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October 7: John and Yoko’s Lawyer

October 7, 2013
20101209_22-1The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the deportation order for John Lennon on this date in 1975, ruling that Lennon, who faced deportation because of a 1968 cannabis conviction in Great Britain, had been denied due process. Lennon’s key attorney in the lengthy case was Leon Wildes, an observant Jew who began his career as a lawyer with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and eventually led the bar association for immigration lawyers nationwide. “Believe it or not,” Wildes later wrote, “I did not actually know who John Lennon and Yoko Ono were when their manager, Alan Klein, and his attorney called to consult me about their immigration problem. . . . [and] little did I know that the attorney general, John Mitchell . . . had been advised by Sen. Strom Thurmond that deporting John Lennon would be the appropriate political action for President Nixon to solve an important political question. Lennon had made it no secret that he opposed the Vietnam War as immoral, attracting crowds wherever he appeared, and Richard Nixon was pursuing the war as a political aim. The 1972 presidential election, in which Nixon was running for a second term, was to be the first one in which 18-year-olds could vote, making 18- to 21-year-olds a very important constituency.” For a rich account of Wildes’ role in the case, click here. “She [Yoko] and John were most respectful and considerate of my religious observance, and invariably Friday afternoon or Saturday evening calls would begin with a question like ‘Is the Sabbath over? Can we speak now?’ ” —Leon Wildes