SALEM, Mass. — Civil rights attorney Harvey A. Schwartz doesn't sleep well at night because he has too many cases, even though he accepts only one of 40 that come his way.
The prominent Boston attorney, however, took a case in which his client didn't want him, ridiculed and insulted him, and tried to fire him. Not only did his client want to "deport him back to Israel," but those who knew Schwartz shook their heads in disbelief.
Schwartz took on the case of neo-Nazi Nationalist Movement leader Richard Barrett vs. the city of Boston because "no attorney in Massachusetts would represent this group's free speech claim."
Schwartz, a 50-year-old Boston University Law School graduate, is a First Amendment lawyer, a "true believer" in freedom of speech. The Barrett case was a "big test" of Schwartz's convictions. He thought it was valid and would be won easily. He was right.
But had he not taken the case it would have been dismissed, "and I thought that would be wrong," he said.
As an organization, the Nationalist Movement couldn't represent itself; and Barrett, a Southern lawyer, also was denied that right because he had been charged with misconduct in a previous case.
Barrett had no other choice but to accept a Jewish lawyer, though he certainly didn't like it. A look at the Web site for the Nationalist Movement proves just how profoundly Schwartz was hated. An article describes him in the most derogatory terms, gives him no credit for winning the case. It includes a grotesque stereotypical caricature that looks nothing like Schwartz.
The case originated from a controversy involving gays and officials of the South End of Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. In that incident, parade officials canceled the event to keep gay groups from marching in it.
After that decision made news, Barrett and the Nationalists came to Boston to hold a "pro-majority parade" through the South End, a racially divided section of Boston. Mayor Thomas Menino reportedly said then that he didn't want neo-Nazis parading through the streets and city officials denied Barrett's group a parade permit.
Barrett and 14 followers marched anyway, on Southie sidewalks on May 7, 1994, while thousands of angry spectators watched. The city hired 800 police in riot gear to protect the Nationalists. The cost to taxpayers was $800,000.
In a ruling this month, U.S. District Court Judge George A. O'Toole struck down Boston's parade permit law because it afforded too much discretion to city officials to grant or deny the permits. The judge stated that Menino and city officials violated Barrett's rights of free speech.
"Menino said, `These people are not welcome in my city.' Another mayor can say the Jews are not welcome, and that is what I'm defending," said Schwartz.
Barrett was "very civil and very proper" in the many interactions and hours of conversations in Schwartz's office — although he never ate the bagels and cream cheese that were offered him. It wasn't until the attorney's closing courtroom arguments that the two had a falling out.
"I felt it was necessary to state that I didn't agree with the organization's views; that they are as asinine as they are reprehensible. But they have as much right to express them as Dr. King had in his `I Have a Dream' speech. I told the court that my client, if he had his way, would have me deported because I'm a Jew," Schwartz said.
"I thought that was a great closing statement. When I turned to return to my seat, I saw that all the Nationalists had left the courtroom — there were about six of them."
Asked how he felt about the case, Schwartz said he was "ashamed that no other lawyer" would represent Barrett's group. "This was an easy case for the judge to decide. It's a great judgment. There wasn't the slightest bit of doubt that Barrett was denied his rights."
Schwartz was asked if he realized that Barrett would probably lead him to the gas chambers if he could. "Yep," he replied. But he added that if he felt Barrett and his group had the "slightest glimmer" of getting into power, "I would act differently."
Because Barrett marched, "he drew thousands of people to say how stupid he is. He got inundated with counter-speech. It was a victory for freedom of speech."