Many members of the National Lawyers Guild knew Bay Area attorney Susan Jordan well. She was a member, honored at our chapter's 1996 Testimonial Dinner, and recently an instructor at our chapter's Meditation for Lawyers seminar. As national president Marjorie Cohn wrote: "Susan B. Jordan, a long-time Guild member and noted criminal defense lawyer, was killed in a plane crash in Utah [on May 29]. Those of us who knew and loved Susan are in shock. She represented many high-profile political clients including Judi Bari and Emily Harris and she is credited with pioneering the battered women's defense. Susan, an expert yoga instructor, was writing a memoir about her experiences as a political woman lawyer. Many of us visited with her at the San Francisco Guild dinner last month. Susan will be sorely missed."
The dinner journal created for Susan in 1996 recounts a number of stories about her amazing life. Stuart Hanlon recalled working with Susan on the case of Bill and Emily Harris - leaders in the Symbionese Liberation Army accused of kidnapping Patty Hearst. "One day when we were getting close to settling the case, [Judge Stanley Golde] turned to Susan, who was getting heated in her argument with him and the D.A., and said 'calm down, sweetie.' Susan, without missing a beat, in a room full of men, told Stanley, 'I'm not sweet, I'm not your sweetie, don't ever call me that again.'"
Susan Rutberg recalled being a student member of the Guild's Grand Jury Defense Committee, a committee attempting to counter the tactic increasingly used by the federal government to target, divide and silence activists and the left. Attending her first hearing in federal court to quash a grand jury subpoena, Rutberg first heard attorney Doron Weinberg speak: "He was then, and remains, one of the modern world's great orators in the Orotund Silver Tongue tradition. I was totally impressed and at the same time, devastated: if being a criminal defense lawyer meant being like Doron, I needed to re-think my career goals. Then Susan started to talk. She was small and she was powerful. She spoke passionately and logically. She was well-prepared, quick on her feet, fearless, and tenacious. Susan was commanding in a woman's way; a way I could relate to: finally a lawyer with a style I could imagine myself at least attempting to imitate."
Marianne Bachers described her time as a student in Susan's Criminal Law and Procedure course: "During class, Susan taught the women students that it was a positive attribute to be forceful and confident in the courtroom ... Many of us went to Salinas to watch or to help with parts of the [Inez] Garcia murder trial. Her victory in that case, and her integration of a feminist perspective into the defense of her client who had been raped, allowed us to witness history in the making."
Anne Flower Cumings wrote about an anecdote from the 70's when, "We represented recalcitrant witnesses before grand juries, as well as at trials. We had clients charged with gun offenses, escapes, harboring fugitives, murder, and more. Susan once found herself on an airplane sitting next to Robert Mardian (the Nixon Justice Department's top person in the war against the left and the architect of COINTELPRO). 'Funny,' he said [to Susan], 'I was just reading your file.'"
Susan Jordan will be greatly missed.