Abe Krash was 35 years old and a junior partner at Arnold, Porter & Fortas in the summer of 1962 when name partner Abe Fortas asked for his help on a pro bono assignment. The pair had worked together on paying and pro bono matters, including a landmark case, Durham v. U.S., which for many years set the standard used to define insanity in criminal cases. This time, Krash recalls, Fortas asked him to research "everything about the right to counsel since the invention of money."
Fortas had just been appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to represent Clarence Earl Gideon, who was convicted of petty larceny by a Florida state court that also denied his request for a lawyer. Gideon appealed the denial pro se to the state's supreme court, which rejected his appeal. Gideon turned to the Supreme Court.
Krash downplays his role in the Gideon appeal, but according to journalist Anthony Lewis's account of the case in Gideon's Trumpet, Krash's office diary shows that he spent six hours every workday on Gideon's case from the receipt of the record to the filing of the brief. Krash led the research, helped draft the brief, and discussed strategy with Fortas. On March 18, 1963, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Gideon v. Wainwright that the Sixth Amendment requires the appointment of counsel in all criminal prosecutions. Within two years, 26 states made significant changes to their public defender practices and appointments, according to the American Bar Association. Currently there are 957 public defender offices in the country, largely because of Gideon and related decisions, says David Carroll, executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center.
Today, as the last survivor of the defense team, Krash is the public face of the Gideon decision. Speaking before public defender groups, on panels, and at universities, Krash advocates further reforms to fully realize Gideon's intent: statewide public defender systems, decriminalization of some crimes, and reexamination by the Supreme Court as to what constitutes adequate counsel.
But Krash doesn't see himself as just Gideon's attorney. "I was a busy Washington lawyer," he says of his career. In more than 40 years at what is now Arnold & Porter, Krash represented United States Steel Corporation in Securities and Exchange Commission matters, Ford Motor Company in relation to the Auto Safety Act, and Kraft General Foods in antitrust litigation. For the past 20 years, he has taught constitutional law and other classes without compensation at Georgetown University Law Center.
"Law is something that becomes part of who you are, rather than just something that you're doing," he told his class last fall, according to former student Eleanor Hagan. "It makes you a better person."
IN HIS OWN WORDS
What is your biggest professional accomplishment?
Helping to build the law firm of Arnold & Porter was one of my major satisfactions, and the things I did in teaching. As well, I was privileged to represent a lot of major clients on very significant and difficult issues, and to help them resolve those issues was very, very, satisfying.
What is your biggest personal accomplishment?
What would you have done differently or what is your biggest regret?
I regret that I didn't have an opportunity to join the government in some way during my career.
Which book has influenced you the most?
I suppose it's fair to say I never got over the enthusiasm I had when I was in college and read the Dialogues of Plato, or Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories in the ninth grade. Those two things will be in my memory for a lifetime.
Portrait photography by Michael J.N. Bowles.