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Gerry Goldstein, Attorney, Activist, and Defender of Civil Liberties
Episode 326th January 2021 • The Alamo Hour • Justin Hill
00:00:00 01:16:01

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Gerry Goldstein has spent his career fighting for what is right. From fighting for conscientious objectors in the Vietnam war era to fighting the Patriot Act's attack on civil liberties. Gerry is a hero to me personally and a great entertaining guest.



Justin Hill: Hello, and bienvenido, San Antonio. Welcome to The Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On The Alamo Hour, you'll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique, and the best-kept secret in Texas. We're glad that you're here.

All right. Welcome to The Alamo Hour. Today's guest is Gerry Goldstein. Gerry is a criminal defense lawyer with Goldstein & Orr. I could go on and on about all of your lawyer accolades and awards, but we'd be here all day. Recently inducted into the criminal defense hall of fame. Gerry, you're a personal hero to me. I read about you in law school.

I learned about you in law school, and then you randomly show up in a restaurant after I'd had way too many drinks about six years ago, and I thought it'd be a good idea to go up and introduce myself. You were so gracious and so classy, and so was your wife, and I asked you to get a beer with me at some point, and I'm a nobody fifth-year lawyer, and you agreed, and met me for a beer. I thought that was just the coolest thing.

Gerry Goldstein: I learn a lot from my fellow lawyers and brothers and sisters in San Antonio. What a wonderful place to have grown up and continued my practice. Thank you so much, Justin.

Justin: I agree. The San Antonio Express, I read, one of the writers was so gracious to call you a rich libertarian and druggie mouthpiece. That was something you were very proud of, and I found that to be pretty funny when I was doing some research for this.

Gerry: That was Paul Thompson who had a front-page column, and he malign me weekly, and probably was the best-- I'm not a big fan of advertising, but I will tell you it was the best advertising any lawyer could ever get.

Justin: [laughs] That's when the newspaper wrote a little different than it does now, it seems like.

Gerry: It was, but so did the judges and lawyers.

Justin: Fair enough. Okay. I do this with everybody, and it's really exciting to do it with you. A sort of top 10, who knows how many it will be. You have grown up in San Antonio. You now have a house just blocks away from where you actually grew up in the King William area. You throw a Fiesta party that is famous, that I knew about immediately when I moved here. I saw a guy pushing a shopping cart full of booze down Alamo one day. I said, "Where are you going?" He said he was going to restock your party there in Fiesta. It precedes you.

Gerry: Thank you. I take that as the highest form of flattery, Justin.

Justin: No, it's legendary. What are some of your favorite spots in San Antonio?

Gerry: Well, years ago, in the late '60s and early '70s, we actually opened and owned the original Friendly Spot, which was at the corner of Beauregard and Alamo, which the alcoholic beverage commission shut down after the number two then dinners, played in the crowd, spilled out into the middle of the street. We own the Beauregard. My wife obviously has nixed any more bars or restaurants, but I still hang out at La Tuna.

I think it's a wonderful spot, although it's been encroached upon by all these new condos and apartment buildings. I grew my long teeth, hanging out at the Escobar back in the old days. Wine 101 out in Helotes, I think is a wonderful spot. I did my time crawling back home from the local wineries and various alcohol spots in the King William area where I'd grown up.

Justin: Well, so Jody Newman was the first guest on The Alamo Hour, who's now the Friendly Spot owner, and you and I went to LA Tuna. That was where we met for drinks that day.

Gerry: That's true.

Justin: What are some of the biggest practices or biggest changes you've seen in San Antonio in the last 20 or 30 years?

Gerry: Well, having grown up in the King William area before it knew it was historic, it was a serious slum, and it's become gentrified. I think San Antonio is unique in the fact that it has, I think, and I'm very proud of this. We have maintained our historic character, rather than tear down our buildings and building modern structures, like Dallas and Houston in Texas.

