Jonathan Gradess, Legal Defender of the Poor, Dies at 72


The draft board lost interest anyway: He was found physically unfit for service because of a weak trigger finger resulting from a poorly healed childhood wrist injury sustained when he fell off a horse.

Meanwhile, as a paralegal, he had developed an interest in the law. He enrolled in the charter class of Hofstra University’s law school (now the Maurice A. Deane School of Law) and graduated in 1973. Working for Legal Aid, he said, exposed him to the hurdles faced by poor defendants.

I came to see the justice system as its own incubator of violence, a juggernaut that chewed up and mindlessly destroyed hope,” he told The Times Union of Albany in 2016. “We do not have a justice system, but rather a criminal control system that propels our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens on a trajectory that threatens to destroy their lives.”

In addition to Ms. Geary, who has worked at the association as its training coordinator, he is survived by three sons, Benjamin, Michael and Sam, and a brother, Roger. The couple lived in Poestenkill, N.Y., a town in Rensselaer County.

Mr. Gradess and Gary A. Horton also represented the Forgotten Victims of Attica, a group of prison employees and the families of those who died during the retaking of a prison in upstate Attica, N.Y., in 1971 following an uprising. The group was formed in 2000 after New York State had agreed to pay $8 million to inmates beaten in the uprising. In 2005, the state reached a separate $12 million settlement with the Forgotten Victims group.

When Mr. Gradess retired in 2017 after a 43-year legal career, he gave his current and prospective colleagues advice.

“People charged with crime and parents faced with losing their children need caring advocates who are not afraid in the public arena to challenge governmental power and not afraid in the private arena to be humble and kind with clients,” he said. “The field needs imaginative, committed, long-distance runners filled with compassion, skill and commitment.”

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