Tony Serra

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Tony Serra
Tony Serra courtroom sketch by Paulette Frankl
Born J. Tony Serra
(1934-12-30) December 30, 1934 (age 82)
San Francisco, California
Nationality United States
Education Stanford University, B.A.
University of California, Berkeley, J.D.
Occupation Lawyer

J. Tony Serra is an American civil rights lawyer, activist and tax resister from San Francisco.


Serra received a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law, UC-Berkeley. While at law school, Serra was a contributor to the California Law Review.


He was the subject of the 1989 movie True Believer about a Chinatown (San Francisco) murder case in which he won an acquittal for Chol Soo Lee, the defendant. He also successfully defended Black Panther leader Huey Newton in a murder trial and represented individuals from groups as diverse and politically charged as the White Panthers, Hells Angels, Good Earth, and New World Liberation Front (NWLF). Some of these individuals include Brownie Mary, Dennis Peron, Hooty Croy, Ellie Nesler, and Symbionese Liberation Army members Sara Jane Olson, Russell Little and Michael Bortin. Serra, in 2004, won an acquittal during a retrial on murder charges for co-defendant Rick Tabish in the death of casino mogul Ted Binion.[1]

Serra won the Trial Lawyer of the Year award in 2003 (by the organization Trial Lawyers for Public Justice), for his successful litigation of Judi Bari against the FBI.[2]

Serra has taken a vow of poverty and is known for living a frugal lifestyle and driving a run-down car.[3] All income from his cases is distributed to other lawyers except for a very small portion that he uses to pay rent and gas.[citation needed] All of his clothes (including suits, briefcases, shoes etc.) are bought secondhand.[4]

Serra has been in trouble with the law several times for failure to pay income taxes. He refused to pay taxes in protest of the War in Iraq, based on his conviction that the Bush administration was leading the country in the wrong direction and that he would therefore not contribute any money to fund what he saw as Bush's corrupt politics.[citation needed] On July 29, 2005, he was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison, to be served at Lompoc, and ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution for a misdemeanor conviction of willful failure to pay taxes.[5] Serra was released from the federal camp in Lompoc, California, in mid-February 2007, reporting immediately to a San Francisco halfway house. He was released from federal custody, and the halfway house, on March 13, 2007, after serving out his sentence [1]. Along with three other attorneys, Serra filed a class-action lawsuit seeking minimum wages for himself and other inmates, citing slave wages as unconstitutional.[6]


Tony has two younger brothers: Richard Serra, a prominent sculptor, and Rudy Serra, also a noted artist.[7] Richard paid for the college educations of Tony's five children.

High-profile cases[edit]


  • Runner up, "Best Lawyer in America," American Lawyer magazine, 1982
  • Drug Policy Foundation Achievement in the Field of Law, 1992
  • Boalt Hall "Alumnus of the Year, 1993;
  • Charles Garry Award, 1994;
  • ACLU Benjamin Dreyfus Civil Liberties Award, 1997;
  • California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, 2000, "Ten Best Criminal Defense Attorneys of the Century;"
  • McFetridge-American Inn of court,Co-Awardee "2003 Trial Lawyer of the Year";
  • Trial Lawyers for Public Justice,"Certificate of Honor, December 1, 2005;"
  • Criminal Trial Lawyers Association of Northern California,"2005 Gideon Equal Justice Award;"
  • 2008 NORML Lester Grinspoon Award,"For Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Marijuana Law Reform"


In October 2010, a biography of Serra, Lust for Justice: The Radical Life & Law of J. Tony Serra, written by courtroom artist Paulette Frankl with a foreword by criminal defense attorney Gerry Spence, was released.[10]


  1. ^ Puit, Glenn (24 November 2004). "News: Binion Trial Verdict: Reversal of fortunes". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Fourteen Lawyers in Two Exceptional Cases Win 2003 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award: Two California Trial Teams Share Award for Civil Rights Victory in Estate of Judi Bari and Marianas Sweatshop Settlement Protecting Workers' Rights". Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. 2003-07-28. Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  3. ^, "Attorney Tony Serra Guilty Of Failing To Pay Taxes," April 5, 2005
  4. ^ Mary Waldron (13 May 2008). "LawCrossing, "The Anti-Attorney Attorney: Criminal Defense Lawyer Tony Serra"". 
  5. ^ Attorney Tony Serra sentenced to prison, San Francisco Chronicle, July 29, 2005
  6. ^ Defense Lawyer Serra Sues Over His Prison Pay, The Recorder, March 22, 2007
  7. ^ "San Francisco Magazine, "The Believer Behind Bars," November 2006". 
  8. ^ Elizabeth Weil (October 13, 2015). "Shrimp Boy's Day in Court What happened when one of San Francisco's most notorious underworld bosses tried to go clean.". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved October 14, 2015. For Serra, representing Shrimp Boy is an honor and a privilege. ‘‘This is the type of case that any politically inclined lawyer — this is your holy grail,’’ he said. ‘‘This is a government-created crime. 
  9. ^ "Santa Clara: Fired SiPort engineer found guilty of first degree murder in slaying of three bosses". 
  10. ^ Lust for Justice: The Radical Life & Law of J. Tony Serra, released October 22, 2010

External links[edit]