A disciple of the late radical attorney William Kunstler, Ron Kuby is a New York-based criminal-defense and civil-rights attorney based in Manhattan. Like Kunstler, Kuby views himself as one of modern America’s “movement” layers. As he told The New York Times in 2002, movement lawyers identify strongly with the causes and the personal attributes of the people whom they represent: “In the best of cases we identify with their determination, with their courage, and we see the people that maybe we could have been had we the courage to do what they did.”
In a January 1998 interview, Kuby said that his political registration card identified him not as a Communist but as a Democrat. “I was Marxist-Leninist. Now I’d say I’m more Marxist-Zeninist.” While Kuby acknowledges the historical failures of Marxism, he nonetheless maintains that those failures have made no dent in his devotion to that ideology. “Christianity,” Kuby analogized in a 2004 interview, “has been around for 2,000 years and they haven’t created paradise on earth. Should we throw Christianity out then? Marxism has only been around for 150 years, more or less. So we haven’t created paradise yet.” “I really believe that if all the countries of the world were socialist,” added Kuby, “then paradise might be possible.” Conversely, Kuby views capitalism as a principal cause of human evil and suffering across the globe. He contends, for example, that the United States historically has acquired its wealth from “slavery and ripping off the Third World.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 31, 1956, Kuby developed a penchant for political activism from an early age. “I was always an activist,” he recalls. “I mean active as a liberal. I went to a Joan Baez concert when I was seven years old, and we were all swaying – that kind of stuff.” At his junior high school in Long Island, New York, Kuby was nearly expelled for publishing an underground student newsletter about Kunstler and the Chicago Seven trial.
At age 13, Kuby followed in the footsteps of his father by joining the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organization. During his teens as well, the younger Kuby emigrated to Israel, but he returned home after just a few months because he was repulsed by what he described as the “anti-Arab racism” in Israel. In an interview years later, Kuby reflected: “I suppose what cured me of that type of Zionism was actually emigrating to Israel. I was expecting to see this paradise of Jews working together, living in peace and harmony with their neighbors … Instead, what I saw was this terrible racist country in which a small elite of Zionists controlled a Jewish working class and terrorized the Palestinian population. It was like being in the United States, except instead of the White establishment it was the Jewish establishment. I found out that the people I had more in common with, the people whose physical company I enjoyed more, were the Palestinians.”
From that point forward, antipathy toward Israel became a permanent part of Kuby’s worldview. Indeed, 40 years later — during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s January 2009 military offensive against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip — Kuby condemned Israeli forces for inflicting what he considered to be too many casualties on civilians in that region: “How many innocent people do you get to kill in order to protect other innocent people?” Kuby also denounced Israel for not exercising “proportionality” in its fighting, which he defined as “the notion that the damage that you inflict on your enemy in some general way has to be proportionate to the damage that they’ve inflict on you.” To Israel, lamented Kuby, “Palestinian lives … just don’t seem to count.”
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in cultural anthropology and history in the late 1970s, Kuby lived briefly in Maine before moving to the U.S. Virgin Islands where he worked on tugboats. He then attended Cornell Law School, earning a JD in 1983.
It was in 1982 that Kuby first met William Kunstler and worked for him as a summer intern. The pair quickly formed a bond of friendship and collegiality which would remain strong until Kunstler’s death in 1995. Indeed, from 1983-95, Kuby worked as an employee in Kunstler’s law firm. Though they never formalized a business partnership, the two attorneys collaborated on a number of high-profile criminal cases. “He was always a romantic figure to me,” Kuby recalls. “… He inspired a whole new generation of lawyers, of which I’m one.”
In 1986 Kuby met far-left social worker Marilyn Vasta, and the two became lifelong companions. They bore a daughter together in 1993, and the couple married on January 23, 2006, the 20th anniversary of their first date.
In a full-page ad that appeared in the Marxist-Maoist U.S. publication the Guardian on May 25, 1988, Kuby was listed among numerous individuals who were endorsing an upcoming demonstration titled “National Day of Protest to End Israeli Occupation.”
When trying cases in court, Kuby, like Kunstler before him, routinely tries to portray his clients – particularly nonwhites – as victims of a discriminatory and oppressive society, appealing whenever possible to the racial and ethnic biases of nonwhite jurors. For example, he once declared that “the Bronx civil jury is the greatest tool of wealth redistribution since the Red Army.”
One of Kuby’s most infamous clients was Colin Ferguson, a black gunman who — on December 7, 1993 — systematically targeted a large number of white and Asian passengers aboard a crowded New York railroad car, killing six and wounding nineteen. When Kuby and Kunstler defended Ferguson in court, they claimed that years of living in a racist and oppressive American society had so clouded their client’s mind with “black rage,” that he could not be held responsible for his violent actions. Ferguson, however, rejected this defense strategy and dismissed the attorneys, choosing instead to represent himself before the court and to claim that he was an innocent man who had been framed. Kuby and Kunstler then tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the court that Ferguson was insane. The defendant was eventually convicted and sentenced to six consecutive life terms in prison.
Kuby gained further public notoriety in 1996, when he won a $43 million civil lawsuit for black teenager Darrell Cabey against “subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz. Goetz was a white man who had shot and paralyzed Cabey when the latter and three accomplices were menacing Goetz aboard a New York City subway car twelve years earlier.
