Hamlet, in his famous soliloquy that begins with the famous lines, “To be, or not to be, that is the question,” goes on to ask who would choose “To grunt and sweat under a weary life” unless they were afraid of the dread that comes after death. “The undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveler returns . . .” Hamlet, Act III, scene 1, lines 78-83.
In 2017, several notable lawyers and judges crossed the bar and travelled to that “undiscovered country” where we all will eventually travel but not return, in this life anyway. Here is an incomplete list of the men and women lawyers who died in 2017 and one human rights lawyer who almost died after being thrown off a fourth story apartment in Moscow.
John Nolan, Jr., departed from this life on November 18, at age 90. He died from pneumonia. In December 1962, he helped negotiate the Bay of Pigs release of 1,113 men who were captured in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Castro received $53 million in food and medicine collected from donations and corporate sponsorships.
Nolan graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1950, was shipped to the front in the Korean War, where he won the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and Purple Heart. After he finished his military service, he finished law school, clerked for Justice Tom Clark, and then joined Steptoe & Johnson. We live in an era where many lawyers change law firms almost as fast as Hollywood stars change spouses, but Nolan stayed at Steptoe for over a half-century. He took various leaves of absence to work on the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy and the senatorial and presidential campaigns of Robert Kennedy. In 1963, he worked for the Kennedy Justice Department fighting for civil rights in the Deep South.
Other notable lawyers include Michel Aurillac, French lawyer, politician, and author. He was a member of the National Assembly from 1978–1981 and again in 1986. In 1959, Aurillac became the assistant to Léopold Sédar Senghor. A year later, Senghor became the first president of Senegal. Senghor would serve until 1980, when he voluntarily left power. Aurillac died at age 88. He practiced law until 2001. In addition to being a successful lawyer and politician, Aurillac won the Prix Narcisse Michaut from the Académie française for his 1987 book, Le royaume oublié.
Willie Stevenson Glanton (1922–2017) was born in Arkansas and moved to Iowa, where she became the second black woman admitted to the Iowa Bar. In 1964, she became the first black woman elected to the Iowa House of Representatives. She resigned two years later to work for the Small Business Administration. She became a member of the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986, and the Des Moines Register named her one of the ten most influential black Iowans in 2010.
Hersh Wolch (1940–2017) was a renowned Canadian criminal lawyer, prominently known for using his skills to help the wrongly convicted, such as Steven Truscott, Kyle Unger, Herman Kaglik, Steven Kaminski, David Richardson, and David Milgaard. Milgaard was wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of Gail Miller, a nursing assistant. He spent 23 years in prison before he was released when DNA evidence cleared him. Wolch was also a successful hostage negotiator and was behind many precedent-setting Canadian cases.
Judge Thomas Griesa (1930–2017), of the Southern District of New York, ascended the bench on June 30, 1972. He presided over the legal fights surrounding the restructuring of Argentina’s debt. Argentina objected strenuously, but the Court of Appeals affirmed unanimously. In 1982, he blocked the construction of a proposed six-lane highway on the West Side of Manhattan on environmental grounds. The Second Circuit affirmed unanimously. The issue came back in 1985, he again ruled against the Army Corp of Engineers, and the Second Circuit again affirmed unanimously. The highway was never built.
Griesa was reversed, however, when he tried, in 1978, to hold Attorney General Griffin Bell in contempt for refusing to turn over FBI records related to informants in the Socialist Workers Party. The Second Circuit granted mandamus and ordered Griesa to consider alternative sanctions. In Re Attorney General of the United States. In 1986, Judge Griesa held that the plaintiffs were entitled to an award of damages under Federal Tort Claims Act for the FBI’s disruption activities, surreptitious entries, and use of informants—but not injunctive relief. Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General of the United States. A year later, he ruled that the plaintiffs were entitled to an injunction preventing the government from using, releasing, or disclosing information it gathered except in compliance with an order issued by the court or in a lawful response to Freedom of Information Act request. Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General of the United States, 666 F. Supp. 621 (S.D.N.Y. 1987). He died at the age of 87.
Luis María Ramírez Boettner (1918–2017) was a Paraguayan diplomat and lawyer. He was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay from December 16, 1993, to May 9, 1996. He graduated from the Universidad Nacional de Asunción in Paraguay in 1940, and went on to earn an LLM from Harvard in 1942, and a JD from Michigan in 1944. He spent much of his life in Foreign Service, as Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1954 to 1961, first secretary of the Embassy of Paraguay in the United Kingdom in 1947, Minister Counselor at the Embassy of Paraguay in Washington, DC (1951 to 1954), and Ambassador to the Holy See (June 7, 1996, to 1999). He died on July 25, 2017, age 99.
Steve Mostyn was a top Democratic donor and prominent Houston trial lawyer. He had an untimely death on November 15, 2017, at age 46. Since 2000, he “donated more than $24 million to political causes in his name and in his law firm’s name, according to Texas Ethics Commission records.” His wife, also a lawyer, did not disclose the cause of death but said he died after “a sudden onset and battle with a mental health issue.” She said if “you or a loved one are thinking about suicide, or experiencing a health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline right now at 1-800-273-8255.”
James Cullen was a real estate lawyer who also served for years in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corp. He was a brigadier general in the Army Reserve JAG and chief judge of the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals. He was well known for opposing torture and supporting human rights. He died at age 72, on December 8. He was on the Board of Advocates of Human Rights First, a nonprofit. When President Barack Obama, in January 2009, signed a series of executive orders banning torture and instituting a review of detention policies, James Cullen was standing in the Oval Office with him.
Orville Almon, Jr., a prominent Nashville lawyer in the entertainment and music business for over 35 years, died in October. He was a member of the Country Music Association, and selected by BusinessTN as one of Tennessee’s Best 150 Lawyers. He successfully negotiated prominent book deals, such as Chicken Soup for the Country Soul and Kurt Cobain Journals. He was well known for drafting language for issues dealing with difficult new technology.
Let us end with one prominent lawyer who did not die but who was targeted for murder. Nine high-profile Russians, including several Putin critics, have died since November of 2016. Six were Russian diplomats. Some appeared to be natural and others not. (For example, Denis Voronenkov, a Putin critic, was gunned down in Kiev.)
One who almost died is a lawyer, Nikolai Gorokhov, who represented Sergei Magnitsky, another Russian lawyer who was beaten to death in a Moscow detention center. In March, Gorokhov was thrown from his fourth-floor balcony of his Moscow apartment and suffered severe head injuries. Russian law enforcement said it was an accidental fall, but Gorokhov, who should know, said it was “no accident.” He still fears for his life because he found key evidence of a $230 million corruption scandal involving high-ranking state officials.