Dennis Cunningham, a civil legal rights attorney who successfully sued the governing administration on behalf of the Black Panthers, rebellious Attica jail inmates and fervid environmentalists who claimed they have been victims of official misconduct, died on Saturday at his son’s home in Los Angeles. He was 86.
The induce was cancer, his daughter Bernadine Mellis explained.
Mr. Cunningham was not as effectively recognised as some of his colleagues, but he represented a wide selection of protesters after staying motivated by the 1963 civil legal rights March on Washington — “the engine of my enlightenment,” he referred to as it — and attending regulation college at night time in the 1960s.
He practiced in Chicago, where by he was a founder of the storefront People’s Legislation Business office in upstate New York, where a civil fit stemming from the 1971 prison riot at the Attica Correctional Facility was at last settled in 2001 and in San Francisco, exactly where he moved in the early 1980s to be nearer to his little ones.
Mr. Cunningham joined the team of attorneys who sued the authorities soon after a law enforcement raid on a Chicago apartment in which Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, leaders of the Black Panther Social gathering in Illinois, ended up shot to demise in 1969.
In just several hours of the law enforcement shooting, Mr. Cunningham identified as Gerald L. Shargel, a fellow fledgling civil liberties lawyer in New York, for assistance. Mr. Shargel advisable that Mr. Cunningham immediately enlist a forensic skilled to examine the apartment, the initially move in setting up a chain of evidence that aided show their allegation that the raid was the final result of a authorities conspiracy to murder Mr. Hampton.
Just after an 18-thirty day period demo, the match was eventually settled for $1.85 million on behalf of the survivors and the families of the two victims in 1982.
“It was all about Dennis’s determination, which is what you want in a lawyer who’s striving to do the suitable matter,” Mr. Shargel claimed in a telephone interview. “Dennis led that battle for decades.”
Mr. Cunningham, Michael Deutsch, Elizabeth Fink and Joseph Heath represented 62 inmates indicted in the aftermath of the Attica riot eight have been convicted. In 1974, the legal professionals submitted a civil fit on behalf of the Attica Brothers Authorized Defense Fund, which was settled for $12 million, such as authorized costs, a quarter century afterwards.
In 2002, Mr. Cunningham helped persuade a jury in California to award $4.4 million to two Earth Very first environmentalists who contended that their rights had been violated by the local and federal officers who arrested them.
The authorities claimed the environmentalists, Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari, had been on their way to advertise demonstrations towards the logging of historic redwood trees in 1990 when a pipe bomb in their motor vehicle exploded. Ms. Bari’s pelvis was crushed by the blast and Mr. Cherney was a bit wounded.
The authorities explained the bomb had unintentionally detonated though the pair have been transporting it to use for eco-terrorism. Supporters of Mr. Cherney and Ms. Bari said the timber industry or the government experienced planted the bomb. Legal charges have been sooner or later dropped for deficiency of evidence.
Right after 17 times of deliberations, a federal jury in a civil demo affirmed the plaintiffs’ competition that the F.B.I. and the Oakland police experienced violated their civil rights and 1st Modification rights by defaming the pair.
The car or truck bomb situation turned the subject of a documentary film, “The Forest for the Trees” (2005), directed by Mr. Cunningham’s daughter Bernadine Mellis.
Mr. Cunningham acknowledged that “as legal professionals, we have it drilled into us that we owe a obligation of illustration to every single customer, the rest of the globe be damned.” But he was quoted in the reserve “Representing Radicals” (2021) as stating that several of the circumstances he took on behalf of politically-motivated defendants experienced to be approached otherwise.
In these types of scenarios, he explained, his obligation is to “take care not to undermine the values or the ambitions of the client’s activism.”
Dennis Dickson Cunningham was born on Jan. 2, 1936, in Glencoe, Ill., to Robert M. Cunningham Jr., an author, editor and overall health care policy marketing consultant, and Deborah (Libby) Cunningham, a homemaker.
When he was 15, he entered the College of Chicago underneath a Ford Foundation method for students who experienced accomplished two decades of large faculty.
After graduating with a bachelor’s diploma in 1955, he executed in theater firms, which includes The 2nd City, the place he fulfilled and married Mona Mellis. Their marriage ended in divorce.
Aside from his daughter Bernadine, he is survived by his son, Joseph Mellis his daughters, Delia Mellis and Miranda Mellis a few grandchildren his brother, Rob and his partner, Mary Ann Wolcott.
Mr. Cunningham was in his late 20s when, influenced by the civil legal rights motion, he earned a law degree at night from Loyola College in Chicago in 1967.
He was admitted to the bar just in time to defend demonstrators arrested at the 1968 Democratic National Conference in Chicago. With the support of colleagues from the National Attorneys Guild, he helped located the People’s Regulation Workplace in a converted sausage retailer to support protesters struggling with expenses for what they considered as their efforts to carry about social and political change.
“We had boldly determined to contact ourselves the People’s Regulation Business office — informally at minimum — and our function was quickly encapsulated in the obligation to be worthy of that title,” Mr. Cunningham recalled.
He later on represented teams opposed to apartheid and to dictatorships in Central America, and other folks that favored more assistance for the homeless and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Electric power, or Act Up.
Just after settling in San Francisco, he worked with a different attorney, Ben Rosenfeld, on the Bari case and other litigation.