Dennis Cunningham, Civil Legal rights Lawyer for Diverse Brings about, Dies at 86

Dennis Cunningham, a civil rights lawyer who correctly sued the govt on behalf of the Black Panthers, rebellious Attica prison inmates and fervid environmentalists who claimed they were being victims of formal misconduct, died on Saturday at his son’s dwelling in Los Angeles. He was 86.

The cause was most cancers, his daughter Bernadine Mellis reported.

Mr. Cunningham was not as effectively known as some of his colleagues, but he represented a wide assortment of protesters just after being inspired by the 1963 civil rights March on Washington — “the engine of my enlightenment,” he termed it — and attending law faculty at night in the 1960s.

He practiced in Chicago, where he was a founder of the storefront People’s Legislation Workplace in upstate New York, wherever a civil match stemming from the 1971 jail 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 young children.

Mr. Cunningham joined the group of attorneys who sued the authorities just after a police raid on a Chicago apartment in which Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, leaders of the Black Panther Social gathering in Illinois, were being shot to loss of life in 1969.

Within just several hours of the police shooting, Mr. Cunningham named Gerald L. Shargel, a fellow fledgling civil liberties law firm in New York, for tips. Mr. Shargel recommended that Mr. Cunningham promptly enlist a forensic skilled to examine the condominium, the 1st stage in developing a chain of evidence that assisted establish their allegation that the raid was the end result of a govt conspiracy to murder Mr. Hampton.

Soon after an 18-thirty day period demo, the go well with was lastly settled for $1.85 million on behalf of the survivors and the households of the two victims in 1982.

“It was all about Dennis’s dedication, which is what you want in a law firm who’s hoping to do the correct detail,” Mr. Shargel reported in a cell phone job 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 were being convicted. In 1974, the attorneys filed a civil suit on behalf of the Attica Brothers Legal Protection Fund, which was settled for $12 million, including legal costs, a quarter century later on.

In 2002, Mr. Cunningham aided persuade a jury in California to award $4.4 million to two Earth Initially environmentalists who contended that their rights had been violated by the local and federal officers who arrested them.

The authorities reported the environmentalists, Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari, have been on their way to advertise demonstrations towards the logging of ancient redwood trees in 1990 when a pipe bomb in their car exploded. Ms. Bari’s pelvis was crushed by the blast and Mr. Cherney was a bit wounded.

The authorities reported the bomb had accidentally detonated although the pair were transporting it to use for eco-terrorism. Supporters of Mr. Cherney and Ms. Bari claimed the timber market or the federal government had planted the bomb. Prison expenses were being inevitably dropped for absence of evidence.

After 17 days of deliberations, a federal jury in a civil demo affirmed the plaintiffs’ contention that the F.B.I. and the Oakland police experienced violated their civil rights and First Modification legal rights by defaming the pair.

The car or truck bomb circumstance became the topic of a documentary film, “The Forest for the Trees” (2005), directed by Mr. Cunningham’s daughter Bernadine Mellis.

Mr. Cunningham acknowledged that “as attorneys, we have it drilled into us that we owe a responsibility of representation to every single shopper, the relaxation of the environment be damned.” But he was quoted in the book “Representing Radicals” (2021) as declaring that lots of of the cases he took on behalf of politically-enthusiastic defendants experienced to be approached in different ways.

In these kinds of scenarios, he mentioned, his obligation is to “take treatment not to undermine the values or the objectives 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 treatment policy consultant, and Deborah (Libby) Cunningham, a homemaker.

When he was 15, he entered the University of Chicago less than a Ford Basis software for college students who had finished two a long time of superior school.

Soon after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1955, he done in theater organizations, together with The Next Metropolis, wherever he achieved and married Mona Mellis. Their relationship ended in divorce.

Moreover his daughter Bernadine, he is survived by his son, Joseph Mellis his daughters, Delia Mellis and Miranda Mellis 3 grandchildren his brother, Rob and his companion, Mary Ann Wolcott.

Mr. Cunningham was in his late 20s when, motivated by the civil rights movement, he attained a regulation diploma at night from Loyola College in Chicago in 1967.

He was admitted to the bar just in time to protect demonstrators arrested at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. With the enable of colleagues from the Countrywide Lawyers Guild, he assisted identified the People’s Regulation Office in a converted sausage keep to aid protesters dealing with costs for what they viewed as their efforts to deliver about social and political alter.

“We had boldly resolved to contact ourselves the People’s Law Business office — informally at least — and our intent was quickly encapsulated in the obligation to be deserving of that title,” Mr. Cunningham recalled.

He afterwards represented groups opposed to apartheid and to dictatorships in Central The us, and many others that favored far more help for the homeless and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Electric power, or Act Up.

Following settling in San Francisco, he labored with another attorney, Ben Rosenfeld, on the Bari case and other litigation.