Tony Serra is one of a handful of marijuana attorneys who has achieved
"legend" status.

According to attorney Carrie Hagin, who assisted Serra and David Nick,
younger lawyers view Serra as a hero.

"Tony is inspirational, warm, caring, and dedicated," Hagin said. "A lot of
lawyers don't care about clients. They just want to make money. Tony wants
us to win. Attorneys like Tony lose a lot of income by being a civil
liberties lawyer instead of a tax lawyer. I decided to work for these causes
after Tony spoke at one of my law school classes. Tony is like a father to
idealistic young attorneys."

After earning a philosophy degree at Stanford, Serra graduated from the
prestigious University of California, Berkeley law school, just in time to
join San Francisco's 1967 hippie revolution. Serra danced at Jimi Hendrix
concerts all night, then went to court representing anti-establishment
defendants accused of civil disobedience and terrorism.

He's represented approximately 3,000 marijuana defendants, and also
represents other accused citizens, including murder defendants. A major
feature film starring James Woods, called True Believer, was based on
Serra's iconoclastic persona and one of his murder cases.

CC-Why are you known as a radical attorney?

I jump into risky situations and take on tough clients and causes. Early in
my career, for example, the Black Panthers had two houses and they wanted a
lawyer, preferably a white lawyer, to argue with police if they were raided,
or to be a witness. They had sandbags and rifles ready for government
assaults. I'd arrive, and they'd strip me down and search me for recording

I've represented every level of drug defendant, from airplane smugglers to
people caught with less than an ounce, to people accused of having huge
boatloads containing 60 tons of hashish off Hawaii. I had a cocaine boatload
case =AD the amount of kilos would fill an auditorium!

CC-Did you like True Believer?

The movie wasn't totally accurate. I'm pro-marijuana and I wanted that in
the movie, but they made my marijuana use seem like a bad habit. They had me
giving up marijuana when I took the murder case, but that was total
bullshit. Marijuana helps my work. But the movie was worthwhile because it
showed outlandish police behavior and a prosecutor who didn't care if
somebody was innocent.

The IRS stole the money I was supposed to earn from the movie, because I'm a
tax resistor. I stopped paying taxes during the Vietnam War. I didn't want
my money paying for war. I did six months in federal prison for it, and
practiced law the whole time!

CC-You've said that some cops belong in prison.

A lot of cops are criminals. And most police abuses occur in drug cases.
Drug cops are trained to lie. Their survival depends on being good liars and
good actors. If not, they get caught and they get killed. They lie on the
street; they lie in court.

Too many lawyers are scared to take them on. In the Kubby case, we
questioned a female narcotics officer who had put lots of people in jail,
but no defense lawyer had ever challenged her credentials before.

You have to do a lot of prep if you want to nail them. Get transcripts of
the narc's testimony in previous cases. See if he's beaten his wife. Find
every bad act he's ever committed on the force or off the force. Get his
medical and psychiatric records. The jury is like a big Buddha head with 24
eyes staring at a narc, and it spooks him.

Questioning narcs is like a boxing match. If you draw blood, wade in with
more punches. You tell the narc, 'You just admitted you lied, and now the
truth is coming out of you, and you can't control it.' When you testified
that Lyke was a mean man who threatened you and tried to make you provide
evidence against Kubby, Lyke's face turned beet red. The jury was looking at
him and they knew he's a liar and a bully. His aura just shrunk right up in
front of everyone.

CC-What makes you work hard for your clients?

Justice. I had a recent case that was a shocking example of government
misconduct. A Northern California pot grower was set up by his wife at the
instruction of a DEA agent. The agent apparently slept with the man's wife,
and encouraged her to do things like come out of the shower, initiate sexual
contact with her husband, and then when they were about to make love, with a
hidden tape recorder running, she'd ask questions like, 'Did you pay so and
so to harvest the marijuana?'

What's more outrageous is that even with this horrendous invasion of
privacy, the judge refused to suppress the search warrant.

I worked a pot case in San Diego where a guy with AIDS, who had to be
brought into court on a stretcher, died right after his case was dismissed.
I won't let him die in vain.