We take pride in our historic city. When I grew up, I grew up three blocks from downtown. The river was my backyard. Back then it was like a jungle. It was exciting for a young kid to have that as his playground. It's not at all what you see now, and we had a wonderful relationship with downtown San Antonio, having grown up there. That hasn't changed. It's still-- There weren't the restaurants that we now have, but there weren't the dives.

When I was a little kid, I wouldn't have known a dive if I had seen one. I think San Antonio is proud of its history, and for a good reason. It is a historic place. People all over the country tell me, "We'll go see. You don't sound like you're from Texas." I would like to tell them, "Hey, look, if I had an accent unique to San Antonio, it would be Hispanic."

The truth is South Texas is different from the rest of what people think is the stereotypical Texan, and I think we're very lucky. We've now got wonderful restaurants. I love La Frite, Zocca's wonderful. La Focaccia's great. In the blue star you have, Stella, and Halcyon. Bliss is down there. They're just one restaurant, battalion, one restaurant after another. I can walk to them. More importantly, after imbibing a little fruit of the wine, I can make my way home-

Justin: Safely.

Gerry: -not having to drive through traffic.

Justin: I think Zocca might be shut down. I drove by the other day, and it looks like it's gone.

Gerry: Well, no, it's still open. You just need to be there on the right-- The COVID-19 has taken its toll on everything, but they're still open. I was there the other night. They have wonderful owners, and a wonderful clientele. La Fritte, when I'm in town, I probably eat there twice a week.

Justin: So good. I liked Zocca's run at the fish restaurant that didn't last very long. I thought that was great, too.

Gerry: That was his son, who by the way, was a graduate of the CIA, the Culinary Institute in New York. I understand he's now doing well. He is a chef-- I think it was called Starfish.

Justin: Yes, that's it.

Gerry: He went to California, and then was in Dallas. I think now is in another resort and doing well for himself. His parents are delightful people, who I considered close friends, like I do most of the restauranteurs down there. I hang out, and they treat me very well. I think they treat everyone well. [crosstalk]

Justin: Yes, I had Stephen from Battalion on-- I've gone through a lot of the restauranteurs, I think, because I eat too much.

Gerry: Me too.

Justin: One thing-- [crosstalk]

Gerry: [crosstalk] pretty well in the King William area.

Justin: That's really happened in the last 10 years, really.

Gerry: It has. Absolutely. I'm proud of what we have done. Well, if you look at the Pearl, when I was in elementary school, Kit Goldsbury was a classmate of mine. We got kicked out of the--

Justin: Is that right?

Gerry: We got kicked out for putting the cherry bombs in the girls' toilets in the restroom. When he first married Linda Goldsbury, but it was Linda Pace. When they got a divorce, I think he paid a 100 million or something for Pace, her interest in Pace [unintelligible 00:08:57] . I went around and say that he was the dumbest kid in my elementary class. Within a year, he sold it for a billion and three, or something. If there was only one dumb kid in my elementary school, then it was me.

Justin: What school was that?

Gerry: Pardon?

Justin: What school?

Gerry: Travis Elementary. I went on to Mark Twain, and then Jefferson. I made great friends in the senate. There are still high school friends that we see each other regularly. We still reunite on a regular basis and reminisced about-- I've been to jail in more than one country with some of my [unintelligible 00:09:37] . If you look at what Goldsbury did with the Pearl, that's a unique spot, I think, in Texas and around the country. What a wonderful tradition San Antonio takes pride in.

Justin: He's left a lasting legacy with the Pearl and everything that's going to grow up around it.

Gerry: [crosstalk] I want to apologize publicly to him for all of the bad things I said.

Justin: [chuckles] One of the unique things about San Antonio's Fiesta-- What's your favorite Fiesta event other than King William Parade?

