The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender


by Lise Pearlman



paperback / $29.95 / isbn: 978-1-58790-435-6 / 490 pages /6” x 9" / photographs


e-book / $9.95 / 978-1-58790-412-7


Biography / U.S. History / Criminal Justice / Civil Rights

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Lise Pearlman








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The story of activist Fay Stender and her circle of colleagues from the McCarthy Era through the ‘70s. Set against a backdrop of protests, assassinations, headline trials and bitter Leftist rifts, this book is a must-read to understand the turbulent era in which she rose to fame as the “mouthpiece” for black militants only to meet a tragic end.

Who was Fay Abrahams Stender?  A giant among Movement lawyers from the McCarthy Era to the 1970s intent on forcing society to change. Friends could easily picture her as the heroine of a grand opera. A child prodigy, she abandoned the concert piano to become a zealous advocate for society’s most scorned and vilified criminal defendants: from the Rosenberg espionage case during the Cold War to militant black clients, Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton and revolutionary prisoner George Jackson, to prisoners in the “Dachau” of maximum security. Stender achieved amazing legal successes in criminal defense and prison reform before she ultimately refocused with similar zeal on feminist and lesbian rights.

In May 1979, an ex-felon invaded her home and shot her execution-style after forcing her to write a note saying she betrayed George Jackson. She barely survived. Wheelchair bound and under 24-hour police protection, she then became the star witness in her assailant’s prosecution. Awaiting trial in a secret hideaway in San Francisco, Fay told the few friends she let visit her there to “call me Phaedra,” a tragic heroine from Greek mythology. Shortly after the trial, like Phaedra, she committed suicide.

Set against a backdrop of sit-ins, protest marches, riots, police brutality, assassinations, death penalty trials and bitter splits among Leftists, this book makes for a compelling biography. Yet it delivers on a broader goal as well – an overview of the turbulent era in which Fay Stender operated under the watchful eye of the FBI and state officials. We not only relive Stender’s story, but that of a small cadre of committed Bay Area activists who played remarkable roles during the McCarthy Era, Civil Rights Movement (including Mississippi Freedom Summer), the Free Speech Movement, Vietnam War protests, and the rise of Black Power.

Besides revolutionaries Huey Newton and George Jackson, Fay’s life intertwined with: Jessica Mitford (who dubbed Fay her “frenemy’), Bob Treuhaft, Charles Garry, Bob Richter, Stanley Moore, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Stokely Carmichael, Cesar Chavez, Mario Savio, George Crockett, Joan Baez, Willie Brown, Ron Dellums, Jerry Rubin, Max Scherr, Jean Genet, Elsa Knight Thompson, Kay Boyle, Bobby Seale, David Hilliard, Angela Davis, Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver, and Mike Tigar, among others.

By the fall of 1970, Stender had gained international press coverage as the most sought-after Movement lawyer in America. She had just achieved spectacular successes against all odds for two black revolutionary clients. The book also describes Stender’s ultimate failure to surmount class and racial differences to make her clients’ cause her own and how, as in a Greek tragedy, hubris led to her downfall. Fay’s tragic end served as a sobering lesson to her Movement friends of the personal risks many of them had run. For many, her death symbolized the end of an era.



Lise Pearlman is an acclaimed author, a former trial lawyer and judge.She is a nationally recognized speaker on famous trials of the 20th century and appeared in Stanley Nelson’s acclaimed 2015 film “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” as the country’s leading expert on the 1968 Huey Newton death penalty trial. Her first and second history books, The Sky’s The Limit: People v. Newton, The Real Trial of the 20th Century? [Regent Press 2012]  and American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton  [Regent Press 2016] won awards in the categories of law, history and multiculturalism. Her most recent work,  With Justice for Some: Politically Charged Criminal Trials in the Early 20th Century That Helped Shape Today’s America [Regent Press 2017] has also garnered rave reviews.

Pearlman was an undergraduate in the first class that included women at Yale University when Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale was tried for murder in New Haven. She then moved to the Bay Area where she attended Berkeley Law School and then clerked for California Chief Justice Donald Wright before practicing law in Oakland. From 1989-1995, she served as the first Presiding Judge of the California State Bar Court. Pearlman has spent almost all her adult life in the Bay Area where Fay Stender practiced and the Huey Newton “trial of the century” took place and where she still resides.

Judge Pearlman is currently producing the companion documentary to her 2016 book American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton.  (






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