WILLIAMSTOWN — A recent rummage through some old “clips” — articles scissored from the pages of newspapers for presentation to prospective employers in journalistic job hunts of yesteryear — conjured up recollections of two members of my personal legal hall of fame.
From 1979 to 2005, I spent countless hours covering courts for two daily newspapers, this one and the former (Troy, N.Y.) Times-Record, now The Record. I found the court beat especially agreeable. The hours were, generally, regular, but when overtime kicked in, as it sometimes did during daily coverage of a trial, I found that any inconvenience was smothered by the fascinating work of true-crime storytelling for an audience rendered the more receptive by the delivery (and/or the promise) of tidbits from life’s dark side.
Still, as in a theater or on an ice hockey rink, there’s line flubbing, bad ad-libbing or a push that brings the gloves off. This can produce a tantalizing mixture of precision-driven histrionics, melodrama, ice-cold legalism and suspense. From here, it seems that despite this seemingly unstable — even explosive — combination, justice usually shines through.
My two hall-of-famers played in very different leagues, but their work as staunch defenders of people and causes seen by virtually all around them as morally and/or legally indefensible puts them in a class that’s small and is said to be getting smaller.
George B. Crane
I first “met” George B. Crane over a telephone. I’d called his Pittsfield office to inquire about a case he was handling in Berkshire Superior Court.
I had been handed the story in mid-stream — I hadn’t been in court — and was lacking a few essential details. In my work I’d run across defense lawyers, judges and prosecutors who had taken exception to being asked for information that they viewed as being easily available to anyone with an intelligent interest in the case, and they resented being asked for a soundbite or a Cliff Note-type of review of events to date.
I needn’t have worried about that with Crane. His office phone, I soon learned, “rang through” to his house. A gourmet cook, he worked in his kitchen while he thoroughly filled me in. More than once, he warned me that I was getting only his version and that a call to the DA’s office might be in order. This served not only as sound advice but as a signal to me that I was dealing with an honest man. George Crane was the straightest of straight shooters.
He battled alcoholism for more than 30 years and helped many recovering alcoholics through an organization he helped establish: the SIOGA Club on Linden Street. The club’s headquarters are named for him.
“The important part of my alcoholism is that I recovered from it,” he told an interviewer when he retired. “Alcoholism is a disease that can only be diagnosed by an alcoholic himself. To set that person on the right path is a very satisfying thing to do.”
After a 50-plus year career as a criminal defense lawyer, Crane died in 2007 at age 79.
Herald Price Fahringer
Herald Price Fahringer came to the U.S. District Court in Albany in the early summer of 1980 to defend Richard Gordon, a financial adviser who faced numerous counts of wire fraud.
Movie star handsome and dressed to the nines, Fahringer, who practiced in Manhattan, was preceded by his reputation as attorney for some 100 “adult entertainment” establishments in and around Times Square. He also represented pornographic magazine publishers Al Goldstein and Larry Flynt.
Later, his fame widened when he defended Claus von Bulow, the Newport, R.I., socialite accused of the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny, heiress to a Pittsburgh utilities fortune. He lost the case, but von Bulow prevailed on an appeal handled by other lawyers.
Other Fahringer clients included Jean Harris, accused murderer of “diet doctor” Hyman Tarnower.
The Straight-laced Fahringer eschewed alcohol, tobacco, even candy — and abhorred bad language.
“You don’t ever use a four-letter word around Herald,” Goldstein, publisher of “Screw” magazine, told an interviewer.
“Freedom is only meaningful if it includes all speech, no matter who is offended by it,” Fahringer once said. “The freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment is indivisible. You can’t take it from Larry Flynt and keep it for yourself. The real question in this case is: Are we afraid to be free?”
Fahringer died in 2015 at age 87.
Even a glance at recent headlines signals deepening fear for the safety and security of the nation’s basic rights. Front-line defenders like Crane and Fahringer cannot be replaced but they must be succeeded.
An item in last week’s Notes & Footnotes incorrectly reported the maiden name of Ida Compton, secretary to Sinclair Lewis. She was the former Ida Lightman of Pittsfield.