Inside NACDL: Albert J. Krieger: In Memory and Tribute

No lawyer did more in the past half century to define the defense function than Albert Krieger.

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Amidst the turbulent and treacherous times in which we live, it is always good to remember those role models who embodied the highest aspirations that drew many of us to the legal profession — especially the criminal defense function. But it is a profound sadness when that remembrance is prompted by the passing of an inspirational figure. On May 15, 2020, at the age of 96, NACDL Past President Albert J. Krieger (1979 - 1980) passed peacefully from this world. No lawyer did more in the past half century to define the defense function than Albert Krieger. He is a bridge from the original founders of NACDL to today’s leadership. Through his eloquence, his integrity, his dignity, and his example, he transformed a nascent group of dreamers into a singularly respected advocacy and criminal defense support organization.

Albert’s mentor was one of the original founders of NACDL who took him from the halls of 100 Centre Street, New York’s historic criminal court building, taught him to be a trial lawyer, and set him on a path that was to forever change the image and standing of America’s defense bar.{1} 1  Portions of this column were originally written by Norman L. Reimer on April 15, 2011, for an event at which Albert Krieger was honored by the American Bar Association. As Albert recalled when NACDL celebrated its 50th anniversary a few years ago, “I was instructed by my mentor Gilbert S. Rosenthal, one of the original founders, that I was expected to devote myself to NACDL. I made a vow as the frailties of age caught up with Gil that I would try to do for others what he had done for me.”

And so he did.

He stood shoulder to shoulder with the early giants of the Association — Gil Rosenthal, Sam Dash, Percy Foreman, Morris Shenker, Charlie Tessmer, Robert Heeney, and so many others. One must note that in those days the defense lawyer was held in little esteem: it was seen as a seedy role shaped by Hollywood’s mischaracterization of the lawyer as some shady mouthpiece who only represented scoundrels and hoods. The organized bar had little respect, and even less use, for defense lawyers. NACDL’s founders knew better — and formed a group to prove it.

And Albert was the first apostle.

He taught, he led, and he inspired. He has led most of the great battles: the fight to protect lawyers from subpoena; the pro bono defense of Native Americans at Wounded Knee; and the determination to train and educate one generation after another through his support of the National Criminal Defense College. Most importantly, Albert has shown the defense bar the importance of engagement with the rest of the profession, the Department of Justice, and all who play a role in the legal profession and in shaping criminal justice policy. Under Albert’s leadership, not only as president, but also as mentor to more than 30 NACDL presidents, NACDL was guided to a place of unprecedented stature.

And he spoke to the hearts and souls of all criminal defense lawyers. Grasping the loneliness and the nobility of the defense attorney, he once observed:

The criminal defense lawyer marches into the pit, often unloved by everyone in the courtroom, but with the courage, strength and mind to make our Constitution live as a vibrant being in that courtroom on behalf of someone who at that moment stands for all the principles of freedom and dignity. It is a chore in many respects. It is difficult in all respects. It is tiring. It is demanding. But it is what we signed up for.

At NACDL’s 50th anniversary in 2008, Albert J. Krieger offered a message to the defense bar that will resonate throughout the ages:

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I am confident beyond measure that whatever the stress of the coming years, the criminal defense lawyer will not merely serve in the trenches as a soldier, but will serve as a planning, vigorous, fighting guide to this country on how to live according to the tenets of our Constitution. And each member of NACDL will serve as a teacher for each succeeding generation. There will be disappointments and struggles, but we defense lawyers are prepared to win — and we will.

As we reflect on the legacy of this legendary defense lawyer, it is an honor to share some of the sentiments expressed by many who knew, worked with, or were taught by Albert Krieger.

Tributes

The Albert J. Krieger Memorial Fund
A Message from David Chesnoff NACDL Life Member

In May, our profession lost one of those lawyers who comes along every generation or two who, by the force of intellect, skill, dedication, fearlessness, and passion, elevates us all. Such a lawyer was Albert Krieger.