Gerry: Well, I have to admit that that Fair is my favorite. As a kid, I could walk down to- all night in San Antonio, and we would take inner tubes, and ride down the river for the parade and into La Veta. We got in a lot of trouble as kids. I still find all that wonderful and fascinating. San Antonio really is unique, like San Francisco and New Orleans. Fiestas like Mardi Gras.

I only got into two colleges that I wanted to. In Brown and Tulane. I went to Providence, and it seemed dreary and cold in New Orleans. The French Quarter was wide open, and I felt very fortunate. My father claimed that he paid for our matriculation, not an education, and he's probably right. San Antonio has that same kind of flare. Unique food, unique music, unique culture, that separates it from other places. I wear my badge as a San Antonian probably.

Justin: I'll say the same thing about New Orleans because every time I go there, which is similar to San Antonio, if I go out to a bar, I'm going to make a new friend. People are friendly. They're going to chat you up, and you're just going to end up wherever the night takes you with the new people that you meet. San Antonio and New Orleans are the only cities that I've been to, I've run into that kind of friendliness, and just kind of a joint party.

Gerry: I think that kind of character builds a community's ability to be eclectic and to reunite. When you think about what we left after Katrina, New Orleans is a more historic and a unique place than Boston or New York or Philadelphia, and just as old. It has a troubled history with slave trade and other things, but we're going to get over all this. We're going to take pride in the unique cities that we have. There's a reason why.

I have to admit that having the opportunity to spend four years in a French Quarter, and called it college, it was a wonderful opportunity for a young kid from San Antonio. I was only 17 when I got to college.

Justin: How cool. I have friends that went to college there, and I was thinking, that's not fair.

Gerry: It really [crosstalk].

Justin: You're a criminal defense lawyer. I want to walk you through some of what I've learned and some of the stuff I found interesting. There's a big lawyer in town named George Salinas, who's an injury that was doing this. He said, "Man, ask him if he'll ever meet me for a beer." There's that weird-

Gerry: Of course.

Justin: -amount of enthusiasm for people that want to hear your story and get to know you. Let's talk about it. I know you started--[crosstalk]

Gerry: Tell George I'm very flattered. Thank you.

Justin: Well, I will. Then, he'll say, "When can we get a beer?" Then I'll bug you when you're back in town.

Gerry: First thing.

Justin: You started working as a lawyer with your dad's real estate firm. Then somehow, you transitioned into criminal defense by defending those that you just felt were wronged. Talk to me about how that went about, and talk to me about Maury Maverick, who seemed to be such a big influence in your life and your development as a lawyer.

Gerry: Well, yes, he was. It was 1968 when I graduated from law school. I had gone to law school. My dad was a lawyer. My mother was one of the first women stockbrokers in town. Her first job was being a doting Jewish mother. I was a spoiled only child. I got back and I met my bride. Can I tell you that story because I think she deserves this tribute?

Justin: Yes.

Gerry: I had met her, and she had been at Trinity. She was somewhat disappointed. A friend of ours at the time, Julia Armstrong, who was a friend of mine when I was in law school. I walked up to her at a party and slapped her on the back. She was about to go back to the Sorbonne in Paris. She's a Brit, and Julia slapped her on the back and said, "You look like a girl likes to have a good time," and brought her to my house. I will love Julia till the day I die for that.

That summer, she went back to England as she had planned to do. I met my parents at the airport. They were coming back from a nation trip. My dad told me- I had just gone to work for him. I was making $10,000 a year. He thanked me for coming to pick him up. I said, "Well, actually, I'm about to leave, dad." [phone rings] Let me turn that off. I explained to him that I'd met a girl and I was heading to Europe. He said, "Oh, really?" He said, "When do you plan to come back?"

I said, "Well, I'm not sure." He said, "Well, you may not have a job when you get back." I said, "Well, I thought about that." He said, "Where did you get the money?" I said, "Well, remember my grandpapa left me the gold coins that I hid in that lockbox." He said, "You'll know the time when you want to use it." I'll be honest with you, it was probably the best money I ever spent. I cashed in the-- Norman Brock, had a little coin shop on Houston Street, and he probably paid me face value for the- probably got $1,500.

