Martin Garbus

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Martin Garbus
Martin garbus Book Jacket.jpg
Martin Garbus
Born 1934 (age 81–82)
United States
Alma mater Hunter College
New York University Law School
Occupation Attorney, author
Children Liz Garbus , Cassandra Garbus

Martin Garbus (born 1934) is an American attorney. He has tried cases throughout the country involving constitutional, criminal, copyright, and intellectual property law. He has appeared before the United States Supreme Court as well as trial and appellate courts throughout the United States. He has written numerous briefs that have been submitted to the United States Supreme Court; a number of which have resulted in changes in the law on a nationwide basis. An international observer in foreign elections, he was selected by President Jimmy Carter to observe and report on the elections in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Garbus also participated in drafting several constitutions and foreign laws, including the Czechoslovakian constitution. He has been involved in prisoner exchange negotiations between governments. He is the author of six books and over 50 articles. Shouting Fire is an award winning documentary film about his life and career. A Fulbright scholar, he received the Fulbright Award for his work on International Human Rights in 2010. In 2014,University College Dublin's Literary and Historical Society honored Garbus with the James Joyce Award for Excellence in Law.


Garbus graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1951. He earned his undergraduate degree at Hunter College in 1955 and his Juris Doctor from New York University Law School.[1] He thereafter attended Columbia University as a master’s candidate in economics, at The New School as a master’s candidate in English and at New York University Law School as a master’s candidate in tax law. He wrote for the New York University Law Review. He was admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar in 1963.

Awards and recognition[edit]

The Guardian called Garbus "one of the world’s finest trial lawyers" and the "founding partner of one of America’s most prestigious law firms".[2] In 2007, Business Week called him "legendary", "a ferocious lawyer who has received numerous media citations as one of America’s leading trial lawyers" and a "ferocious litigator".[3] Time magazine named him "legendary, one of the best trial lawyers in the country."[4] Fortune magazine called him, "One of the nation's premier First Amendment attorneys", and "legendary".[4] Reuters called him a "famed lawyer"[5] while other media have called him "America's most prominent First Amendment lawyer" with an "extraordinarily diverse practice" and "one of the country's top ten litigators." Super Lawyers Magazine[6] designated him as a Superlawyer. New York magazine and Los Angeles magazine, over the last twelve years have named him both as one of America’s best trial lawyers, and one of America’s best intellectual property lawyers.[7]


Garbus has won several awards for his work:

  • PEN USA First Amendment Award of Honor, 2007,
  • New York University Law Alumni Achievement Award, 2004,
  • Hunter College Law Alumni Achievement Award, 2005
  • Hunter College Hall of Fame, 2005
  • Marquis Who's Who in America (2012 and prior years)
  • Marquis Who's Who in American Law (2012 and prior years)
  • Civil Liberties Union Award, 2007
  • Senator William Fulbright Award for global leadership in international law, 2012
  • James Joyce Award from the University of Dublin for Excellence in Law, 2014
  • Dublin University Philosophical Society Award for Excellence in Law, 2014
  • Dublin University Law Society Praeses Elit Award, 2014

Notable cases[edit]

Garbus was involved in the following notable cases:

