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.)
The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses was Harvey's first full-length book(with Alan Charles Kors); published by The Free Press in October 1998, it has been recently available in paperback under the Harper/Perennial imprint from HarperCollins (published October 1999). The book examined the state of free speech and due process on American campuses, and how the best aspects of the 1960's -- free speech, equality of rights, respect for private conscience, and a sense of undergraduate liberties and adult responsibilities -- have steadily withered at colleges and universities across the country. As Sam Tanenhaus of The New York Times Book Review wrote on November 8, 1998: "To their credit, Kors and Silverglate are old-fashioned civil libertarians who support everyone's right to sound off... The abuses they describe need fixing, and this cogent book should help."
In September 2009, Silverglate published Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (Encounter Books). Three Felonies a Day describes how the United States Department of Justice targets all segments of civil society by means of abusive prosecutions based upon unacceptably vague federal criminal statutes and regulations. The book chronicles the federal prosecutions of members of various professions, including doctors, lawyers, public officials, scholars, artists, journalists, accountants and accounting firms, and pharmaceutical industry companies and representatives. An updated version of the book was released in 2011.
Following the success of The Shadow University, Silverglate and Kors established the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit, 501(c)(3) foundation dedicated to preserving and enlarging academic freedom, due process, and freedom of speech and conscience on American college campuses. FIRE, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in October 2014, has grown into a powerful force for protecting campus liberties. With a main office in Philadelphia and a satellite office in New York City, it fills an important role as a hands-on organization willing and able to give practical advice and other assistance to students and faculty members who find their liberties and consciences under attack by administrators wielding the fashionable politically-acceptable and officially-imposed ideologies of the day, from whatever end of the political spectrum those ideologies derive.
Silverglate, an Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute, in Washington, DC, contributed a chapter to In the Name of Justice: Leading Experts Reexamine the Classic Article “The Aims of the Criminal Law” (Timothy Lynch, editor, published by Cato Institute, 2009). With chapters from leading judges and legal scholars, the book explores the state of criminal law today and offers compelling examinations of key issues, including suicide terrorism, drug legalization, and the vast reach of federal criminal liability. Silverglate's chapter, “Federal Criminal Law: Punishing Benign Intentions – A Betrayal of Professor Hart’s Admonition to Prosecute Only the Blameworthy,” discusses how the key element of criminal intent has eroded since the 1950s. It is closely tied to the theme of Three Felonies a Day. Silverglate was appointed in the Spring of 2000 as Chair of the independent Privacy Board of Predictive Networks, Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in which position he served until the end of 2002. Earlier, he served as the first litigation counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a leading civil liberties organization fighting for freedom in cyberspace. He also the founded and was the former chairperson of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL). He is a long-time member of the American Civil Liberties Union and served the Massachusetts state affiliate as a member of its Board of Directors for some three decades, serving two terms as its Board president in the mid-1980s.
Silverglate has taught at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (a public secondary school in Massachusetts), University of Massachusetts College III (in Boston), and Harvard Law School (appointment as Lecturer-in-Law to teach a course on the intersection of Professional Responsibility and Effective Criminal Defense Strategy in the Spring Semester of 1987).
A Brooklyn, NY native, Silverglate has resided in "The People's Republic of Cambridge" for nearly 50 years. He is married to renowned portrait photographer, Elsa Dorfman, with whom he shares a son, Isaac Dorfman Silverglate, and two grandchildren.