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DANIEL SHEEHAN Printer Friendly Page
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  • Co-founder of the Christic Institute
  • Represented leaders of the New York Black Panther Party in 1970
  • Worked on the landmark “Pentagon Papers” case
  • Served as assistant New York State campaign director for George McGovern's 1972 presidential run
  • Supported Rep. Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign

See also:   Christic Institute   American Civil Liberties Union

Daniel Peter Sheehan was born in 1945 in Glens Falls, New York. He began his undergraduate education at Northeastern University in 1962 and later transferred to Harvard College, graduating in 1967 with a degree in American Government. In 1970 he earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

After completing his legal studies, Sheehan was hired as associate First Amendment counsel by the Wall Street law firm of Cahill, Gordon, Sonnett, Reindel & Ohl. While in Cahill's employ, Sheehan served as legal counsel to inmates in the Western New York-based Attica prison, scene of an infamous riot in September 1971. He was also a pro bono associate trial counsel for 21 leaders of the New York Black Panther Party who in 1970 were accused of plotting to assassinate police officers and blow up buildings.[1]

Unwilling to work with many of the corporate clients whom Cahill represented, and frustrated by the firm's effort to limit his work on politically charged cases, Sheehan left Cahill in 1972 and accepted a position with the Democratic National Committee as the assistant New York State campaign director for George McGovern's presidential run. Sheehan also served as special counsel to the Rockefeller Commission, which oversaw the Knapp Commission's investigation into corruption by the New York Police Department.

Next, Sheehan became an associate trial counsel for the Boston-based law firm of Bailey, Alch & Gillis, whose co-founder was the famed criminal-defense attorney F. Lee Bailey. Sheehan subsequently served as special counsel in the Watergate Burglary case before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

In 1973 Sheehan enrolled in a graduate study program in comparative social ethics at Harvard Divinity School. During his second semester, he took a temporary leave of absence to accept a job offer from the American Civil Liberties Union, where he spent some time working for its Committee on Native American Rights. Following the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (AIM), Sheehan served as amicus curiae in the protracted Wounded Knee Trials against AIM leaders.

Sheehan returned to Harvard Divinity School in 1974, but he left again the following year to accept a position as general counsel to the United States Jesuit Order's National Office of Social Ministry in Washington, DC. In the District of Columbia, Sheehan worked closely with Father William J. Davis, who connected him with numerous leaders of America's major religious and progressive movements. Over time, Sheehan represented such notables as Daniel Berrigan, Phillip Berrigan, Dick Gregory, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Ralph David Abernathy.

In 1977, Sheehan, William J. Davis, and National Organization for Women official Sara Nelson (whom Sheehan would later marry) became involved in the famous case of Karen Silkwood, a Kerr-McGee Nuclear Power Company chemical technician who had died in 1974 from contamination by radioactive plutonium. The trio filed a lawsuit against Kerr-McGee on behalf of Silkwood's children, blaming the company for the woman's death. For details on this case, click here.

In 1979, Sheehan, Davis, and Nelson—along with other allies and architects of the Silkwood case—gathered in Washington, DC to lay the groundwork for the 1980 founding of the Christic Institute, where Sheehan went on to serve as general counsel for twelve years.

In the early 1980s, Sheehan was an endorser of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, a Soviet-sponsored initiative that sought to freeze in place the USSR's nuclear and military superiority over the United States.

When the Christic Institute was shut down in 1992, Sheehan and Sara Nelson relocated to California where they were elected to lead the Romero Institute, an organization that uses legal consulting, litigation, and public education to address “structural sources of injustice” in American society.

In 1995, former Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev appointed Sheehan as director of the “Strategic Initiative to Identify the New Global Paradigm,” where Sheehan was tasked with trying to predict what movement “would replace anti-Communism and anti-capitalism as the primary new organizing principle for major global institutions after the Cold War.” In 1999, Sheehan became director of the New Paradigm Project at Gorbachev's State of the World Forum.

In a 2003 interview during which he discussed the 9/11 hijackers, Sheehan said that “while we all uniformly condemn what they did, it’s important to keep a perspective on what it was they were responding to.” Specifically, Sheehan explained:

“They had every reason in the world to know that this Bush administration ... was in fact actively planning major military operations in the Middle East ... So they planned and attempted to carry out what they thought was the most effective possible thing that they could do to try to blunt that type of military operation—which, of course, they failed to do ...”

In 2004 Sheehan was a key supporter of Rep. Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign.

Today, Sheehan continues his longstanding efforts to “expose the structural sources of injustice in our country and abroad.”


[1] Sheehan's most significant work at Cahill was in the landmark “Pentagon Papers” case which established that both the New York Times and the Washington Post had a right to publish a classified document suggesting that the Vietnam War was ultimately unwinnable, that the U.S. had secretly expanded its bombing campaigns in Southest Asia, and that the Johnson administration had purposely lied to the American people about these matters.



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