Irving Kanarek (1920-2020)

Attorney for Charles Manson

Irving Kanarek

Irving Kanarek was a criminal defense attorney best known for representing Charles Manson

Irving Kanarek was born on May 12, 1920 in Seattle Washington. He was a criminal defense attorney best known for representing Charles Manson in what was one of the most sensational courtroom trials in history. Contributing to the already unusual courtroom drama displayed by Manson and his co-conspirators, Kanarek was known for his extremely unorthodox courtroom tactics which led to numerous objections and delays during trials.

When prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi first realized that Kanarek would be replacing Manson’s previous attorney Ronald Hughes, who suspiciously went missing during a two week recess,  Bugliosi was afraid Kanarek would drag the case out for years. The trial wound up lasting nine months which was the longest trial in history at that time.

During the prosecution’s opening statement, Kanarek objected nine times and by the third day of the trial had registered more than 200 objections when the press stopped counting. The majority of his objections were baseless and meant primarily to influence the jury. For example, when Linda Kasabian, former Manson family member was sworn in, Kanarek shouted, “I object, your honor, on the grounds this witness is not competent and she is insane!” Kasabian became the prosecution’s star witness and was given immunity.

Kanarek filled the trial with objection after objection and was found guilty of contempt four times by Judge Herman Older. The first contempt came when Kanarek was charged with directly violating an order to not repeatedly interrupt. Kanarek was ordered to remain overnight in the county jail twice.  Near the end of the trial, Judge Older told Kanarek he was without scruples, ethics, and professional responsibility.

Despite all of his effort defending Manson, Kanarek angered his client continually and it is believed that Manson threatened to have him killed several times and even attacked him on one occasion. Kanarek was said to have begged Manson not to fire him and allow him to continue his outrageous representation, which even Bugliosi admitted scored many points with the jury in what was a near impossible to defend trial considering the overwhelming evidence and brutality involved in the murders.

Mr. Kanarek was finally stripped of his right to practice law from the California Bar in 1990 when he was 70 years old. According to his own description, he wound up “flipping out” and was admitted to the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center for psychiatric treatment. His last known record with the California Bar shows disciplinary action as “Resignation with charges pending 90-Q-14367”.

Irving Kanarek died on September 2, 2020 at the age of 100. Until the end, Kanarek believed Manson’s direct involvement in the crimes has been “woefully extrapolated.”

“No question he was legally innocent. And, more than that, he was actually innocent. There was no evidence connecting him to those murders. The newspapers, the magazines, the motion pictures got people all excited – Manson as the embodiment of human evil. Charlie wasn’t a monster. When you look at the legally admissible evidence, you come to a very different conclusion. Just looking at him from objective considerations, he’s a personable person.” — Irving Kanarek

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