|Alma mater||Columbia University, Hastings College of the Law|
Hanlon was raised in New York City. He graduated from Columbia University in 1970, where he became involved with the radical politics of the '60s. In 1975, Hanlon graduated from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. He was known at Hastings for wearing flowing Moroccan robes and distributing politically militant leaflets.
In 1968, Caroline Olsen was murdered by two black men on a Santa Monica tennis court. The Los Angeles Police Department had no leads until late 1970 when former Black Panther Julio Butler wrote to the LAPD that Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt had bragged to him about the tennis court killing. Pratt said that he was innocent, because the FBI had him under surveillance in Oakland when the slaying was committed in Santa Monica. In 1972, the court convicted Pratt of first-degree murder.
In 1975, as a third-year law student at Hastings, Hanlon volunteered to work as a paralegal on prisoner rights cases at San Quentin State Prison. He met Geronimo Pratt (also known as Geronimo Ji Jaga); the year before Pratt had been denied a hearing by both the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. At one visit, Hanlon found a steel-tipped Afro comb on his chair. After asking Pratt what it was, Pratt said "Don't touch it man. It's a setup. They'll say you're passing me a weapon. Call a guard quick.".
Over the next 25 years, Pratt was turned down for parole sixteen times and every appeal for a reversal of the guilty verdict was denied. Hanlon stated "I've been a lawyer for almost 20 years, and I win almost every trial I do... I win federal drug cases and murder trials. It just boggles my mind that we have continued to lose Pratt's case. There could be 10 reversals on the evidence we have." Hanlon developed a close relationship with Pratt, calling Pratt one of his 2 or 3 closest friends in the world.
In June 1997, Pratt was released from prison when an Orange County Superior Court judge reversed his murder conviction, on the basis that a key prosecution witness, Julius Butler was a felon and an FBI informant. In April 2000, Hanlon won a $4.5 million verdict for Pratt in his civil action suit against the city of Los Angeles and the FBI. It was the first time the FBI paid out money in a verdict when it was not involved in the prosecution. In describing the verdict, Hanlon said "they still deny culpability for what happened to Pratt. But you don't pay that amount of money if you didn't do anything wrong." Johnnie Cochran, who worked on the case with Hanlon from the beginning, has called Pratt's case the most important of his career.
Hanlon represented Sara Jane Olson (Kathy Soliah), Emily Harris and William Harris, three members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), for the 1975 murder of a Sacramento woman during a bank robbery in which they were joined by Patty Hearst. He also represented and won the acquittal of another member of the SLA, Russell Little, for his role in the murder of Oakland, California School Superintendent Marcus Foster.
In 2003, Hanlon defended San Francisco Deputy Police Chief Greg Suhr against charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice. The charge arose from the investigation into a street fight in which three rookie officers were charged with felony assault, with those officers in turn accusing Suhr and ten other officers of obstructing justice. The charges were eventually dropped by the judge.
Six weeks after Hanlon won Pratt a new trial, his wife, attorney Kathleen Ryan, 46, died of leukemia. The couple had two sons, Liam, who was 10, and Rory, aged five years old, when she passed away. The prospects of an extremely extended trial for Olson, in which Hearst was expected to be called as a witness by the prosecution, caused Hanlon to withdraw as defense counsel so he could be with his family.
- Chiang, Harriet. SLA defense, again / Radical lawyer represented members in the ‘70s. San Francisco Chronicle. February 11, 2002.
- Our Firm Archived 2011-08-15 at the Wayback Machine. Stuart Hanlon Law.
- Boyer, Edward. The Killing That Keeps Spawning Mysteries. Los Angeles Times. December 15, 1998.
- Lopez, Robert. Elmer ‘Geronimo’ Pratt dies at 63; former Black Panther whose murder conviction was overturned, Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2011. November 15, 2018.
- Roemer, John. Every Which Way But Out, California Lawyer. July 1994.
- Former Black Panther freed after 27 years in jail. CNN. June 10, 1997.
- Purdum, Todd. Ex-Black Panther Wins Long Legal Battle. The New York Times. April 27, 2000.
- Howell, Bejamin, et al. Lawyers of the Year, California Lawyer Magazine, December 2000.
- Former Black Panther Leader, Geronimo Ji-Jaga Pratt, Wrongfully Imprisoned for 27 Years, Dies in Tanzania, Democracy Now, June 6, 2011.
- Around the Nation; Russell Little is Acquitted of Slaying on Coast in 1973. The New York Times, June 5, 1981. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
- Middle-Aged Radicals, Plucked from Suburbia,Time Magazine, Morse, Jodi, et al, January 28, 2002.
- $1m bail raised in bomb case. The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia). July 21, 1999.
- Police brass itching to go to trial / Indicted chief and commanders pin their hopes on grand jury transcripts. San Francisco Chronicle. March 4, 2003.
- Attorney: Grand Jury Witnesses Conspired in SFPD Case Archived 2003-04-04 at the Wayback Machine. KTVU. March 26, 2003.
- Plot against police, lawyer says / Filing claims they were framed by cops who wanted their jobs. San Francisco Chronicle. March 27, 2003.
- Brooks, Jon. Meet Your New San Francisco Police Chief, Greg Suhr. KQED News. April 27, 2008.
- Van Derbeken, Jason. Cops’ stellar array of lawyers / Accused officers are represented by top attorneys. San Francisco Chronicle. March 27, 2003.
- Kathleen Ryan's zeal for law and for life, San Francisco Examiner, Annie Nakao, July 22, 1997. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
- Patty's gang in the dock again, The Guardian, January 30, 2000. Retrieved November 15, 2018.