Original painting on canvas 2021, In the private collection of the artist.
Albert J. Krieger
Albert J. Krieger was a legal legend. Armed with a razor-sharp intellect and near photographic recall, he was most well-known for the surgical precision of his cross examinations, for meticulously dissecting a witness’s testimony slice by slice, and most importantly, for being a man of unimpeachable integrity and dedication. As comfortable in an appellate courtroom as he was in front of a jury, he was a scholar, and had argued cases before the United States Supreme Court.The name, Krieger, means “Warrior,” and that’s what he was, a warrior and an icon. He taught ethics as well as trial skills and delivered hundreds of inspirational speeches to a generation of lawyers as a frequent lecturer at law schools, seminars, and bar events all across the country. He inspired thousands.Even after he retired, including the week before his death, letters of gratitude continued to come from far and wide to thank him for his influence. A common theme was that Albert’s voice was always with them, urging them along, to be their very best, to wonder, when faced with any issue, “What would Albert say?” and then act accordingly.
Stunningly, Krieger never relied on notes in the courtroom, for any speech he ever gave, or in the classroom; he worked purely from memory. He had the ability to remember whole files of evidence and could recite prior testimony verbatim as he questioned a witness, or the language from caselaw, all without picking up a pencil, opening a computer, or looking at a piece of paper. The quickness of his mind, combined with uncanny powers of persuasion and a legendary, powerful, booming voice, allowed him to always be “in the moment,” but that does not mean he did not prepare. His mind was always working. Often, when his office was in his home, he would disappear into his garage for a while, tinker with a project (he owned every power tool imaginable and was quite a skilled craftsman) and everyone knew that soon enough he would emerge with a new theory of defense, or a new argument, or the key to whatever issue he was grappling with. Even in the garage, he was working.
His list of clients included some names like Cockeyed Willy, One-Eyed Ben, Joe Bananas, and the Teflon Don. The cases involved some of the most notorious criminals of all time. They fueled headlines that splashed across the national news media for days and weeks at a time and became the inspiration for multiple movies and documentaries that remain classics to this day – Honor Thy Father, The French Connection, The Godfather. But he was a lawyer’s lawyer, often representing other high-profile attorneys, as well as corporate businessmen.
His proudest professional accomplishment, however, was his defense of members of the Lakota Sioux tribe in the highly controversial trial of American Indian Movement activists charged in the standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973. For almost a year, he commuted from Miami to South Dakota and handled these cases pro bono. The year ended with dismissal of charges or acquittals for all but two of the original 150 defendants. Working as Liberty’s Last Champion, defending the civil rights and culture of a marginalized society living within our own, but without the same protections—this was his defining moment, in a career that spanned six decades.
Albert believed in the rule of law and had an abiding, passionate respect for the Constitution and for our adversarial process. In his words, “As a citizen, I will accept the pronouncement of our highest court, whether I agree or disagree. But as a lawyer, if that rule fails to establish what is right, I am equally bound to struggle for its change. It is here that liberty’s definition thrives.” He passionately believed that and said, “It is the defense lawyer who says to the all-powerful government that it must prove that the charge was properly brought. It is the defense lawyer who gives to all those within our borders, whether they realize it or not, freedom’s comfort.”
He was committed to supporting and improving the defense bar. He was a founder of the National Criminal Defense College and was one of the 34 original members of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, an organization now many thousands strong. Krieger served as president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 1979-1980, and the NACDL later presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also Chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, served on its Standards Committee, various ABA Task Forces, and as the NACDL representative in the ABA House of Delegates. He was one of the ABA’s most respected voices on criminal justice issues. He was honored as a Legal Legend by the 11th Judicial Circuit Historical Society and recognized repeatedly for his contributions to the practice of the law by bar associations from coast to coast. He often contributed to legal journals and taught in academic settings. He taught at Harvard Law School’s Trial Advocacy Workshop for over twenty years, in addition to speaking at countless legal seminars and bar association events.
Albert was born on November 4, 1923 and was raised in New York, the younger son of Ida and Lui Krieger.. He graduated high school at the age of 16 and earned a football scholarship to New York University. He suffered a career ending injury his freshman year but his football scholarship was immediately converted to an academic one. There, he met his college sweetheart, Irene Stoller, and when he returned from serving in the United States Army during World War II, they married. He then attended NYU Law School. Soon they had three children and moved out to Long Island along with various other family members and close friends. Two more children were soon born.