and death. His life. His death. He is trying to get paid more than eleven dollars an hour for a civil rights case he has worked on for 19 years. A case that he won."

In 2011, hundreds of CUNY students and sympathizers protested while the board of trustees met at Baruch College. (photo: Michael Appleton/The New York Times)
In 2011, hundreds of CUNY students and sympathizers protested while the board of trustees met at Baruch College. (photo: Michael Appleton/The New York Times)

A Big Win for Political Expression – Why Punish the Advocate?

By Bill Simpich, Reader Supported News

14 January 16


y friend Ron McGuire is a lawyer. He is involved in a case of life and death. His life. His death. He is trying to get paid more than eleven dollars an hour for a civil rights case he has worked on for 19 years. A case that he won.

For the first time, the students at the City University of New York (CUNY) –predominantly young people of color and Muslim immigrants – can publish their student newspaper without being subject to the worst kind of censorship. CUNY has the third largest student body in the country.

The Second Circuit upheld the right of student journalists to publish prominent editorial opinions on candidates for election on the campus. 

CUNY students protesting tuition rate hikes (2011).  A continuing history of resistance. (photo: RT)
CUNY students protesting tuition rate hikes (2011). A continuing history of resistance. (photo: RT)

The court told the president of the College of Staten Island that she violated the First Amendment rights of student journalists, candidates, and voters when she canceled a campus election to punish the newspaper for publishing a special endorsement issue on the eve of balloting. 

You would think that would be a ruling all reasonable people would celebrate. You would be wrong. It was a 2-1 ruling. That means one judge was on the losing side.

The losing judge bragged about not reading the ruling written by the winning side. He went on to compare the CUNY students to the genocidal Cambodian leader Pol Pot. This judge really hated losing. 

Ron is 67. Born in the Lower East Side. Grew up in a housing project in the Bronx. Sole practitioner. Wants to retire. No savings. This case was his nest egg. His health is, to put it in two words, not good. 

Ron worked on this case for 19 years, He fought several CUNY lawyers at almost every hearing. The administration sent a dozen lawyers into the field in an all-out effort to shut the students down. And their big-mouth attorney.

Somehow, Ron’s motion to get paid wound up in front of the losing judge. The judge saw a way to get revenge. Ron’s fee award was slashed to the bone. Eleven dollars an hour. Just about the minimum wage. 

The losing judge calls it “a case about nothing.” Students and allies say the judge is full of shit and, yes, Ron is their hero.

As a civil rights lawyer, I can assure you that many cases at the courthouse are not about much. But everyone makes sure that the lawyers get paid.

Not here. Because Ron McGuire is a people’s lawyer. Why did Ron make this choice? Or was it even a choice?

Ron was part of the movement to open up admission at CUNY to everyone in 1969. Back then, that meant a free college education for all. Not just students of the European persuasion. 

Ron joined the student strike, standing in solidarity with Black and Brown students. 

A couple of years earlier, Ron found a way to avoid arrest. He sat in a tree. He wouldn’t get out. The police couldn’t get him out. A cop and a construction worker stepped into the scoop of a front end loader. From high in the air, they tried to lasso him. Ron grabbed the rope and lashed himself to the tree. The media loved it. Ron was a tree-sitter before there were tree-sitters. The authorities were furious. Ron was suspended. 

When Ron stood with Black and Brown students, the authorities knew what to do. Ron was expelled.

Ron moved to the West Coast. He went to Laney Community College, with a major in Black studies. He was at the barricades in the antiwar movement in the years during and after Vietnam, which is how I know him. After an era of determined resistance, the military pulled up stakes and abandoned virtually every base in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

The Presidio, Mare Island, Alameda Naval Air Station, Concord Naval Weapons Station, the list goes on. All gone. In their place? Beautiful parklands. How’s the economy? Maybe the best in the country. Any questions? 

As that era was winding down, Ron went back East to go to law school at NYU. After school, he went to a fancy law firm for a couple of years.

In 1991, he heard that they were trying to end open admissions at CUNY. 

When Ron went to school there in 1969, it was 92% Anglo. Twenty years later, it was a whole different population. Black, Puerto Rican, Dominican. Admission was no longer free, but it was still available to working class people. The looming cuts could have ended all that.

The students went on strike. They defied a court injunction to end the strike. Thirty of them were arrested. Nearly 200 of them faced expulsion.

Ron never went back to the firm. He said the students “reflect the future we fought for in 1969.” 

He advised the students how to fight back. They formed a defense team, with two lawyers and lots of students. The defense of necessity is rarely allowed in the courts. In political cases, it enables people to justify their acts. Any way the courts looked at it, the evidence remained the same. The students kept the school open and stopped the authorities from closing it. 

The result? No convictions, expulsions, or suspensions. The decisions in Ron’s cases and the transcripts of the disciplinary hearings became required reading in legal skills for first year CUNY law students. 