I knew Albert for more than 35 years. I knew him as colleague and a teacher. No lawyer ever conveyed a stronger presence in the courtroom than Albert. No lawyer was more respected by judge, adversary, or colleague. And no lawyer brought more devotion or more inspiration when sharing his gifts with younger lawyers than Albert Krieger.

His love of the law was matched by his love for NACDL, which he served as president (1979-1980) and from which he received both the Heeney Award for service to NACDL and the Lifetime Achievement Award. He was mentored by the founders of the Association whose roots were in the 1950s and 1960s, and his influence and example were still inspiring future generations in the 21st century. Albert Krieger led historic pro bono efforts, such as the defense of Native Americans at Wounded Knee. And through his eloquence, honor, and dignity, he helped transform NACDL into an organization that is held in esteem by all branches and levels of government.

At his passing, Albert’s family named the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice (the NFCJ) as the charity of choice to which to direct remembrances to honor Albert’s legacy. They chose the NFCJ, for which Albert served as an early trustee, because over the years it has funded some of NACDL’s most important projects, including such vital initiatives as the Clemency Project, which secured freedom for 894 prisoners, public defense training scholarships, the Fourth Amendment Center, an initiative to end the trial penalty, and countless other endeavors to elevate standards of practice and promote reform of the criminal justice system. Most recently, the NFCJ funded a compassionate release project through which hundreds of pro bono lawyers have volunteered to seek release for prisoners whose lives are at risk from the coronavirus. Albert was proud of how NACDL has evolved. He took great pride in the remarkable work to elevate standards of practice, promote a fairer and more human criminal justice system, and promote fundamental reforms.

To honor the wishes of Albert’s family, to ensure that his memory and his example will live on, and to provide critical aid to the organization he loved, I am committed to raise $100,000 to support the NFCJ. NACDL will establish a permanent memorial to Albert J. Krieger so that his example of dedication to the Sixth Amendment may be passed to future generations for the everlasting benefit of society, defense lawyers, and every citizen accused.

To launch this effort, I contributed the first $10,000. I ask you to join this campaign — at whatever level you find comfortable. When the coronavirus has abated, I hope you will join Albert’s family and me at an event at which we will celebrate the life of one of the greatest defense lawyers of all time, Albert J. Krieger.

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Instructions for making a donation can be found at https://www.nacdl.org/Content/Albert-J-Krieger-Memorial-Fund.


We have lost a giant of the profession, but Albert Krieger’s legacy of devotion to the Sixth Amendment right to counsel will inspire generations.

Nina Ginsberg
President


Albert Krieger was the personification of what a criminal defense lawyer ought to be. 

Andy Birrell
Treasurer


Albert was a model whose skill we all aspired to approach, but, of course, did not achieve. He was a great lawyer and a great asset to the Association, as an active and vocal member well beyond his presidency. He represented NACDL at its best.

Larry Goldman
Past President


Albert was truly a giant among midgets in our profession and our lives. As a baby lawyer, I would travel across the breadth of the country just to sit at board meetings and conferences to listen to his booming voice bellowing inspiration. He was a treasure who represented the best tradition in our organization and our profession.

Gerry Goldstein
Past President


Albert lives on in so many of us whom he taught. We will miss him so very much.

Martin Pinales
Past President


NY’s first real criminal defense lawyer with stature who brought recognition and respect to the defense function.

Gerald Lefcourt
Past President


Albert inspired so many of us. His characterization of the lonely role of the defense lawyer who marches into the pit of hostile courtrooms to uphold constitutional principles embodies the Albert that I watched, listened to, and admired. He was a great man and a great leader of the defense.

Lisa M. Wayne
President — NACDL Foundation
Past President — NACDL 


While Albert’s voice and stature are legendary, I equally recall his warmth, laughter, and welcoming smile. I will never forget the first time I heard Albert. I traveled to my first NACDL seminar in 1978 and heard Albert expound on the role of the criminal defense lawyer. He spoke of the importance of being fearless — of being a gladiator for one’s client/case and the nobility of the defense function. It is one of those moments indelibly etched into memory.

