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Attorney Noel Tepper never set out to represent fringe groups; it just sort of happened when certain cases and clients burnished a reputation as a lawyer sympathetic to radical causes. His career has since been marked by his work in “idiosyncratic law,” representing such cult figures as Dr. Timothy Leary and the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church. “The challenge in representing radical groups was that you had to engender their trust to do a good job in representing them, but at the same time not lose your own professional identity,” explained Tepper, 64, a sole practitioner who has been practicing in the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., area for nearly 35 years. A 1961 graduate of New York Law School, Tepper was from 1963 to 1965 a partner at the Poughkeepsie firm Rosen Tepper & Cutler. Currently, Tepper, who practices from his Victorian home at 143 Academy in Poughkeepsie, continues to befriend unpopular causes. Early next year, he will be representing Fred Andros, the former Town of Poughkeepsie official accused of coercing alleged co-conspirator Dawn Silvernail to shoot Susan Fassett, the town personnel director. Tepper will be the lawyer of record for the murder trial of Andros, who has already been sentenced in a federal bribery and corruption prosecution emanating from the same facts. “Representing these … groups and defendants forces you to think philosophically about how you feel about the law,” reflected Tepper. “I have had to do a lot of soul-searching about my own beliefs because on some level, you have to be able to accept representing that kind of person in order to be an effective lawyer.” In the 1960′s, such soul-searching led him to represent Leary and many members of the psychedelic community in variety of general legal matters. Tepper incorporated Leary’s organization, The League for Spiritual Discovery; he defended Leary on drug charges brought by the Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office; and he even wrote wills and drew up adoption papers for many members of Leary’s religious commune in Millbrook, The Castalia Foundation. “I guess you could say that I had become the full-service law firm for Dr. Leary’s organization for five years during the 1960s,” noted Tepper, who recalled setting up a booth at The Castalia Foundation to dispense legal advice to members of the hippie and psychedelic communities. “It really was like the ‘Peanuts’ strip where people waited in line to get legal advice, but it seemed to work. There was definitely a big market there and because I had an interest and connection with the group and its ideals, it was a good marriage.” But it also gave him a reputation. Although Tepper remembered that some attorneys were uncomfortable with his unconventional bearded appearance and his decision to represent certain clients, he said that generally the lawyers in Dutchess County were simply curious about his work. “Most of the lawyers in Dutchess County wanted to understand what the hippies and the anti-war people were saying, but wouldn’t go as far as to bridge that gap and personally approach these groups,” Tepper recounted. “But they could approach me. They really wanted a translator and I was able to translate for them,” said Tepper. A LOCAL ‘KUNSTLER’ Characterizing Tepper as Dutchess County’s version of the late, noted radical attorney William Kunstler, Dutchess County Family Court Judge James V. Brands recalled how Tepper related to his clients. “He really spoke their language,” said Brands, “and was so good at it that we never knew whether he was one of us or one them. Any other attorney would’ve felt out of their league.” Brands also recalled how Tepper had a deep belief in the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel, no matter what a defendant’s circumstances. Court of Appeals Judge Albert M. Rosenblatt, who litigated against Tepper as a Dutchess County prosecutor, noted that Tepper’s representation served an important purpose. “He articulated viewpoints not always shared by the mainstream, and because of that, he filled a dimension that serves an important purpose in American life,” remarked Rosenblatt. “His work helped keep the system honest.” SUCCESSFUL CASES Despite Tepper’s notoriety for cases outside the mainstream, he also cultivated a successful practice defending inmates, female correctional officers, and police unions. In one case during the 1960s, Tepper represented a group of orthodox Muslim inmates from the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, N.Y., who wanted to have a religious leader from the outside community lead prayers in the prison. The State Department of Corrections opposed the request on the grounds that the prison converts were not true Muslims because they had not been born Muslim. The state supreme court granted the inmates’ request, holding that the group should be entitled to the same rights as other religions and that the recent conversion was not a legitimate reason to exclude the group from the same religious freedoms given others. In another matter, Tepper settled a federal case in the Southern District that changed the rules in the Dutchess County Department of Corrections to ensure that female officers were entitled to the same seniority benefits as their male counterparts. Tepper was able to orchestrate a settlement that allowed the women officers with seniority to continue to work at the men’s section of the Mattewan Prison in Beacon, N.Y., instead of having to commute to the all-female correctional facility in Bedford Hills, N.Y. CHILDHOOD MOTIVATION Tepper suspects his motivation to assist unpopular causes might have roots in his childhood. His parents, Jewish immigrants who came to Brooklyn from Minsk, lived modestly and spoke little English. In elementary school in the 1940′s, Tepper remembers befriending black classmates who had recently come from the South. Tepper said his desire to understand all groups in society has made him a keen and curious observer of legal culture. He attended the recent defamation trial of Tawana Brawley’s advisers, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, to observe the trial, the lawyers and the interaction between the two sides. “The case was symbolically very important because it showed how little communication there was between the two sides, which in some way, really represents the aftermath of racism and slavery,” he asserted. “But by the end of the case, you could see that there was some movement towards getting beyond stereotypes. Sometimes, a trial can be a place of healing.” Tepper charges between $175 and $200 for general matters such as divorce, negligence and real estate cases, while 20 percent of his practice is pro bono and at a reduced fee, representing indigent criminal defendants. Currently, he is gearing up for the Andros murder trial and litigating several federal cases involving excessive force by police officers in Dutchess County. “I thought by this time I would have defeated all the injustice in the county,” Tepper offered wryly, “but by now, the small bit of wisdom I can offer is that lawyers should stay the course of a lifetime of helping people. We’re not here to get praise from the system or our clients; we’re here to do a good job in representing their views. That can happen even when we don’t win cases.”

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