I was sixteen, going on seventeen, when I entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Many things have changed since then, not least my outward appearance. "Life is a river into which no man steps twice." (Heraclitus)
White Boy Law Office
NOT Working for the Man
This website was created by
Atty. Peter L. Steinberg,
Peter L. Steinberg, Attorney at Law
Admitted to practice in Hawai'i since May 1, 1980
P.O. Box 10369
Hilo, Hawai'i 96721
Tel. 808 935-0373
I have been a licensed attorney since September of 1977. We didn't have personal computers back then. I typed my first court pleadings
on an old Smith-Corona that my mother had used when she was in college. It is incredibly convenient to be able to present my
through the medium of the Internet. This website is my own work, and pretty crude,
at that. But it serves my purpose of informing people who I am. When I was daydreaming in law school, I vowed that after I had practiced
law for thirty years, I wouldn't conceal my idiosyncratic social and political views from the public. Why spend my career speaking up for others,
if I never speak up for what I think is important? Potential clients can learn something about what makes me tick from the things I choose to share here.
My courtroom work will speak for itself.
In over forty years of legal practice, I have been able to assist hundreds of my clients with a wide variety of legal problems. I do my work for ordinary people, not for the government or big corporations. I have defended people against unjust accusations, won money for my clients from juries, and saved political refugees from torture and death. I have argued a case before the United States Supreme Court.
You can see some more examples of my work here and here.
In January of 2010 I established my practice in Hilo, Hawaii, where I continue to work hard to defend my clients and represent their interests in and out of court.
I became a lawyer because of my childhood dedication to the cause of Justice and the principle of Freedom.
Why "White Boy Law Office"?
-Truth in Advertising: That is what you see when you look at me. Just a white boy from Madison, Wisconsin.
-Identity Politics: If ethnic identities are proclaimed as a source of pride, I prefer White Boy to haole or gaijin.
-White Male Privilege: The relative liberty to act rebellious in the face of power has been the hallmark of my generation's form of social protest. See, e.g., United States v. O'Brien , Cohen v. California and Tinker v. DesMoines School District .
NOTICE: This office is fiercely protective of our transgender or intersex sister/brothers.
There can never be any excuse for discrimination or hatred against human beings for who they are.
My current Hawai'i Bar i.d. photo:
Hilo has been my new home since December of 2009. Long may it rain!
Happiness is the consciousness of having led a virtuous life. (Aristotle)
When I was a child, I learned to admire many historical personages for their demonstrated virtues of courage, wisdom, tenacity, dedication to principle, love for humanity and willingness to cast their lives in the balance for a good cause. I have held the examples of their lives as an ideal for me to aspire to, although I hope to never be so tested. Still, I remember to have courage in the lesser conflicts of my profession, and not hide in fear of the challenges.
White Boys to be Proud of:
There are heroes and martyrs of every race and creed. These men by their lives showed their devotion to a greater cause than their own self-interest.
Robert Gould Shaw
These are the times that try men's souls...
Dr. Norman Bethune
In Memory of Norman Bethune
A working class hero is something to be...
I cannot say that my life has not been interesting.
I had just turned twenty-one when I entered Boalt Hall School of Law. The poster behind me memorializes two U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment decisions: Cohen v. California and United States v. O'Brien .
What I can do in Court:
Fight like hell for my clients - with a courteous and respectful demeanor, mostly.
It is customarily said that 90% of people arrested by the police are guilty, but that doesn't mean that their lawyer should roll over and sell them out. And if you are innocent, good luck convincing the prosecutor. Guilty or innocent, when you want to fight, holler: "HELP ME, WHITE BOY!"
In personal injury cases, I have tried and won my share of tough ones, but the truth is that the law firms with the big ads in the Yellow Pages and on televison prefer to "cherry pick" their cases, rejecting any claim where liability is difficult to prove or damages are not large. But I keep my overhead low by not having a swank office or fancy ads. And if I take your case, I'll do it for 25% of the recovery.