Ted Simon
Vice President — NACDL Foundation
Past President — NACDL


Albert’s speeches at bar meetings and CLE programs were legendary. Both young and experienced lawyers alike would leave with renewed vigor, purpose, and commitment to our profession, and few who heard him speak about his representation at Wounded Knee would leave without tears. Albert was most proud of his pro bono work in the famous Wounded Knee cases, presided over by Judge Warren K. Urbom, the chief judge of the District of Nebraska. In a 1982 article, the judge described the lawyers in that case, concluding with: “Albert J. Krieger of New York City, now of Miami, was something else. Sleek of build, smooth of dome, impeccable in attire; he could swagger even when he was sitting still. His mind was expansive, his speech was powerful, and his attitude was irreproachable. He was a complete trial lawyer.”

Albert Krieger was truly a giant of our profession, and his legacy will live on for generations.

Neal Sonnett
Past President


Because it is such a nice thing to say, after someone passes, they say that person was a giant. Al was one of those rare, special people for whom the description truly fits.

Barry Pollack
Past President


I’ve always felt that NACDL was more of a family than a Bar group. Today I feel our family lost its patriarch. 

Irwin Schwartz
Past President


We must celebrate his extraordinary life and commitment to the defense of all in need. His true and pure voice may now be silent, but the timbre of it and the timelessness of his message will resonate for an eternity. Albert understood the loneliness and, yet, the nobility of the defense lawyer. He embodied all the best principles of our profession tirelessly and fearlessly.

We can all remember! We honor him in death as we honored him in life … because he honored us.

Jim Lavine
Past President


I like to remember that Albert smile and his wonderful sense of humor, how he could straighten us all out by one of his jokes and keep us on track. … He truly was an influence in many ways, and I will miss him.

Frank Maloney
Past President


Only a few months out of law school around 1978, the public defender office sent me to a seminar in Oklahoma to learn how to cross-examine a cop in a drug case. And there was Albert doing the cross. He was calm, appearing friendly but deceptively in control. I can still recite some of that cross — and have many times. Later we taught together, but he was always the teacher and I, the student.

The NACDL family will miss him and I will miss him.

Nancy Hollander
Past President


I met Albert after attending my first NACDL meeting in 1972 in Monterrey. The organization, being a small group, really had no bylaws, so Albert and I attempted to draft the new bylaws at his office on South Dixie Highway in Miami. We became friends from the minute we met. I became an Albert groupie thereafter and went everywhere he spoke to learn from the master. If plagiarism is a form of flattery, then I am a habitual Krieger offender. When I watched him try a Medicare kickback case in Miami, I was amazed but not surprised by the respect that he received from the other defense lawyers and the judge as well as the prosecutors.

Men like Albert come into your life very rarely. We were so fortunate to have known this wonderful person and for him to have been in our lives.

Bruce Lyons
Past President


Albert loved NACDL. He guided many of us through the ranks and was always there for us. He never declined to talk with or help a fellow criminal defense attorney. He was so proud that NACDL has grown into the powerhouse it is today. Albert was an inspiration. Albert was the most influential teacher and mentor in my career. He knew how to draw the ethical line between lawyer and client, while advocating vigorously on behalf of every client.

Jeff Weiner
Past President


Over the years, when I thought of Albert Krieger, I often compared him to Johnny Appleseed. The popular image is of Johnny Appleseed spreading apple seeds randomly everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, and built fences around them to protect them.

When Albert Krieger traveled to courtrooms and lecture venues throughout America — and beyond — and rose to speak, he likewise planted seeds. The seeds he planted grew into powerful, gifted, ethical criminal defense lawyers who, inspired by him, proudly and courageously stand up for the rule of law.

John Henry Hingson, III
Past President


I was lucky enough to work on two cases with Albert. I was always amazed that he could be such a zealous advocate and at that same time hold the respect of the federal judges and U.S. attorneys.

David Russell
Past President


Albert Krieger loved us. He loved what we do, and he loved those we serve. What Albert meant to most of us was not marked by an event but by an emotion he consistently generated. Dignity.

