Gladys Root

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Gladys Towles Root (1905–1982) was a successful criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, known for her piercing cross-examinations.[citation needed] Root was forced to specialize in sexual assault and murder cases because no other work was available to her.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Root was the daughter of Clara Dexter Towles and Charles Towles of Los Angeles. She was born in 1905 and grew up in comfortable surroundings.

There were very few women practicing law when Root graduated from USC School of Law in 1930. Root was unable to obtain employment and decided to open her own practice. Gladys Towles Root opened her office at 212 South Hill Street, Los Angeles California, the former location of the Rainbow Saloon.

Because no other work was available to her, Root began defending rape and murder cases. She became so skilled that by the early 1960s young prosecutors and defense attorneys would gather to watch her cross-examination of prosecuting witnesses.

Legal career[edit]

Root served as president of the Southern California Women Lawyers in 1945.

In July 1964 an indictment was issued against Gladys by the Federal Grand Jury in connection with her actions during her defense of one of the defendants in the kidnapping case of Frank Sinatra, Jr., the teenage son of Frank Sinatra. Three men had kidnapped Frank Sinatra Jr. from across the California-Nevada state line at Lake Tahoe and transported him to Los Angeles. The kidnappers collected $240,000 ransom. Gladys was hired to defend one of the kidnappers, John William Irwin, and defended him with zeal. Charges were brought against Gladys based on her allegedly fabricating the story that the young singer concocted the kidnapping for publicity reasons. Gladys was indicted in 1964 on charges of conspiracy, suborning perjury, and obstruction of justice. The charges were dropped in 1968.

Root fought with the Internal Revenue Service, beginning in the 1970s. The IRS contended that she owed more than $230,000 in back taxes when interest and penalties were included. She fought the judgment and lost in the federal appeals court in 1977. She attempted to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but the highest court in the land refused to hear the case.

She presented a flamboyant figure in the courtroom. She was especially known for the large, dramatic hats she almost always wore to court.


On Tuesday, December 21, 1982, Gladys Towles Root collapsed into the arms of her protégé David Brockway and died at age 77 of a heart attack during an appearance in a Los Angeles Superior Court – Pomona courtroom. She was in court to defend one of two brothers (David Brockway defended the other) accused of rape. On the day of her death, Gladys was attired completely in gold.

Gladys was buried at Forest Lawn Glendale. She was buried in a gold dress with Madonna earrings.


  • Rice, Cy Get Me Gladys!, Holloway House Pub. Co., Los Angeles, (1966)
  • Rice, Cy Defender of the Damned, Citadel Press, New York, (1964)
  • Danielsson, Charlotte A. The Lady in Purple Gladys Towles Root Stanford Law School Women's Legal History (1997)

External links[edit]

Root defended thousands of cases. Here are a sample of some of them