Another of Kuby’s more notorious clients was Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center (WTC) bombing and additional plots to bomb the United Nations, the George Washington Bridge, and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. “The ‘mastermind’ [of the WTC bombing],” Kuby later said, “is the government of the United States. It was a phony, government-engineered ‘conspiracy’ to begin with. It would never have amounted to anything had the government not planned it.” “Sheikh Omar would have tried, I think, to prevent the World Trade Center bombing if he had known it was coming,” Kuby stated in a 2000 interview. Nor would Kuby concede that Rahman’s well-documented tirades against the perceived enemies of Islam could be interpreted as calls for their murder. To make this point, Kuby once posed the following analogy: “Why wasn’t the Pope taken into custody when he visited Denver? He is the spiritual leader of abortion-clinic bombers and doctor killers.”
When fellow radical attorney Lynne Stewart – whom Kuby deeply admired as a “loving and committed” professional – was convicted in 2005 of having illegally helped an incarcerated Sheikh Omar communicate with his terrorist operatives in the outside world, Kuby lamented that 9/11 and its aftermath had “created conditions where a fair trial on terrorism charges is all but impossible.” And when Abdel-Rahman died in February 2017, Kuby said that while the sheikh “was an Islamist” who “believed in Sharia law” and wanted to enshrine it in Egypt, “he bore no malice toward the United States or the American people.”
Other high-profile clients who have used Kuby’s services over the years include the daughter of Malcolm X, Qubilah Shabazz, who in 1995 was accused of plotting to murder Louis Farrakhan; Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali and Ibrahim A. El-Gabrowny, who were involved in a terrorist conspiracy case linked to the 1993 WTC bombing; Yu Kikumura, a Japanese Red Army terrorist who was arrested in Amsterdam in 1986 when found to be carrying a bomb in his luggage; El Sayyid Nosair, who was convicted of the 1990 murder of JDL founder Meir Kahane, and for his involvement in a 1990s New York City landmark bombing plot; the renowned photographer Spencer Tunick (best known for organizing large-scale nude shots); convicted child abuser Jesse Friedman, whose experiences were the subject of the film Capturing the Friedmans; the con artist/robber David Hampton, whose life story was the basis for John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation; the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club; the All-Mighty Latin King and Queen Nation) street gang; prominent labor unions; accused airplane hijackers; dozens of conscientious objectors; and plaintiffs in two Supreme Court cases establishing First Amendment protection for flag-burning.
In May of 2000, Kuby joined such notables as Ossie Davis, Mike Farrell, and members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Center for Constitutional Rights in signing a letter supporting protests and civil disobedience on behalf of the convicted cop-killer and Marxist icon Mumia Abu Jamal.
Though Kuby has represented a number of defendants with organized-crime connections (e.g., associates of the Gambino crime family), he resents allegations that he is a mob lawyer. Instead, he claims that the “ruthlessness” and “soullessness” of corporations that view “human life as a commodity” pose a far greater threat to America’s well-being than any mafia-type enterprise. “Who’s killed more people: John Gotti or the Ford Motor Company with their exploding Pintos?” Kuby once demanded indignantly.
In the aftermath of the April 2009 hijacking of the U.S. ship Maersk Alabama by four Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean—a crisis that ended with three dead pirates and a fourth in American custody—the lone surviving pirate, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, was represented in court by Kuby. According to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Prosecutors say … Muse was … the first [pirate] to board the ship, he fired a shot at the captain, he helped steal $30,000 in cash from a safe, and he bragged about hijacking ships in the past.” “I think in this particular case, there’s a grave question as to whether America was in violation of principles of truce in warfare on the high seas,” said Kuby. “This man [Muse] seemed to come onto the Bainbridge [the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge] under a flag of truce to negotiate. He was then captured. There is a question whether he is lawfully in American custody and serious questions as to whether he can be prosecuted because of his age.”
In a 2016 Facebook post, Kuby expressed an interest in attending an October 30th nationwide conference call titled “Revolutionary Strategies to Beat the Rising Right Wing,” organized by the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
Aside from his work as an attorney, Kuby also has had an active career as a radio broadcaster:
Kuby is a longtime member of both the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyer’s Guild. In 2004 he donated $2,000 to John Kerry’s presidential campaign. In 2018 he gave $500 to Senator Elizabeth Warren‘s White House bid.
Further Reading: “Ron Kuby” (Keywiki.org); “Kuby Rising Radical Star — Following Kunstler’s Footsteps” (NY Post, 6-22-2000); “At Lunch With Ronald L. Kuby: Crispy Fries and Radical Causes” (NY Times, 6-7-1995); “Leftist Lawyer Reaches Right for Audience” (NY Times, 1-15-1998); “Kunstler & Kuby Law Firm Remains but Not Same Without Fiery Mentor” (Los Angeles Times, 10-22-1995); “Interview with Ron Kuby” (The Conspiracy Herald); “Jonathan Leaf Talks With Ron Kuby” (NewPartisan.Squarespace.com, 6-14-2004); “The Legal Left Comes to Pirate’s Defense” (by John Perazzo, 5-1-2009).
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