Albert Riederer Tribute

Eulogy for Albert Riederer by Fred Slough

December 31, 2012

Good morning, I am Fred Slough, lawyer and longtime friend of Albert and Sandy and their family.

I start here with the belief that you all know about Albert’s many achievements as a lawyer, prosecutor, politician and public servant.

So my goal is to share with you a part of Albert’s life that you may know very little about. And, second, just to share some personal reflections about the qualities of this man that made him so trusted and so loved and that are the reasons we are all here today to honor him.

Law Collective – Founding Principles

I met Albert in the early 70s. We were part of the youth “counterculture” at that time – the folks who opposed the Vietnam War and opposed the system that would take our country into this disaster; folks who strongly believed we could change the world to defeat racism, sexism, homophobia and the militarism that had led us into Vietnam.

We were disillusioned. We had witnessed the assassination of JFK. And, we had seen two men who spoke for the America we believed in, shot down and killed: Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. And, we knew that change would not happen unless the people demanded it, just as they had when led by MLK in the South.

As young law students we became aware of “law collectives” formed around the country to defend political and anti-war activists and to protect their rights. And Albert and 9 other people including me started such a collective – 3 lawyers and 6 soon-to-graduate law students and one legal worker, with zero clients and almost zero experience.

We would thrive by defending the “revolutionaries” who were going to change the world. The economics were simple. We had that figured out. Lawyers are rich. They easily make $100,000 a year, charging their outrageous $75-$100 an hour. Heck, we could live on $10,000 a year. So all we needed on average was $7.50-$10.00 an hour.

Easy!! We’d have sliding scale fees – high for the rich ones to low for the working guy. And then political work could be free if need be. That’s how idealistic we were and how ignorant of what it took to survive as a lawyer.

And thus was born the Law Collective – Riederer, Eisberg & Walsh.

Other than this “vow of poverty” that we didn’t really know we’d taken, we had other important principles:

  • “From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.” Sound familiar? Yes. Pay would be based on your need. If you had a working wife or a student grant or loan or if your parents helped you, you’d get less or none.
  • Against Hierarchy (Bosses). All decisions will be made collectively by consensus.
  • No Sexism – 5 men, 5 women, all equal and as a matter of principle – we would refuse to defend someone accused of rape. But murder? Oh, ok.
  • No class system where all “grunt work” was on students or the legal worker. To prove it, we had to “secretary for ½ day system.” Each person acted as the receptionist/secretary for ½ day each week

With low fees, great principles, involvement in the community – how could we possibly fail? We renovated some empty office space at 223 E. 9th St. and we were in business.

Leavenworth Brothers

And sure enough, no sooner did we get started than there arose – we thought – the opportunity to be the law firm we set out to be. There was a “strike” and rebellion at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth. And sadly, a guard had been killed.

The prison identified about seven “leaders” and intended to try them all for murder. From knowing what was done around the Attica Prison Rebellion in New York, we and others knew what had to be done.

The Leavenworth Brothers Offense/Defense Committee was formed. The Committee would raise the consciousness of the community about the failures and brutality of the prison system and would raise funds not only for the criminal defense of the inmates, but also an offensive set of lawsuits against the Warden and responsible officials concerning prison conditions in general and also the ill treatment of the accused Leavenworth Brothers.

Our lawsuits were assigned to Federal Judge Templar in Topeka. And the criminal trial was assigned to Judge Theis in Wichita.

Judge Templar couldn’t stand the sight of these hippie-looking lawyers and scared the heck out of them, threatening them for contempt and accusing them of plotting a jail break.

Albert and other young lawyers we recruited handled the criminal case in Wichita. And for over a year it took all his time. The trial itself lasted for about six months, in which Albert and our team ended up sleeping on the floors of cheap motel rooms – because we had no money.

Judge Theis was a very smart and patient judge. He’s seen the fiascos of other “political trials.” And he made up his mind – no matter what – to be calm and “due process” these inmates right back into prison.

