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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Friday May 24th 2024

Larry Levanthal April 28, 1941- January 17, 2017 The Cosmos has Grown by One More Star


Larry Leventhal died on January 17, 2017 following a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a well-known attorney who represented people who had been wronged in some way, and he also wrote wills and in the case of my family, represented us in juvenile court as we undertook the adoption of our great grandchild. In contrast to this kind of work, he took on some of the most formidable opponents imaginable, including the United States government.

During his 50-year career in the practice of law, he focused much of his time on the legal affairs of tribal nations and American Indian nonprofit organizations.

During the course of the history of the Indian Education Act, passed in 1972 and released for grantmaking in 1973, Larry represented and assisted numerous schools and tribal nations. Although both Heart of the Earth Survival School and the Red School House are no longer operating, he assisted both with research on changes in the regulations affecting funding opportunities and each year he created instructional documents on changes and emphasis areas. He was an integral part of winning millions of dollars in funding for both of the schools, and including innovative programs such as adult education for men and women in Minnesota prisons, a national law and education conference in California, unique cultural and language programs in the schools, community adult education, pre-school education, and a school within the school program for students in need of small group education. He was also part of the team that created the Circle of Life School on the White Earth Reservation and he assisted Red School House in becoming one of a handful of special focus schools in the United States. He represented Heart of the Earth in the award of funds that had been misjudged ineligible for a funding award and he taught free classes in Indian education at Red School House and NAES College in Minneapolis.

Among his tribal cases were restoration of tribal sovereignty for the Delaware Indians and negotiations of Tribal/State Class III Gaming Compacts in North Dakota and Wisconsin. He also represented Little Earth of United Tribes in its case to gain independent operation and he wrote Articles of Incorporation and By Laws for numerous Indian nonprofits in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

One of his most notable criminal cases was working on the defense team representing Dennis Banks and Russell Means on numerous charges arising out of the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee. The trial took place in St. Paul in Federal District Court with Chief Judge Fred J. Nichols presiding. These were the early days of copier technology. Each night the volunteer legal assistants meticulously copied all of the documents of the day, including all of those entered as evidence by the FBI for the prosecution. This meticulousness led to discovery that the FBI changed its testimony and the defense had the documents to prove it. Chief counsels Ken Tilsen and William Kuntsler had Larry”'s formidable memory, attention to detail, research ability, and focus to rely on as the trial proceeded.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, where Kuntsler worked, described the trial this way: “During the course of the trial, Judge Nichols found, among other things, that the FBI had altered or suppressed key documents, committed illegal electronic surveillance, and had probably persuaded law enforcement officials in River Falls, Wisconsin, to drop rape and sodomy charges proffered against the government”'s star witness. Moreover, he stated from the bench that the special agent in charge of the Minnesota Division of the FBI (which covers three states, including South Dakota) had perjured himself on the witness stand. At one point the judge took the unprecedented step of impounding all FBI files when it was discovered that many important documents crucial to the defense had been suppressed and altered versions had instead been submitted to the Court.”

After nine months, the case against Dennis Banks and Russell Means was dismissed because of government misconduct.

Larry is survived by son-in-law, Lance Sanders; beloved grandsons, Landen & Logan Sanders; sister and brother-in-law, Paula and Bob Maisel; nieces, Lisa (Paul) Gendler, Julie Maisel, and Debbie (Dan) Levin; grandnieces and grandnephews, Joely, Parker, Elliott, and Sara; and a host of wonderfully supportive cousins. Also mourning Larry”'s loss is his longtime devoted and loving significant other, Vicki Schraber. And he is remembered with love by the thousands of people throughout Indian Country who knew him.

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One Response to “Larry Levanthal April 28, 1941- January 17, 2017 The Cosmos has Grown by One More Star”

  1. Gene Begay, Jr. says:

    The last time I saw Scary Larry, we argued about some phraseology I had the temerity to insert in a legal memorandum he and I had co-authored””Larry was rightfully proud of his argumentation and was loathe to change even a single word of his highly-polished legalese””when he begrudgingly consented to my editorial insertions. And just as I sat back to revel, a cuckoo-clock that hung in his conference room began to strike and chime: “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” Without hesitation, Larry glanced at me with a wicked grin and pronounced: “The spirits have spoken!”

    And as it has been said: “He left a big empty hole in the neighborhood of my heart…”

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