Harvey Silverglate



Harvey A. Silverglate, an advocate for civil liberties since the 1960s, is an attorney, writer, and non-profit activist. Currently practicing law with the Boston firm Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, Silverglate specializes in criminal defense, civil liberties, and academic freedom/student rights cases. In addition to his legal work, Silverglate has led a parallel writing career as newspaper columnist and book author.

Silverglate’s career as legal practitioner, spanning some four decades, has ranged widely and has included drug prosecutions, draft and riot cases in the '60s and '70s, bank and securities fraud, bribery and extortion, espionage, tax evasion, police misconduct, murder and manslaughter, habeas corpus proceedings, money laundering, and desertion (tried at a court martial). In one of his first cases, he served as trial counsel for students charged with taking over University Hall at Harvard during an anti-war demonstration in 1969. He has since done substantial defense against charges of business crime without becoming labeled a “white collar” (much less a “white shoe”) lawyer. He has represented alleged illicit drug dealers without becoming a “drug lawyer.” He has represented several alleged “organized crime figures” without being deemed a “mob lawyer.” Silverglate’s breadth of experience has given him perspective on the methods and techniques employed by police and prosecutors, and especially on the federal level, over the course of decades.

Silverglate has handled cases in both state and federal courts, in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the country, on both the trial and appellate levels. He has represented an enormously diverse group of clients in the white collar arena, including Michael Milken, Leona Helmsley, Theodore Anzalone (in two Boston political corruption/money laundering federal cases resulting in two acquittals), and Louis C. Ostrer (in a long-running battle with a Department of Justice intent on forcing him to become a government witness), among many others. 

Silverglate was on the successful defense team for Jewish Defense League accused terrorist Sheldon Seigel, charged in the bombing-murder at the offices of impresario Sol Hurok, described by Alan Dershowitz in his book The Best Defense (Random House, 1982). Silverglate’s defense of the East German physicist, Prof. Alfred Zehe, in a high-profile espionage prosecution, was recounted by Craig R. Whitney, the then-European diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times, in Spy Trader: Germany’s Devil’s Advocate & the Darkest Secrets of the Cold War (Times Books/Random House, 1993). Silverglate’s long-time post-conviction representation of Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald in the so-called “Fatal Vision” or “Green Beret” murder case at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in which Silverglate remains firmly convinced that an innocent man was railroaded into a life sentence, is recounted by Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bost in Fatal Justice: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders (Norton, 1995) and by Errol Morris in A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald (Penguin, 2012).

Silverglate was co-counsel in the representation of Sen. Mike Gravel (D. Alaska) in an off-shoot of the “Pentagon Papers” litigation in which the senator’s aide was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury – the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court and was the subject of Silverglate’s co-authored (with Prof. Robert Reinstein) article in 86 Harvard Law Review 1748 (1971). 

Silverglate also represented the Church of Scientology in numerous cases implicating the organization’s religious liberties. He was on the legal team that, in 1997, represented Louise Woodward, the British au pair charged in Boston in the claimed “shaken baby” death of an infant in her care, and he argued the winning issue in that case before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, resulting in the release of a client in whose innocence Silverglate remains confident to this day.

Silverglate has combined his legal experience with a parallel career writing about civil liberties and criminal law. He was, for nearly four decades, the criminal law and civil liberties columnist for the Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly newspaper, and he has frequently contributed commentary to Forbes.com. Silverglate is a former bi-monthly civil liberties columnist for The National Law Journal, and his op-ed pieces have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. His articles and book reviews have been published in the Harvard Law Review, The New York Times Book Review, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, The Wilson Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Reasonmagazine, a number of other professional journals, and elsewhere. (A more complete list of his articles and essays can be accessed here.) 


Despite a full life, Justice Scalia died prematurely — by at least one measure

When it comes to civil liberties, Justice Antonin Scalia leaves a void that won't soon be filled, says attorney Harvey Silverglate.

Despite a full life, Justice Scalia died prematurely — by at least one measure
obama in prison

Harvey Silverglate: Would Obama recognize criminal justice reform if it stuck him in the eye?

Harvey Silverglate: Would Obama recognize criminal justice reform if it stuck him in the eye?