When John Kerry Was a Lawyer
Given his background in the antiwar movement and progressive politics, Kerry might have seemed like a natural for a public defender’s office. “That’s a stereotype of the worst order and a total knee-jerk reaction,” Kerry told me during a recent conversation about his legal career. “I always had a prosecutor’s mind and a prosecutor’s bent. It was always what I wanted to do, even in law school. There was a rule in Massachusetts that allowed law students to prosecute misdemeanor trials in front of six-person juries, and I got an unbelievable amount of experience before I even graduated.” For a politically ambitious young lawyer like Kerry, especially one who was known only as a protester, it also made sense to earn a law-enforcement credential.
After leaving the DA's office, Kerry opened a private practice, for a while.
In 1979, John Kerry and a colleague at the D.A.’s office, Roanne Sragow, opened the firm of Kerry & Sragow, at 60 State Street, in downtown Boston. Sragow, who was born in New York and grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, graduated from Tufts and Boston College Law School, and was one of the star assistant district attorneys during Kerry’s tenure in Middlesex County.
Private practice does not a criminal defense lawyer make:
Kerry’s background as a prosecutor made criminal work unappealing to him. “I took a court appointment once in a criminal case, and I realized I just didn’t want the guy out on the street,” Kerry told me. “I knew he was guilty. It takes a certain kind of makeup as a lawyer to dedicate yourself to having someone like that out on the street. I know our system says someone has to represent everyone, but I just couldn’t do it. I went to the court and asked them to take me off the case.”
They did take some court appointed cases, and one of them is the one that the anticipated new "Willie Horton" ad will bash him for -- most unjustifiably. The case involved a defendant named George Reissfelder. Reissfelder was serving a life sentence for murder, which happened during a robbery gone bad. While in prison, he got a one day furlough and escaped. After 3 years as a fugitive, he was caught in Florida and sent back to finish his life sentence. At the time of his recapture, he tried to pull a gun on a cop, and Florida got 15 years from him for it.
But, Reissfelder was innocent of the initial robbery/murder. After returning to prison in Massachussetts, a judge appointed him a lawyer for him to assist him in proving his innocence. That lawyer was Roanne Sragow, John Kerry's partner.
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