It's vicious, this war against marijuana.

And it's so stupid, because marijuana users are for the most part above
average people, good people. They're aesthetically oriented, artistic,
sensitive, creative, caring, vegetarians, musical, adventurous.

They start out innocent and trusting. As kids, they were taught that police
don't lie, that police are there to protect you, they aren't brutal. If
you're a nice person, nice things will happen to you. America's a democracy.
It's brainwashing.

Pot smokers usually believe they're safe as long as they don't hurt anybody,
and especially if they're legal under a medical marijuana law. They don't
anticipate nosy neighbors, informants, bad cops, and betrayal by their own
spouse! They're good people. Perhaps too good. And that makes them victims.

My message is: don't trust so much, especially don't trust cops. They'll
lie. They'll look at you, and if you fit a profile, you're in the back of
their police car before you know it.

CC-Have you been a victim?

I'm vigilant. A former client of mine came up to me with a kilo of coke and
said, "Oh Mr Serra, I never paid you the money I owe you. I have a kilo of
coke I want to pay you with." I said, "No thanks." Later on, I found out the
DEA had him wired with recording devices =AD if I'd taken that coke I=
been busted and disbarred.

I don't have time to worry about somebody trying to harm me. I'm concerned
with extricating people from steel cages.

CC-Any free advice for marijuana users?

Put a peephole and chain on your door. If cops knock at the door without a
proper warrant and then force their way in, you'll have proof. Otherwise,
they'll claim you consented to the search. Don't let them in your car. Don't
consent to body searches. Don't let them interrogate you. Use your rights!

Be discreet. Don't blow smoke in people's face. Don't be out at 2 in the
morning stoned out of your mind carrying dope. Don't transact business in
suspicious areas or in sloppy ways. Be a good person. So many busts occur
because people are irresponsible, asinine or stupid.

All good criminal defense attorneys are overworked and underpaid. They work
at least 14 hours a day and they never have enough time. If you're a
defendant, you want to be at the forefront of your attorney's attention, but
be clever about it. Stop by with flowers or chocolates for his secretary,
and then ask if the attorney is in. Ask intelligent questions: "Have you
filed that motion yet? I just remembered something the officer said, I
wanted to write it down for you." Treat the lawyer like a human and an
important key to your freedom.

CC-You've participated in 40 years of American political history. America=
recently been gripped by unprecedented turmoil. Is this like the 60's?

It's worse. America is the embodiment of Orwell's 1984. A spy society. The
government creates snoops looking into people's houses in the middle of the
night, sifting our garbage cans, reading our emails. Because of drug laws,
phones are tapped, search warrant standards relaxed. Draconian sentences
force people to plea bargain or become snitches. There are so many different
types of informants, we don't even have legal nomenclature for all of them.
The whole judicial system is riddled with corruption.

We're headed towards totalitarianism. It's the KGBing of America. We've
fulfilled Orwell's prophecy. Fourth Amendment rights are dwindling. It's
like the miner's canary in a coal mine. The canary is suffocating under
government oppression. It's falling over in its cage.

CC-What can we do to create more justice?

Any lawyer with a conscience should get into drug cases and fight the narcs.
Fight the death penalty. Fight decrease of constitutional rights. Fight
ruination of climate and atmosphere.

We need something like what happened in America in the 1960's when young
girls gave America a conscience by calmly putting flowers in the barrels of
loaded guns pointed at them by the National Guard. We need that spirit

I'm puzzled by people's complacency. Our rights are disappearing along with
our oxygen. We're the only form of life eagerly poisoning itself and
destroying every other form of life. Our species persecutes the gentle,
harmless and sensitive among us.

I chill out by smoking a joint, walking the beach, and readjusting my
equilibrium. But I don't just smoke pot for fun, I smoke it as a warrior
would, to prepare for battle. The fight goes on!

Pubdate: 24 Apr, 2001
Source: Cannabis Culture Magazine
Copyright: 2001 Cannabis Culture, redistributed by MAP by permission
Author: Pete Brady
Address: PO Box 15, 199 West Hastings, Vancouver BC, Canada V6B 1H4
Note: See online version for great photos of Tony Serra