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The year was 1972. Leon Wildes, a mild-mannered immigration lawyer whose musical tastes ran more to Cos� Fan Tutte than the White Album had never heard of the Beatles, or the clients he just landed: John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono. “It was a little embarrassing,” Mr. Wildes recounted as he took a break from his co-producer duties in connection with “Ears On a Beatle: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of John Lennon,” a new off-Broadway play about law, politics and an unlikely client-attorney relationship. An adjunct professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and founding partner of Wildes, Weinberg, Grunblatt & Wildes, he added of his maiden encounter with the Lennons, “They could have asked me something about the opera and I could have answered.” Nor was Mr. Wildes familiar with the substance cannabis resin, commonly known as hashish, the alleged possession of which had prompted the late Mr. Lennon to heed the expeditious advice of British legal counsel: plead guilty and pay a small fine. That conviction in London was the basis of an obsessive effort by President Richard M. Nixon, Attorney General John N. Mitchell, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, R-N.C., to deport Mr. Lennon. Over the next five years, Mr. Wildes would win permanent resident status for Ms. Ono in U.S. Immigration Court, but fail in the cause of Mr. Lennon � until three suits against the government in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York were finally settled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Lennon v. United States, 527 F. 2nd 187. According to Mr. Wildes, Mr. Lennon’s highly placed political enemies were convinced the international rock star and social activist would wield powerful influence over American 18-year-olds, who were granted voting privileges for the first time in 1972 as Mr. Nixon sought to retain office in the face of the Watergate scandal, leading to his impeachment and resignation in August 1973. According to a classified FBI memo that became part of the court papers, a “confidential source” warned that Mr. Lennon and “radical” associates were: [S]trong advocates of the program to ‘dump Nixon.’ They have devised a plan to hold rock concerts in various primary election states . . . to stimulate 18-year-old registration [and] to press for legislation legalizing marihuana [and] to recruit persons to come to San Diego during the Republican National Convention in August 1972. . . . The source feels that this will pour tremendous amounts of money into the coffers of the New Left and can only inevitably lead to a clash between a controlled mob organized by this group and law enforcement officials. Along with a cover letter that Mr. Thurmond stamped “personal and confidential,” the memo was circulated to Mr. Mitchell and officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, with senatorial advice: “This appears to me to be an important matter, and I think it would be well for it to be considered at the highest level,” Mr. Thurmond wrote in his letter of Feb. 4, 1972. “As I can see, many headaches might be avoided if appropriate action be taken in time.” Mr. Wildes saw this as the inspiration for the “selective prosecution” of his Beatle client, an argument which ultimately won Mr. Lennon his green card on Sept. 8, 1976. Four years later, on Dec. 8, 1980, Mr. Lennon was shot and killed by a deranged gunman outside the Dakota, his Manhattan home. For 24 years, the legal saga has been the subject of Mr. Wildes’ immigration class at Cardozo Law. Then, last year, director and playwright Mark St. Germain staged “Ears on a Beatle” in Great Barrington, Mass., and invited Mr. Wildes to attend. “He made a big fuss of the fact that I was still alive or something like that,” Mr. Wildes said of Mr. St. Germain’s introduction to the audience. On the basis of long conversations between lawyer and playwright, Mr. Wildes became co-producer and “Ears” was substantially revised for a New York production at DR2 Theatre, 103 E. 15th St., where the play opens March 28. Mr. Wildes suggested that young lawyers might find familiarity in a historical trek through the low point of the Nixon years. “The atmosphere at the time I was handling the [Lennon] case was the same as what’s going on now,” he said, “with an attorney general who had his own agenda, where civil rights and liberties were not significant concerns.” He further suggested that some of the lines in the play, in which two fictive FBI agents express ambivalence in doing their duty, may ring true to some contemporary ears. “I don’t vote,” says a button-down middle-aged agent, flag pin planted firmly in his lapel. “What’s the point? Either way, we win.” In his Cardozo Law sessions over the years, Mr. Wildes has said of Mr. Lennon, according to class notes, “Although he wasn’t my normal kind of friend, and I wasn’t his normal kind of friend, we had a very warm relationship.” Further in his notes, Mr. Wildes quotes Mr. Lennon as telling him, “‘Leon, did you know that all this time big lawyers . . . have been trying to get this case? Do you know why we stuck with you? You’re the only lawyer I understand, and the only lawyer my wife is crazy about. . . . We also stayed with you because her tarot card reader said, Stay with Leon, he’s going to win the case for you.’” Mr. Wildes said he told Mr. Lennon at the time, “Thank God for tarot card readers.” Surely Mr. Wildes has known other knotty cases in a long career. Will there be other plays? “No,” he said, emphatically. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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