  • Not surprisingly, our Committee couldn’t raise even the small sums needed for the lawyers.
  • The inmates believed that every day they stayed out of Leavenworth was a victory – so they engaged in all kinds of shenanigans to try to delay the matter or to cause a mistrial.
  • The Committee was infiltrated – we found out later – with one or more government agents. And in “private meetings” with our lawyers they suggested that our lawyers fake an auto accident to obtain a delay. Fortunately our lawyers were not so stupid.
  • And finally, the inmates called a witness named Jack Abbott. Abbott interrupted his testimony by what we now call Abbott’s Leap – he dove into the jury box with his hands around a female juror’s throat. The purpose, undoubtedly, was to cause a mistrial, But he just wasn’t as smart as Judge Theis. With careful questioning Judge Theis established that the jurors would never hold this event against the inmates and that they could still be fair. As I said – no matter what, he patiently “due processed” them right back to prison.
  • The jury didn’t buy that they were all guilty of the officer’s death, but each one was convicted of something that he did do.


Albert suffered through this entire ordeal and not long after he asked for a Collective meeting to discuss our future. He did not announce he was leaving but it was clear he would.

He came to the meeting with a well-organized outline of his critique of the Collective. It had 1. abc, 2. abc, etc. I wish I still had it. But one thing I remember clearly. Albert made it clear that his first goal was to be a lawyer and a good one. Being a social change agent had to be second to that.

And in pursuit of that goal, he said when another lawyer called to talk, he was not going to say he couldn’t talk because he was the secretary for the ½ day.

Following that Albert and many others left. Some may have felt guilty leaving … but, it was only by their leaving that the four of us who were still there had any chance of building a successful practice with a balance between making a living and working for social change.

I tell you these stories because I think it says a lot about where Albert’s heart was as a young man. He was inclined to fight for justice and equality and human rights. But the experience taught him that for Albert to be effective and for Albert to make a difference, he was going to do it from inside the system, not from outside as an agitator. And for my part, I believe he did a fantastic job- he had made a difference in many of our systems and many of our lives.

Why Albert is the Person we are Here to Honor Today

Albert had great intelligence and great memory. But as Rachel pointed out, his personality was not one of proving his intellect. He was honestly interested in you – not to put your name in a rolodex, but to know your personal story. And when he saw you again, he knew you and talked to you about your life.

There are so many Alberts on my mind today:

  • I see the Albert who left me his couch when he moved out of our apartment because without it I had no furniture.
  • I see the Albert at our Sunday basketball games – who, if he got the ball, headed for the basket as fast as his short legs could carry him – no fakes – no feints – a straight line – get out of the way!
  • I see the “Riederer Means Hard Work” political sign – and it was true!
  • I see the Prosecutor who would listen to the other side and talk to his assistants for you if he believed you were right. But, who was stubborn as a mule if he felt there was a duty he owed to the public that he had to stand up for.
  • I see the Prosecutor who knew that jail was not always the right answer for drug crimes and had the political intelligence to pass a tax to fund both prosecution and the drug court.
  • I see the politician and lawyer and judge who knew the critical importance of being able to say NO, even to his friends.
  • I see the Albert who never pretended to have all the answers and who instead wanted to know what you thought.
  • I see the Albert who always tried to make each person he met feel good, or even better, important.
  • I see the Albert to whom family was always first:
    • His down syndrome sister Teresa was a part of his family, and he and Sandy made sure she had a long life with people who loved her.
    • He was the scout leader and the basketball coach.
    • He made dinner for the family at night and was a great pie maker.
    • He helped with homework.
    • Rachel was amazed that after she left Kansas City, he always answered her calls, no matter how busy he was
    • He was a great listener for his kids. Rachel and Stephen both talked about the same thing – he listened and gave them courage to do what they wanted to do. As Stephen said, his dad was the first to say “Go for it.”
    • And I know that Albert was so happy that his kids were also there for him.
  • I see the Albert who was just crazy about Sandy and who knew she was his soul mate and best friend.
  • I see the Albert who loved life and who fought for life and who wasn’t about to give in so long as there was any hope or a prayer to be said.
  • I see the Albert who in the midst of medical chaos, pain and uncertainty, still had an unbelievable sense of humor and the ability to focus on you and being your friend.
  • And finally, I see the Albert who was just so much fun:
    • The skinny dipper at Lake Jacomo so long ago.
    • The guy who loved a good story more than anyone.
    • The crazy poker player who played it like football – play every hand and have fun!
    • And really, how many lawyers do you know who really can talk like Donald Duck

Finally, there was one thing I could not bring myself to say to Albert. I told him I loved him, of course. But because he never gave up on beating cancer and living, I could never tell him how much I was going to miss him, because that was to say he wasn’t going to make it.

And so today, I think I speak for all of us. Albert we are really gonna miss you.

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