Robert Treuhaft

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Robert E. Treuhaft


Robert Treuhaft was a radical California lawyer.

Background

Robert E. Treuhaft, "a radical left-wing attorney prominent in progressive and New Left politics in the San Francisco Bay Area, was born in the Bronx, New York City, in 1912, the oldest child of Hungarian Jewish immigrants. He attended public schools and became the first person from his Brooklyn high school to be admitted to Harvard University. He graduated from Harvard in 1934, and obtained a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1937. After graduation from law school he worked for a labor law firm in New York City for, whose clients included the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

Relationship with Jessica Mitford Romilly

In 1941, he took a position in Washington, D.C., with the enforcement division of the wartime Office of Price Administration (OPA). At OPA, he met his future wife, Jessica Mitford Romilly (known as Decca Mitford, radical and rebellious daughter from a famously eccentric and conservative family of British aristocrats), who was also working at the agency. In 1943 Treuhaft "left the OPA and moved to the West Coast to work for the War Labor Board’s San Francisco office and to join Mitford, who had also taken a job in San Francisco." They married soon after their arrival to the Bay Area.

It was in California that the the couple became involved in the Communist Party USA, through the East Bay Civil Rights Congress. Both Mitford and Treuhaft "were targets of the McCarthyites in 1950s America." Treuhaft "had once been listed as one of the most dangerously subversive lawyers in the country." Jessica Mitford recalled in 1993: "Bob was the general counsel in this area (Oakland, California) and I was the secretary and we worked together like mad all the time representing every aspect. The CRC [Civil Rights Congress] was a militant defender of free speech and black rights. These were the things that put us at loggerheads with the powers that be."

In 1958 the pair left the Communist Party USA, as "Khrushchev’s denunciation of the crimes of Stalin had been influential in driving away lots of believers. And the Mitford/Treuhaft idea that the American Communist ideal should be an indigenous affair never took root." [1]

Treuhaft "also assisted his wife with writing The American Way of Death, an expose on the funeral industry based on his research." Published in 1963, the The American Way of Death "became an enormous (and to the Treuhafts, entirely unexpected) success, a bestselling book, and made Mitford--already a published writer--famous as a muckraking journalist, known for her special blend of investigative journalism with political satire. As a consequence of the publicity surrounding the American Way of Death Treuhaft was appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown as a public member to the California State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers (much to the consternation of funeral directors throughout the country)."

Morse connection

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Career

"In 1945, Treuhaft joined the law firm of Gladstein, Grossman, Sawyer & Edises. At Gladstein he represented West Coast labor unions expelled from the CIO as a result of accusations that they were Communist-led or dominated. A few years later he and Bertram Edises established their own firm. They "became well-known as civil rights attorneys when they successfully defended Jerry Newson, an 18-year-old African American man, against a framed-up murder charge." Treuhaft also "acted as counsel for the East Bay Civil Rights Congress from 1949 to 1956, advocating for clients suffering racial discrimination and he brought pioneering police brutality suits against the Oakland Police department."

In 1963, Treuhaft and Doris Brin Walker [also known as 'Dobby'] (a long-time friend and political ally of Treuhaft and Mitford’s) founded their own law firm (through the years joined by different partners, beginning with Malcolm Burnstein, as well as numerous young associates and interns, including future Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the summer of 1971). Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein represented clients in civil rights cases (as well as handling more general law, such as wills and divorces, for clients among the African American and progressive communities in the area); they also became well-known for representing New Left organizations and activists.

Treuhaft acted as counsel for the Free Speech Movement, representing the more than 700 students arrested at the University of California at Berkeley during a two-day sit-in in 1964. He himself was also arrested during the sit-in, at the direction of then- Assistant District Attorney of Alameda County, Edwin Meese, who later became Attorney General during the Reagan presidency. In addition, Treuhaft and his firm represented anti-Vietnam War protesters, Black Panther Party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and University of California students and town residents arrested during the struggle over People’s Park in Berkeley.

Treuhaft’s expansive vision of civil liberties included child custody cases in which he defended clients whose parental rights being challenged on the basis of their cultural lifestyles...In 1962 he co-wrote a handbook for California lawyers on debtors’ rights. When he became aware of deceptive practices by funeral homes he helped to found the Bay Area Funeral Society to serve as a model for simpler and less expensive funerals, and took a year’s leave of absence from his law practice to research the topic more deeply.

Treuhaft also participated in local and community politics. In 1966 he ran (and lost the race) for District Attorney for Alameda County against the longtime rightwing incumbent Frank Coakley. He served several terms on the board of the Consumers Cooperative of Berkeley (better known as the Berkeley Co-Op), a small group member-run supermarkets in the Bay Area, including one after a hotly-contested election campaign, in which he ran on a slate of progressives. He was also instrumental in getting the Co-Op board to pass a resolution cutting off its contributions to the national organization of co-operative stores, the Cooperative League of America, because it had accepted funds from the CIA.

In 1982, Treuhaft and Walker dissolved their partnership. From this time through his retirement in 1997 Treuhaft began to specialize in workers' compensation cases and appeals to the Social Security Administration. Robert Treuhaft was also active in progressive attorneys’ organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild (he served as a vice president and was honored by it, along with Mitford, with a testimonial dinner in 1985). As a member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) he served on an mission to Portugal in 1964 to investigate torture of political prisoners (as a result he and fellow commission members were arrested and expelled from the country by the authoritarian government of Antonio Salazar), and to Okinawa in 1969 to investigate human rights violations by the United States.

Treuhaft and Jessica Mitford joined the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) in 1943 and remained members until 1958. Treuhaft provided legal representation for “unfriendly” witnesses subpoenaed by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He himself and Mitford were called to testify before the Committee in 1953. They refused to “name names,” (that is, identify for the Committee their own or others’ political affiliations or memberships). Treuhaft took issue publicly with those who did, including in a 1984 article in The Nation on his Harvard class' 50th reunion. As a consequence of this, and their other political activities the Treuhafts were constantly surveilled and frequently harassed by federal, state, and local government agencies, up to and including being denied passports."

Treuhaft and Mitford raised two children to adulthood—Benjamin, their second son (another son, Nicholas, died at age ten), and Constancia Dinky Romilly, Mitford’s daughter from her first marriage. Jessica Mitford died in 1996. Treuhaft completed The American Way of Death Revisited (published 1998), the update of The American Way of Death Mitford had been working on at the time of her death. Robert Treuhaft died on November 11, 2001."[2]

The New York Times described Robert E. Treuhaft as "a crusading radical lawyer" in his 2001 obituary. The NYT diminished the fact that Robert E. Treuhaft and his wife Jessica Mitford were members of the "United States Communist Party," noting that "by 1958" the couple "had grown disillusioned with Communism and left the party."[3]

County Attorney run

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Robert Scheer and Willie Brown were involved in Robert Treuhaft's 1966 run the Alameda County District Attorney.

References