I left, and met Chris. We hitchhiked and traveled through Europe, and Morocco, North Africa, for four months. I proposed to my wife in Morocco. She laughed at me, and I thought, "[unintelligible 00:16:24] could have been a lot worse." I [unintelligible 00:16:26] said something terrible, but we got married in 1969. It was the year of love. I married my bride. We had a Volkswagen bus. We had taken the seats out, put a Persian carpet down, put little pillows in it, had a big peace symbol on the back of it, Ramsey Clark for president on the bumper.

We got run out of more counties than we were invited back to. I met Maury Maverick. Well, I'd known him. He was a close friend of my family's, but I met him as a lawyer. Maury was very special to me. That's a picture of me and Maury, let me move over a little bit, back in those days. Maury was wonderful to me. We tried cases together. He took me to the Supreme Court. I met Supreme Court justices. I would have lunch with Hugo Black, who had been in the US Congress with Maury Senior, Maury's father.

By the way, he really did keep a Bible in one coat pocket, and the first 10 amendments in the other one. I got to meet Thurgood Marshall. We argued cases in the Supreme Court. We argued wonderful cases in the Fifth Circuit, and we tried cases together. He was an inspiration. He was my mentor and patron saint. I owe a great deal, serious debt to him in terms of the practice of law. One of the things that-- I want to read this to you just because it's worth reminding everybody.

We had a case, Piper versus-- Adrien Spears had appointed me to represent all the inmates in the Bexar County Jail, who had a civil rights suit for their jail conditions. By the way, after I convinced Judge Spears that it was unconstitutional, he declared the jail unconstitutional, and the Bexar County built what was then the new jail, which is now being- it's in a state of flux once again. By the way, as a consequence, the county refused to allow federal detainees to be kept there. They had to go all the way to Bastrop.

The marshal service hated me because they'd have to get up at three o'clock in the morning to go pick up prisoners. It was an all-day, all-night, affair, and it was my fault. In the process, the district attorney had-- There was a gag order, but it seemed like every day he would make Paul Thompson's column or the front page, bitching about my lawsuit. I filed a motion to hold him in contempt for violating the gag order. This is the letter Maury wrote to me, and I'm going to read it to you because it's too hard, unless you're really young to read that.

He says, "I'm not going to let you get off the hook with a mere telephone call where your motion to a federal judge to have assistant DA's, or whomever held in contempt for talking to press. You, you, you of all people are the last person in the world next to me who should file such a motion. What you should have done was file one like this. Comes Gerry G and moves the court for an order setting aside its gag order because the district attorney's office is violating the same and because your undersigned attorney would also like to have the right of free speech. This would have put the judge on the spot."

"Go in there with a straight face, not a smile, not a smirk, and speak up for free speech and mean it. It would have run the judge wild. Out of sight, out of mind is the rule of the establishment. I told your mother about this. Show this letter to her. You keep this letter, and the day I die, you read it, and you read it once a year for the rest of your life." We'll count that as the one for 2021 in your honor, Justin. [crosstalk]

Justin: How cool. Will you share that with me so I can post it?

Gerry: Absolutely.

Justin: How cool. What just a great take on what you were trying to do and to throw it in your face.

Gerry: Maury had a great sense of humor. He was harder on his friends and his pals than he was on his enemies, and for good reason. He always made so much sense.

Justin: You said he had an old Texas sense of righteous indignation and a keen sense of righteousness. What does that mean to you? You're in a world where you better be righteous as a criminal defense lawyer, especially in the civil rights and our civil liberties context. What did it mean to you in terms of Maury Maverick? How did he exemplify that?

Gerry: Well, and he called me out for this regularly in his articles in the newspaper. I admit that I fell prey