The administration fought back. Ron’s work continued to be used, but his name was expunged from the course materials. The university disciplinary code was changed to eliminate the defense of justification.

Nor were the students allowed to have a free press. The authorities insisted on “balance.” In the mid-90s, a campus election was overturned because of this lack of “balance.” That’s when this suit began. 

CUNY students are stronger than they have been in some time, with a Second Circuit decision protecting their right to free speech and to organize effectively.

Ron is facing poverty and ruin.

Who will ever represent these students again?

In the last two weeks, the Second Circuit has been confronted by a wave of legal briefs from allies throughout the community, including New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, naming Ron “the foremost advocate and … the leading expert on the civil rights of CUNY students.”

Their message? Reverse the decision to punish the advocate – if freedom of the press means anything in this country.

Yes, and honor the dignity of Ron and the students of CUNY.

Bill Simpich is a civil rights attorney who knows that it doesn’t have to be like this, but it will continue unless people speak out against these grand juries. My next article will discuss how a new Supreme Court case means that anti-war activists can be subpoenaed by grand juries for nonviolent action – after all, it might free up someone’s resources to take violent action.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+10 # Shades of gray matter 2016-01-14 18:29
Can't the $11/hour be appealed? What was the TOTAL amount he received? Sounds like a good guy, but we need to know the total. Did I miss it?
+23 # Art947 2016-01-14 19:00
Why isn't this "bastard" judged named?
-5 # Krackonis 2016-01-15 00:18
Cause kids would burn his house to the found wit him tied to the bed? Accidentally of course...
0 # Salburger 2016-01-16 05:44
That would make me cry
+23 # bsimpich 2016-01-14 19:38
I was hoping somebody would ask the name of the judge! I wanted to emphasize just what kind of a sore loser he is, hoping to entice the reader to want more.

The "losing judge" is Dennis Jacobs. Jacobs knows that someone like Ron McGuire has turned down other work and focused the resources of his office to fight the 800 pound gorilla of CUNY.

For any other questions about Ron's case, click any of the links in the story and you should be all set.

Please encourage Democracy Now! and other news outlets to pick up this story. Do what you can do to get the word out in the New York metropolitan area.
# Guest 2016-01-14 19:49
This comment has been deleted by Administrator
+8 # bsimpich 2016-01-14 20:29
In a civil rights case, you have to sue a number of people to find out who was responsible. No serious investigation is possible until the suit is filed. It took six years for the president to admit that she was solely responsible. Almost all the work in this case was done on the primary claim - in a test case - which was that the election was illegal and violated the rights of the candidates, the voters, and the newspaper.
+12 # MitchelCohen 2016-01-14 20:43
Great story, thank you! Folks here might also check out my own story on this, at Queens Free Press:

Thank you, Bill!

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party, and
former Chair, WBAI radio Local Board (99.5 FM,
+5 # davehaze 2016-01-15 00:20
I lived in liberal NYC for almost 40 years. The politics is as liberal as the New York Times is liberal, that is not much to not at all.

Don't believe me just try to get a permit to march for any just cause. All protesters are harassed by the police and the justice system while the liberal media is mute.

There is as much racism in NYC as in Mississippi it is just denied denied denied. The good liberal folks voted in the fascist Giuliani and Bloomberg until finally the majority minorities picked someone who would represent them deBlasio who tries but he is up against a solid block of bastard billionaires.

I'm glad I left to retire in California.
+2 # Robbee 2016-01-15 11:46
this story rests on a common misconception about our so-called justice system - that it is designed to do justice - rather, our injustice system is designed to appear to do justice!

exhibit - the case of an attorney whose clients prevailed in a civil rights case, who is thus entitled to be paid for his legal services, gets adjudged to be paid at the rate of $11 per hour - hey! the dissenting judge awarded attorney fees? - so it sorta, kinda looks like justice?

a justice system would not assign a dissenting judge to award attorney fees! but an injustice system would! - looks like justice, no?

assignment of who awards fees was done in secret - by who? - certainly someone who wants to discourage lawyers from handling civil rights claims! good job!

a wise lawyer once advised - "there is no justice!" - true dat!

you don't have to commit a crime, or do anything wrong, or be associated with anyone who did anything wrong, to have a judge take everything you own and deny you any right to do anything about it - appellate judges look the other way! invent facts! - justice in america is a myth - banks own all our rights! - consumers have no rights that banks or collectors need actually observe!

my name is robbee! - i speak truth, to power, with no effect whatsoever! swept under rug! - the only reason the legal system lets me continue challenging it is that i break no laws and am unfailingly honest - "there is no justice!" - doesn't mean we shouldn't demand justice!
0 # Robbee 2016-01-15 11:47
as i say - "f*ck 'em if they can't take a joke!”

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