Lane's world: Rushing to judgment-- and elsewhere

Mark Lane remembers where he was November 22, 1963. He was trying a case in New York City, and on his way back from lunch in Chinatown, he saw people gathered around radios. The judge said the assassination of President John F. Kennedy shouldn't interfere with the trial.


As he left the court later that day, Lane recalls: "An elderly judge said, 'How could he shoot him in the front from the back?'"

That first inkling led to Lane's 1966 bestselling book, Rush to Judgment, which turned the Warren Commission and the lone-gunman theory on its head.

 Lane is a Zelig of the latter half of the 20th century. After a stint as a JFK campaign manager in New York City, he went to jail as a Freedom Rider. And after Dr. Martin Luther King died in 1968, "The black leadership asked me to represent [James Earl] Ray," he says. "They were all convinced the FBI killed him. That's how I got involved."

Photos of Lane with JFK, Arnold Toynbee, Bertrand Russell, Hubert Humphrey, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson line the wall of his Charlottesville home, where he moved last year, just down the street from sister Ann Lane, director of UVA's Women Studies program. It doesn't take much Googling to come up with a 1970 picture of him with Jane Fonda.

 And just when you think you've covered the major events of the 20th century, he tosses in, "I'm one of four people who survived Jonestown."

Now the liberal lawyer and author of nine books, who's also made two documentaries, is himself the subject of a documentary.

TV star Pauley Perrette from Navy NCIS used her summer hiatis to turn her lens on Lane. They traveled to many Lane landmarks, including the houses where he grew up in Brooklyn and the offices in East Harlem where he first practiced law. "I planted a little tree there 50 years ago," he muses. "It's a towering tree today."

This certainly isn't Lane's first time in the hot seat: during the course of his career he's drawn plenty of angry fire, particularly from conspiracy-theory critics who have accused him of manipulating the facts.

"I haven't met anyone in years who takes that position," he says. "I've been asked to debate, but they can't find anyone, except maybe Earl Warren's family or Gerald Ford's."

 He points out that when E. Howard Hunt sued the Liberty Lobby's newspaper for its claim that Hunt helped the CIA kill Kennedy, Lane defended the newspaper– and won.

The story of that trial became another bestseller, Plausible Denial.

 "I never said who I believed did it in Rush to Judgment," says Lane. "The only jury to try that issue in a civil case concluded that there had been a conspiracy."

Age: Ageless

Why here? Millions of years of evolution

What's worst about living here? Nothing. I've lived in London, Paris, Denmark, and numerous American cities from New York to Los Angeles, even in Mountain Home, Idaho. I really enjoy living here. I also get to be a member of a minority: I am not a former mayor. Only the state legislature is awful.

Favorite hangout: Azalea Park with Giselle. She's our best friend, a beautiful black German shepherd. 

Most overrated virtue? Being fashionably late

People would be surprised to know: I write poetry. While my published works include books, plays, and screenplays– most of my poetry remains private.

What would you change about yourself? Modesty forbids

Proudest accomplishment? I believe that I may be the only public official arrested as a Freedom Rider. I was a member of the New York State Legislature when I was arrested with Percy Sutton, then the head of the NY NAACP, in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961– and much more than that, my work for James Richardson, an innocent black man on death row in Florida, imprisoned for two decades when I met him. One year later we walked out of the courthouse together into freedom and vindication.

People find most annoying about you: What? They do? Who said that?

Whom do you admire? Nelson Mandela, whom I have never met. Eleanor Roosevelt, Bertrand Russell, and W.E.B Dubois, three towering figures of the 20th century, all of whom I was privileged to know and work with. And the UVA 17, recently arrested and acquitted for selflessly placing their careers and their sacred honor on the line "for the least of these."

Favorite book? Scoundrel Time, the autobiography of Lillian Hellman, one of America's greatest playwrights.

Subject that causes you to rant? Undeclared, unnecessary and unconstitutional wars. I do not actually rant; I am not a ranter.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Still ahead– now that the election's over– when our kids in the military, the National Guard, and the Reserves are removed from harm's way and come safely home.

Biggest 21st-century creep out? The absurd official notion that we have not just the right, but the divinely inspired obligation, to lead crusades in foreign lands, especially those populated by people who don't look like us.

What do you drive? Some folks crazy... who are radicals, posing as compassionate conservatives, who are neither compassionate nor conservative.

In your car CD player right now: Pete Seeger, Beethoven's Ninth, and Frank Sinatra

Next journey? Frankenmuth  (in case you have forgotten, it is, of course, in Michigan) and then California for another case.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Just speaking truth to power about the death of our president.

Regret: I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention.

Favorite comfort food: Injera [Ethiopian bread and eating utensil]

Always in your refrigerator: Olives and cheese. In the freezer, Danish Aalborg Akvavit.

Must-see TV:  Pauley [Abby] in NCIS

Favorite cartoon: The Grinch

Describe a perfect day. When the sun rises on a just world at peace.

Walter Mitty fantasy: That the sun will rise on a just world at peace.

Who'd play you in the movie?  George Clooney or Mickey Rooney

Most embarrassing moment? Still to come.

Best advice you ever got? From my mother a half century ago, "No matter how serious the problem, always keep your sense of humor."

Favorite bumper sticker? "Has it Been Four Years Yet?"  

Mark Lane



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