The jailhouse lawyer is familiar character in books and films, and like the unctuous salesman, or gruff small town policeman, he does not only exist fiction. There are jailhouse lawyers of varying levels of competence doing time and providing legal advice to their fellow inmates in prisons throughout the nation .

The most highly reputed jailhouse lawyer of all time was one Jerome (‘Jerry the Jew’) Rosenberg, who was convicted of murder in the first degree in the shooting deaths of two New York City police officers in May of 1962. He was sentenced to death, but was able to get his sentence reduced to life in 1965 by Nelson Rockefeller, who was the Governor of New York State at the time. In the end, he spent forty-six years in three separate state penal institutions, from February of 1963 till his death at the ripe old age of seventy-two on June 1, 2009, earning himself the unenviable distinction of having been incarcerated for a more extended term than anyone else in the New York State penal system.

Inside the first four years of serving out his sentence, he earned a degree from the Blackstone School of Law, an accredited correspondence school, therefore becoming the first prisoner of a New York State penitentiary to receive a law degree whilst in prison . As prison libraries with law books had yet to appear in the 1960s, his family members helped with his studies by bringing him law books. It wasn’t until 1977 that, in reference to Bounds v. Smith, the Supreme Court deemed a prisoner’s absence of access to legal research facilities a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says in part, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, with out the due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Even later on , as Rosenberg obtained much better access to legal materials, being a jailhouse lawyer was not easy. These self-proclaimed legal experts frequently have to contend with retaliation from prison officials. According to a 1989 study on prison discipline, solitary confinement is a common disciplinary strategy used against jailhouse lawyers. In fact, the largest number of inmates by far confined to “control units” are jailhouse lawyers.

Despite the formidable obstacles he faced, Rosenberg successfully assisted thousands of his fellow prisoners over approximately four decades as a jailhouse lawyer, gaining release from prison or reduced sentences for quite a few of the men he volunteered his services to. In 1981, he even argued a case in open court, before Judge Albert Rosenblatt. He was the only prison inmate ever allowed to do so.

Rosenberg performed a key, but eventually futile, role in the Attica prison riot of 1971. He drafted a brief for a court injunction against any reprisals, either administrative or physical, from prison officials if the prisoners agreed to let their hostages go and put an end to the rebellion. The injunction was granted, but Rosenberg was not happy with its terms and ended up ripping it to shreds. Soon after that, the negotiations broke down completely, New York State troopers stormed the prison, and the riot was put to an end with a hail of gunfire.

Even though the Attica negotiations were not successful , Ronald L. Kuby, the former law partner of an attorney who worked closely with Rosenberg in the course of the Attica prison riot, lauded him, saying:

“Of all the jailhouse lawyers, he was the greatest and the best known. He came of age in prison before there was widespread access to counsel for post-conviction proceedings.”

Rosenberg was never successful in using his legal knowledge and skills to gain his own freedom. At one point in time, he even argued for an appeal of his case in front of the very judge who had initially sentenced him. This was his Honor’s wry remark:

“When I send them away, they never come back. Not only did Rosenberg come back, he came back as a lawyer.”

However, for all his legal acumen and the grudging respect it afforded him in many quarters, Jerome Rosenberg was by no stretch of the imagination an angel. His arrest on the murder charges that he consistently denied was certainly not his initial brush with the law .

But when you stop to think about it, bad luck can catch up with anybody. Practically anyone might at some time find themselves in trouble with the police .

If you or a loved one in the Santa Barbara area happened to find yourself in need of a bail bondsman, go to Eric Hilton’s website, Bail Bonds Santa to find a competent bail bondsman in Santa Barbara to get you out of jail before you need the services of a jailhouse lawyer.