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    09.29.15 Elizabeth M. Fink `73, Outspoken Social Justice Lawyer, Dies at 70
    Elizabeth Fink
    Photo credit: The Nation/YouTube

    Elizabeth M. Fink ‘73, who dedicated her law career to fighting for social justice, died on Sept. 22 at age 70. A lifelong Brooklyn resident, she was named by her parents for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and later national chairwoman of the Communist Party. For nearly three decades, Fink worked tirelessly as a civil rights attorney, most notably winning a $12 million settlement for inmates involved in the 1971 riot at Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum-state prison in upstate New York.

    Fink graduated from Reed College in Portland, Ore., in 1967 and from Brooklyn Law School in 1973. Just a month after she had been admitted to the bar, she went to work for the Attica Brothers Legal Defense Committee. She helped draft a civil suit against the New York state authorities over the force used to retake control of the prison from inmates who had rioted after demanding better living conditions. The five-day siege left 10 corrections officers and employees and 33 prisoners dead.

    The case crawled through the courts for more than 27 years, but Fink stuck with it. In 2000, as the lead counsel in the deferral civil rights case, she won an $8 million settlement from the state, plus $4 million in legal fees. The Attica lawsuit was chronicled in “Ghosts of Attica,” a Court TV documentary broadcast in 2001.

    Fink worked on other prominent civil rights cases and represented criminal defendants, including difficult cases other lawyers avoided, said former colleague Sarah Kunstler, daughter of William Kunstler. “She believed standing between a client and the crushing weight of government power was a political act,” Kunstler told The New York Times.

    Fink was part of a team of lawyers who in 1990 won the release of former Black Panther Party leader Dhoruba Bin Wahad on the grounds that the prosecution had withheld evidence in the 1971 drive-by shooting of two New York police officers guarding the home of Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan. She also helped represent the radical lawyer Lynne F. Stewart, who in 2006 was sentenced to prison for helping a convicted terrorist client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, get messages to his militant Islamic followers in Egypt. 

    Fink told the New York Daily News in 2000: “I don’t make much money at all. But I’ve had a helluva time. There is no satisfaction like winning.”

    She is survived by her brother, the photographer Larry Fink.

    Read Fink's obituaries in:

    The New York Times

    The Washington Post

    Boston Globe