  • Argued in the Supreme Court after a trial in Alabama, Garbus won, in King v. Smith (392 U.S. 309), a unanimous 9-0 decision striking down laws in 14 states on the grounds they violated the Constitution. These laws had disenfranchised one million people
  • Served as co-counsel in Ashton v. Kentucky (384 U.S. 195), a Supreme Court decision that struck down all criminal libel laws in the United States
  • Served as co-counsel in Jacobellis v. Ohio (378 U.S. 184), where the Supreme Court held unconstitutional an Ohio statute seeking to regulate motion pictures and, for the first time, defined the term "national community standards".
  • Represented Lenny Bruce in a high profile criminal case in New York, successfully asserting a First Amendment defense against an obscenity charge.
  • Represented Don Imus when he was fired by CBS by asserting a First Amendment defense.
  • Represented Viking Press and Peter Matthiessen in one of the longest and most bitterly fought libel cases in American history that led to the development of libel precedent favoring journalists and publishers. Governor William Janklow filed a libel suit in South Dakota and FBI agents filed suit in Minnesota claiming they were libeled by the book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (see Peter Matthiessen#Crazy_Horse_lawsuits). The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the $450 million case and the Supreme Court refused to reverse it.
  • Represented sixteen defendants in murder cases, stopping their executions, while chairing the Committee to Abolish Capital Punishment.
  • Represents Leonard Peltier in a clemency petition to President Obama
  • Represented civil rights leader Cesar Chavez in free speech, commercial and criminal cases in California and elsewhere in the United States, all in support of the United Farm Workers.
  • Represented criminal defendants in the French Connection criminal cases in New York Federal Court.
  • Sued Eminem in copyright suit on behalf of French composer Jacques Loussier under New York Federal Court.
  • Represented author Pia Pera in a copyright dispute with the estate of Vladimir Nabokov.
  • Represented author Terry McMillan in commercial suit in San Francisco Federal Court to set aside a settlement agreement.
  • Other notable clients include Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Václav Havel, Samuel Beckett, Al Pacino, Daniel Ellsberg, Philip Roth, Michael Moore, Robert Redford, Spike Lee, Garry Marshall, Marilyn Monroe, Igor Stravinsky, Nora Ephron and Salman Rushdie author of The Satanic Verses.
  • Garbus is representing songwriter and pianist, Oksana Grigorieva against actor Mel Gibson. Grigorieva alleges that Gibson beat her during their relationship and then defamed her in the media. The case has garnered significant publicity.
  • Defended Chief Justices of the Indian Supreme Court during The Emergency.
  • Defended the Cuban Five, accused of murder before the United Nations and the Florida Federal Court.
  • Defended Sikh nationallists before the Punjab Court and in the United Nations.
  • Defended media defendants and investors in libel and other commercial cases brought by fraudulent Chinese reverse merger corporations in the New York State courts.
  • Defended Chinese dissidents in Beijing.
  • Represented the government of Rwanda in negotiations with the United Nations over the holding of criminal trials in Kigali, amongst other places.
  • International elections observer with President Jimmy Carter's commission.

Public speaking[edit]

Garbus has participated in lectures and debates before the American Bar Association, the Bar Associations of New York, Washington and Los Angeles on a variety of topics including trial practice, jury selection, copyright and the Supreme Court. Garbus debated former Independent Prosecutor Kenneth Starr at venues across the country. He served as a commentator for NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN, Fox News, Court TV, CCTV in China and the BBC, Time and Newsweek. Garbus blogs for the Huffington Post.

Garbus' career is set forth in the award winning HBO documentary Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech.

Early career and legal scholarship[edit]

After law school and after two years in the United States Army, he clerked for Emile Zola Berman, an internationally-known trial lawyer, and Ephraim London, a Supreme Court advocate and Constitutional lawyer who won every one of the nine cases he argued before the Supreme Court. He was in 1966 co-director of the Columbia University Center on Social Policy and Law while he taught law at Columbia. He was director counsel of the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the ACLU, legal director and associate director of the ACLU, as well as director of the Lawyers Committee to Defend Civil Rights, ran for political office in 1974 and formed his own law firm, Frankfurt Garbus in 1977. He subsequently taught at an adjunct professor at Yale Law School, and has lectured at many law schools, including Harvard University Law School and Stanford Law School. A Fulbright scholar, he taught in 2005 and 2006 at Tsinghua and Renmin law schools in Beijing, China. At the same time he taught the judges, government officials and drafters of China’s new copyright and intellectual property laws.

International work[edit]

Garbus has worked for the governments of the former Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland, China, and Rwanda as a consultant on constitutional, media and communications law. Recently, the government of China hired Garbus to help address the problems posed by digital piracy. He represented dissidents Václav Havel, Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov. In 2004, he was appointed advisor to the Chinese team responsible for the creation of China's intellectual property laws.


  • The Ten Techniques of Torture (Seven Stories Press, expected publication 2009)
  • The Next 25 Years: How the Supreme Court Will Make You Forget the Meaning of Words Like Privacy, Equality and Freedom (Seven Stories Press 2007)
  • Courting Disaster: The Roberts Supreme Court and the Unmaking of America Law (Times Books, New York, 2002; Times Books softcover, 2003)
  • Tough Talk: How I Fought For Writers, Comics, Bigots, and the American Way, introduction by David Halberstam (Random House-Times Books, 1998, Times Books softcover, 1999)
  • Traitors and Heroes (Athenaeum, 1987; Random House softcover, 1988)
  • Ready for the Defense (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1971; Avon softcover, 1972, and Carroll & Graf reprint, 1995)
  • "A Life in the Law", expected publication 2015.

Appearances in films[edit]


  1. ^ "Mr. Martin Garbus, Attorney". Retrieved November 18, 2015. 
  2. ^ The Guardian, April 16, 1992
  3. ^ Business Week, April 20, 2007
  4. ^ a b Fortune, May 2, 2007
  5. ^ Reuters, August 2007
  6. ^ "Super Lawyers" Manhattan Edition, June 2006
  7. ^ New York magazine, March 20, 1995

External links[edit]