Accused of Murder, the Police chose not to record his "Confession".
"I swear to God none of that stuff came out of my mouth."
On December 14, 2001, a cocaine dealer was shot in Madison, Wisconsin. Within a few days, LeShaun Benson was arrested in Waterloo, Iowa. Madison Police Detectives Bruce Frey and Timothy Hammond traveled to Waterloo to interrogate Mr. Benson. The interview room was equipped with recording devices, and the Waterloo police offered to have the session with Mr. Benson recorded. The detectives refused this offer, but I made them regret their decision.
To this day, Mr. Benson maintains that they fabricated his statements. If Mr. Benson had not been a black man before a white jury, he might have made some headway with his protestations. As it was, the detectives won the day, but not without facing my strongest arguments that they had been up to no good:
The attorney for one of the two men on trial for a December shooting death on Park Street all but accused police of corruption Tuesday. ... Hammond strenuously denied Tuesday that a report of Benson's interview was faked. ... But Steinberg held up evidence bags containing $5,500 cash and simulated cocaine, calling them "powerful forces" for corruption. ... Steinberg asked Hammond whether his training had included the subject of police corruption and whether he knew about infamous corruption cases in other cities. Steinberg also questioned whether anyone should accept the word of two police officers over that of a defendant in the absence of videotaped proof. (Wisconsin State Journal, August 14, 2002.)
At that time, there was no policy in the State of Wisconsin requiring that the police record any in-custody questioning of a criminal suspect, but Detective Hammond became convinced that it would be a good idea:
Tim Hammond says it would be fine by him. Actually, the Madison police detective says recording interviews with suspects strikes him as a good idea. "After going through that and listening to Mr. Steinberg, it wouldn't bother me if [interviews] were videotaped," says Hammond, referring to the defense presented by Madison attorney Peter Steinberg in a recent murder trial. Hammond says that,"based on what's happened in this case," police are exploring the idea of taping interviews with suspects. (Bill Lueders, Isthmus, August 21, 2002.)
The Wisconsin legislature later required that in-custody questioning of suspects be recorded (2005 A.B. 648).
Medical Marijuana goes on Trial.
"This is my medicine."
On October 16, 2002, Steve Wessing was arrested in Madison for possession of marijuana, which he used for relief of pain caused by a congenital spinal condition. Even after he got a Medical Marijuana permit from the State of Oregon, the Judge and the prosecutor refused to dismiss the charge. Despite having every legal argument rejected by the Judge, we took his case to trial, appealing to the jury's sense of justice:
Steinberg, who quoted historic figures from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther, suggested that jurors step outside the narrow confines of the law and find his client not guilty. "The law is like a flowing river," Steinberg said. "It is ever changing."
We lost the trial, but the fight for Medical Marijuana in Wisconsin continues, and in States across the nation the popular demand for an end to Marijuana Prohibition grows with each electoral cycle. The law is, indeed, changing.
I took the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in Odometer case.
What started out as a simple investigaton of odometer tampering by a used car dealer was turned into a federal mail fraud case on rather thin grounds. On November 28, 1988, I had the honor of appearing in Washington, D.C. before the nine Justices of the Supreme Court to plead my client's case. We needed five votes, but only got four. You can look it up in Wikipedia: Wayne T. Schmuck v. United States of America.
Still fighting against Marijuana Prohibition after all these years.
Don't try to intimidate me by overcharging my client.
They busted my client for passing a joint at a marijuana rally, but we didn't back down.
She was having a Multiple Scleroris attack, but was charged with Battery to her Husband.
"A domestic violence policy run amok."
It wasn't fair to my client that we had to fight so hard to get the charges dismissed.
Inadequate Pain & Suffering was awarded by the first Jury.
So we got a second "bite at the apple."
The judge only gave me ten minutes to argue pain & suffering the first time around.
A Psychiatrist said that my client was crazy, but the Judge wouldn't let the Jury hear him.
And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed her.
