The defense attorney

Every town must have a hippie lawyer. Ours was Gene Linehan.

He was the guy you hired if, say, busted for pot in Wausau, Wisconsin.

Gene was in his early 30s, probably not long out of the University of Wisconsin law school, when he started making a name for himself in the ’70s. He handled cases that raised eyebrows in a small town. Wausau had 50,000 people, but it was — and is — a small town.

Gene always seemed to be taking on The Man. As the local paper stiffly noted the other day, “in the 1970s, he was implicated in an underage drinking and marijuana bust” in a downtown park. He represented cops suing the police chief. He represented Indian tribes suing polluters.

One story goes that Gene, famously irreverent, once was ordered to wear a tie in court. He whipped a tie out of his jacket pocket and tied it haphazardly around his head. Everyone cracked up, even the judge who issued the order.

Gene Linehan died last week while summering on his boat on Lake Superior. He was 66. One of his clients remembered him this way:

“Gene represented me in high school, and told me that if I got a certain grade point average he would waive all my fees. He did things like that for people all the time. He would do everything to help you, and wouldn’t give up. He also gave you practical, real world advice and was never condescending. Gene was easy to talk to, and wasn’t judgmental.”

Having grown up in Wausau, it’s hard to imagine the place without Gene Linehan. It really is the end of an era.

I’m not sure this is the right song, but it feels like the right one. It certainly comes from the right time.

“This train stands for justice/This train stands for freedom.”

“Friendship Train,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, 1969, from “Greatest Hits,” 1970. It’s out of print, but the tune is available on “The Ultimate Collection,” a greatest-hits comp of the group’s early work on the Soul label. It was released on CD in 1997.


This is, of course, the scorching Motown tune by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. One of the great message songs of the time.

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1 Comment

Filed under September 2010, Sounds

One response to “The defense attorney

  1. What a great story and sad to see someone that made such an impact on the ‘small town’ head out to the great courtroom in the sky. Did a lot of people attend?

    As for Gladys, a great selection!

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