We Live in Trying Times
Cleveland lawyer Terry Gilbert looks back on a career that was forged during similarly trying times—the social upheaval of the 1970s.
Trying Times, published in 2021 by Act 3, recounts Gilbert’s 50-year struggle as a people’s lawyer. Dedicating his life to pursuing justice for the disenfranchised, Gilbert puts his cases in historical context and demonstrates that even losing a case can move public opinion in the direction of equity. It was Gilbert who, in the 1970s, filed one of the first lawsuits against the Cleveland Indians to stop their stereotyping of indigenous people.
Written with Carlo Wolff, Gilbert’s memoir attests to the two Americas that we inhabit: one for the wealthy and powerful and the other for minorities and the poor. From his work with legendary radical lawyer William Kunstler defending native Americans at Wounded Knee to his advocacy on behalf of Sam Reese Sheppard seeking to clear the name of his father, Dr. Sam Sheppard, Gilbert wields the law as both sword and shield.
Attorney Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, writes, “Terry’s efforts to represent victims of police misconduct and to highlight the toll of mass incarceration exemplify his drive to overcome deep flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system. Trying Times is the inspirational journey of a man dedicated to bettering the lives of the ignored and the marginalized.”
Trying Times follows Gilbert’s life from his upbringing in a traditional Jewish family in suburban Cleveland through the patience and passion that made him a role model for liberal advocacy. Gilbert believes that the law is a tool to use against injustice and in support of the highest ideals of America. Activism and diligence, he says, are the only means to advance the causes of liberty, equal justice and human rights.
Gilbert’s generation was shaped by Vietnam, the civil rights movement and the emerging movements of people who were shut out of the American dream—women, indigenous Americans and people of color. Today’s generation faces many of the same struggles. Trying Times is the hopeful story of how one lawyer continues to fight for rights in a world of wrongs.
Terry Gilbert has been in private law practice since 1973, focusing on criminal defense and civil rights litigation. At the start of his legal career, Gilbert represented American Indians in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee confrontation in South Dakota, and numerous anti-war and civil rights activists. Over the years, Gilbert has handled a variety of government misconduct cases involving police abuse, wrongful conviction, violations of free speech, prisoners’ rights, and victims of all forms of discrimination. His defense of civil liberties has often put him at odds with authorities and made him the target of op-eds and editorial cartoonists. At the same time, he has written many op-eds himself, and used the media to make his case for justice directly to the people. Gilbert lives with his wife Robin in a Cleveland suburb and has two adult children: Benjamin, a molecular biologist, and Julian, a law student.
Carlo Wolff writes about popular culture, music, books, hospitality and travel. A contributor to the jazz magazine, DownBeat, he is the author of Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories, lead author of Mike Belkin: Socks, Sports, Rock and Art, and co-writer of Designing Victory and The Encyclopedia of Record Producers. Wolff also reports and edits for newspapers and magazines. A native of Dallas, Wolff grew up in Columbus, Ohio and attended schools in the Boston area. He moved to Cleveland in 1986. Wolff lives in suburban Cleveland with his wife Karen Sandstrom, a dog and a cat.
“Terry Gilbert’s life story explains the importance of challenging the status quo and breaking down barriers. He has used his voice and his expert knowledge of the law to be a warrior for change and a guardian of justice.”
From the Foreword by Lee Fisher
Dean and Joseph C. Hostetler-BakerHostetler Chair in Law
at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University
“For over 30 years, Terry Gilbert and I have worked together in the struggle against wrongful convictions. Terry’s efforts to expose the injustice of the Sam Sheppard case, to represent victims of police misconduct, and to highlight the toll of mass incarceration exemplify his drive to overcome deep flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system. Trying Times is the inspirational journey of a man dedicated to bettering the lives of the ignored and the marginalized.”
Co-Founder, Innocence Project;
Professor of Law, Cardozo Law School;
Partner, Neufeld, Scheck, & Brustin
“Trying Times takes you into the life of a radical lawyer fighting for civil rights and combating police misconduct and an unjust criminal justice system. A frank and eye-opening read for lawyers, progressives, and activists, it’s very much a book for now.”
Dr. Rhonda Y. Williams
Professor and John L. Seigenthaler Chair in American History
Author, Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century
“A fascinating and important book, offering a window into what ‘fighting for justice’ really entails. Shaped as a young man by Vietnam and Kent State, Terry Gilbert has spent half a century fighting for those easily cast aside, from victims of police shootings to Sam Sheppard’s son. This book is both truthful and opinionated, exactly what you’d expect from Terry Gilbert.”
National Award-Winning Anchor/Investigative Reporter
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Terry Gilbert 2020, in front of Billie Lawless’s controversial sculpture- The Politician – A Toy _ Photo by Abe Frajndlich
Terry Gilbert with Russell Means, on whose behalf Terry filed one of the first lawsuits against the Cleveland Indians for their stereotyping of indigenous people, in the mid-1970s.
Sam Reese Sheppard and Terry Gilbert, surrounded by activists and Sheppard family members at the time of the 1996 trial to clear the name of Dr. Sam Sheppard
William Kunstler, Terry Gilbert and Kent State student Carter Dodge battling to preserve hallowed ground at Kent State University in 1977.