Albert bestowed dignity on the profession of criminal defense counsel. When he was in the room, whether courtroom, lecture hall, NACDL or ABA meeting, we basked in the dignity he generated. We felt better about who we are and what we do because Albert chose to be a criminal defense lawyer.

Larry Pozner
Past President


As a student and later Dean of the National Criminal Defense College, I can tell you that no one had an effect like Albert on the success of that venture. He served on the board for years. He was there for every program, doing his incredible teaching. He guided me through my years at the college and through my years in the leadership of NACDL. He was my mentor. I spent countless hours with him gleaning all that I could. A great friend and a great man.

John Ackerman
Past President


I first met Albert at NCDC in 1975. I had just started as a Legal Aid lawyer in the South Bronx. He was then, and remained ever after, a larger than life figure, if only because of his voice. It was remarkable — deep, stentorian, dignified; full of righteous indignation without straining in any way to achieve it. He always seemed fearless. He was remarkably gracious to young lawyers and unfailingly supportive. A great ally to have in ABA or NACDL debates.

Barry Scheck
Past President
NFCJ Trustee


What a wonderful man. Brilliant, unquestionable integrity, generous friend and mentor, and a voice like Lorne Greene.

Bruce Udolf
Director


Albert displayed reverence for the role of the criminal defense lawyer. He embodied all it meant to stand between a client’s liberty and the government. Within the legal and ethical boundaries that define the defense function, he was fearless, creative, forceful, eloquent, and enormously skilled. He was the lawyer you most wanted as co-counsel. His judgment was impeccable and his mastery of the art of cross-examination virtually unparalleled.

To Albert, the credibility of the defense lawyer in the eyes of both the judge and jury was paramount. He was enormously disciplined about making certain that his arguments and his representations were both truthful and convincing. He taught that the assertions contained in the questions selected by the defense lawyer to be asked on cross-examination were as important as the answers. If a witness denied or failed to adopt the truth of the assertion, it was pivotal to the cross-examiner to contradict any such denial because at the end it was the credibility of the cross-examiner, his trustworthiness, that would be pivotal when it was time to ask a jury to believe in his arguments for freedom. Working with Albert made me a far better lawyer.

Martin Weinberg
Life Member
Co-Chair, Lawyers’ Assistance Strike Force


As a person at Albert’s side for more than 30 years in over 44 criminal trials in 22 different federal districts throughout this country, I can tell you that Albert was the perfect embodiment of each and every one of these words: kind, generous, brilliant, fearless, wise, ethical, humble, self-critical, sharing, idealistic, dedicated, demanding, and (most of all) devoted to his family and those of us who were blessed to know him.

Susan Van Dusen
Sustaining Member


Albert was one of the great trial lawyers of my generation. It is hard to imagine that his deep resonate voice will be forever stilled. He played it like a Stradivarius, with perfect diction, raising and lowering the decibels for emphasis. He could intimidate anyone from the hedging FBI agent to obstinate federal judges.

Roy Black
Life Member


Al Krieger was one of the people who literally compelled me to join NACDL. He was so inspiring, as a person, husband, and lawyer.

George Newman
Former Director
Heeney Award Recipient


Albert Krieger was a faculty member of the two-week trial college I attended in 1984. He did a cross-examination demonstration that was the most incredibly dramatic and effective cross-examination I have ever witnessed. My primary memory is my conclusion that if I knew that I was going to be cross-examined by Albert Krieger, I would ask him just what he wanted me to say before it started!

Cyd Gilman
NACDL Member


Besides his incredible legal talents, Albert had the gift of making the most junior of lawyers feel special. When you spoke to him, you felt that you had his undivided attention — and you did.

Jon May
NACDL Member

 

About the Author

Norman L. Reimer is NACDL’s Executive Director and Publisher of The Champion.

Norman L. Reimer
NACDL
Washington, DC
202-465-7623
nreimer@nacdl.org
www.nacdl.org
@NACDLExecDir