He thought that he had killed someone in his trailer when he was actually just fighting himself.
When Their Lives were on the Line I Left No Stone Unturned.
Political Refugees Threatened with Torture and Death in Iran.
In April of 1985 I moved to Boston to help start a pro bono project to represent refugees seeking political asylum in the United States. The wars and revolutions in Central America were the main motivation for establishing the Equal Justice Institute, but within months of my arrival, I undertook the defense of three young Iranian men who had been placed in Immigration Detention. They were simply trying to reach Canada, but were pulled off the plane at JFK airport. I did not speak their language, and had to recruit translators and expert witnesses to present their stories. Later, a fourth young man from Iran was added to the group, after he was pulled off of his plane. Despite our expert witnesses and piles of documentation on the fate that awaited them if deported to Iran, the immigration judges turned a cold and indifferent eye to their plight. Unwilling to abandon my young clients to a terrible fate, I wrote an account of their experiences, and sent it to human rights organizations and media outlets. My account was published in a book, "Mother of Exiles", and their stories appeared on the televison program "West 57th Street", and in the Boston Globe and the Providence Journal-Bulletin. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees contributed a letter stating that they appeared to have strong cases, and that their continued detention was unjustified. After more than a year in detention centers, jails and prisons around the country, they were finally released to go to Nova Scotia as political refugees. This was the case that started my hair turning gray.
Speaking at the rally in LaFayette
Park, Washington, D.C., June 25, 1986.
The book which included my
account of their flight and detention.
The poster created by their supporters in the community for the rally in front of the White House.
I was twenty-six when I was admitted to the Hawai'i Bar. I lived in Manoa Valley while my girlfriend was in graduate school at the University of Hawai'i.
(Photos of life in Hawai'i back then.)
How did I get such a heart-felt dedication
to the cause of Justice, the principle of
Freedom, and the policy of the Golden
There were many influences on my childhood; notably The Investigator, Pete Seeger, and Mark Twain, but by far the most influential was the book Heavenly Discourse, by Charles Erskine Scott Wood.
I was thirty-one when I moved to
Boston to help political refugees
seek asylum in Immigration Court.
The Ethics Course that they don't teach in law school: Victims of Juridical Assassination.
Since the advent of advanced DNA testing, thanks to the dedicated work of such entities as the Innocence Project, we now have absolute proof that the criminal prosecution system all too frequently yields false convictions. Even with the best of faith, errors can never be completely eliminated, but what is never taught in any ethics course, whether in law school or in the mandatory lawyers' Continuing Legal Education, are the instances of deliberate malfeasance or culpable abdication of responsibility that result in murder by judicial process. Yet the historical examples are easily called to mind, and the study of law in the absence of historical knowledge is akin to the study of celestial mechanics in the absence of the knowledge of the law of gravity: astrology, not astronomy.
After my 40th birthday I stopped making such a big deal of it.
After twenty years in practice I was fed up with the War on Drugs, so I took my views to the arena of politics.
I was forty-five when I ran for District Attorney of Dane County. Straight Look, Radical Platform- Marijuana Prohibition is Dumb.
What do I do for fun?
The biggest thrill is hearing the words:
"We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty."
But outside the courtroom, I prefer non-competetive activities:
Canoeing has been a favorite of mine since my days at summer camp.
More canoeing photos here.
Bicycle tripping has been lots of fun over the years.
More biking photos here.
Reading was my first love, and you will still find me with a book in my hand most of the time.
A sampling of what's in my library.
(There are 45 images here, so it won't load quickly.)
More recently, I have developed a taste for anime.
I watch them with subtitles, but I am slowly picking up a few words and phrases in nihongo. Some of my favorites include Tsukuyomi Moonphase, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Ranma 1/2, Noir, Paradise Kiss, Urusei Yatsura, Ergo Proxy, Cheeky Angel, Revolutionary Girl Utena, , Spice & Wolf, Gosick, and others which are added to my list as I find out about them.