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Fahringer didn’t back down over the First Amendment

Herald Price Fahringer’s legacy as a lawyer extends beyond the landmark cases and high-profile clients that made him one of the nation’s most recognized defenders of free speech.

In Buffalo, Mr. Fahringer’s contributions include proteges who, even now, decades later, carry on his life’s work.

“He was a giant in the legal field and he was unique,” said Paul J. Cambria Jr., a Fahringer protege and one of Buffalo’s most prominent defense lawyers. “He was unique because he worked as a trial lawyer and appellate lawyer and as a constitutional lawyer. And that’s what we learned from him.”

Mr. Fahringer died Feb. 12 at his Manhattan home. He was 87.

A graduate of the University of Buffalo Law School, he started his career here but gained fame representing clients such as Claus von Bulow, Jean S. Harris and Larry Flynt.

Even as a young lawyer, he was known for taking on unpopular cases and representing the underdog.

He and Cambria represented Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, when he faced obscenity charges. And it was Mr. Fahringer who took on Al Goldstein, the publisher of Screw magazine, as a client when he faced pornography charges and 60 years in prison in Kansas. The result was an overturned conviction.

During a career that lasted six decades, Mr. Fahringer made the First Amendment his passion.

“The freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment is indivisible,” he said at one of Flynt’s trials, according to the New York Times. “You can’t take it away from Larry Flynt and keep it for yourself. The real issue of this case is: Are we afraid to be free?”

A named partner in what is now the Buffalo law firm of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, Mr. Fahringer quickly gained a reputation as a lawyer who fought hard to protect people’s constitutional rights.

In the early 1990s, he was instrumental in successfully challenging a New York law that prohibited women, but not men, from going topless.

A few years later, he challenged another law, this one a federal statute prohibiting defendants from claiming their lawyers were ineffective in detention proceedings. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law.

“He was the hardest-working lawyer I ever met,” Cambria said. “It was great because I started working with him as his protege and he instilled in me a work ethic that obviously made the difference.”

His caseload was diverse and included some of the nation’s most celebrated legal battles.

In the case of von Bulow, a British socialite, Mr. Fahringer had a client who stood accused of trying to kill his wife, Sunny, by injecting her with insulin. Mr. Fahringer would lose the case at trial, but von Bulow would eventually win on appeal and have his conviction overturned.

He also represented Harris, the Virginia headmistress who garnered national headlines in 1980 when she went on trial for the murder of Dr. Herbert Tarnower, her former lover and author of the best-selling book, “The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet.” Harris lost despite Mr. Fahringer’s work on her appeal.

Over the years, it was his work on obscenity and pornography cases that earned Mr. Fahringer his stripes as a tireless protector of free speech.

He represented dozens of adult entertainment venues in New York City and, at one point, found himself drawing a line in the sand with Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York City.

Eager to crack down on strip clubs and bookstores, Giuliani was using zoning laws to close many of the Times Square businesses, an effort Mr. Fahringer stopped for a time.

Born in Lewisburg, Pa., Mr. Fahringer was the son of an oil company engineer and a homemaker. He was married once and divorced and spent decades with a companion, Margaret Noyes, who died eight years ago.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com