David Goldstein spent eight years as a criminal defense attorney. He reversed more than 60 felony convictions in appellate courts including the Detroit Black Panther shooting of police officers. In the 60s, he did civil rights work in Mississippi with the Reverend Dick Fernandez and also wrote legal briefs for the Chicago Seven. He now writes full time. He also believes it is his duty to admit that he was a classmate of Donald Trump at the Wharton School.
The following is an interview with David Goldstein on his piece “How to Talk to Cops” which was published in the 2021 issue of The Broken Plate.
You spent eight years as a criminal defense attorney. What led to your decision to go from that career to writing full time?
I found that our courts were incompetent, uncaring and corrupt. As well, an older woman friend-psychologist convinced me I would die very young if I continued lawyering. I was chain smoking a pipe, drinking 20 or 30 cups of coffee a day and eating all my meals from courthouse vending machines. It was all very, very intense as I did not believe in losing.
How has writing fulfilled you?
Writing is an emotional necessity. I do not outline a story. I just wake up and write from the unconscious. A publishable story is written in less than three hours with no revisions. The unconscious is always honest, is always “true.”
How does writing compare to having been a criminal defense attorney, a role in which you reversed more than sixty felony convictions in appellate courts?
Good trial lawyers are creative storytellers (and most stories they tell are partly fictional). Whether before a jury or a panel of seven appellate judges, grabbing and holding the audience’s attention is the key to winning.
Did last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests compel you to write your satirical piece “How to Talk to Cops” and submit it to The Broken Plate’s themed section? If yes, how so?
No. From childhood, I was aware of racial issues. Even in the 1950s my father would not let me play with our next-door neighbor’s children due to the family’s racist comments. As a child, we took a car trip from New Jersey to Florida. We stopped at a gas station where my father first saw separate drinking fountains labeled “colored” and “white”. His response was profound and unforgettable.
I did civil rights work in Mississippi in the late 1960s and while in law school I was cofounder of affirmative action ultimately held constitutional by the US Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 US 306 (2003). I have had two very close black friends (both now deceased).