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David I. Shapiro

The lawyer who defended free speech

David I. Shapiro1928–2009

David I. Shapiro won renown for defending both suspected communists and avowed Nazis, saying he found limits on the free expression of ideas “more distasteful” than even the ugliest points of view.  Shapiro received his law degree from Brooklyn College and was an early opponent of McCarthy-era witch hunts, said the London Times. He represented Kendrick Cole, who was suspended from his Food and Drug Administration job because he was deemed a security risk. Later, Shapiro successfully represented broker Harold Silver, whose business had suffered when the New York Stock Exchange ordered its members to stop doing business with him because his “loyalty” had  been questioned. In 1960, the ACLU asked him to defend the right of George Lincoln Rockwell’s Nazi Party to distribute anti-Semitic literature. “Despite his initial misgivings (‘My middle name’s Israel. I’m not going to represent this sonofabitch,’ he said), he secured an acquittal, only to face anti-Semitic taunts from his own client.”

Shapiro also defended, un-successfully, Watergate figure Charles Colson, who was a member of his own law firm in Washington, D.C., said The Washington Post. By that time, Shapiro was on his way to becoming “a leading figure in class-action suits,” having won $120 million for clients in a drug price-fixing case. He would later help settle the claims of silicone breast-implant victims and Vietnam vets who said they had been sickened by the  herbicide Agent Orange. A “boisterous, brawling” 6-footer, Shapiro specialized in “out-yelling and outmaneuvering legal adversaries.”  When giving advice to young lawyers, he would tell them “to press the outrage button.”

He is survived by his third wife and five children.

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