Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington, D.C. attorney, author, and literary agent. He is listed in Who's Who In the United States, Who's Who In Law, and other listings of prominent Americans, writers and scholars.
Born in New Jersey and educated in its public schools, he began college (at 16) at Syracuse University. Combining his last year of undergraduate work (BA 1954) with his first year of law school, he graduated (LLB) in 1956 and was one of the youngest to be admitted to the New York Bar that year. He continued his education at Yale Law School, where he earned Masters (LLM, 1960) and Doctorate (JSD, 1962) degrees from Yale. He was later admitted to the California and District of Columbia and United States Supreme Court bars. Goldfarb's work at Yale Law School was interrupted when he accepted a commission and served three years in the United Sates Air Force JAG, where he prosecuted and defended numerous courts-martial cases running the gamut from AWOL to murder and desertion (capital offenses).
For a year, after completing his military service and graduation from Yale, Goldfarb was the Arthur Garfield Hays Fellow at New York University Law School where worked on his first book, The Contempt Power, published in 1963 by Columbia University Press and in 1971 in paperback by Anchor Books. ("This book is a clear and eloquent presentation of the history of the contempt power and the dangers inherent in that power as it is being used at present. The book will prove to be as interesting to laymen as it is to lawyers" - Thurman Arnold, The New Republic) During that year at New York University, he also worked as legal counsel for the American Jewish Congress, Commission on Law and Social Action, a civil rights and civil liberties organization based in New York City.
In 1961, Goldfarb was recruited to join the New Frontier. He was a member of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Department of Justice for almost four years, and conducted grand jury investigations and successful multi-defendant criminal trials in federal courts in Florida, Kentucky, and Ohio. For several months in 1964, the Justice Department delegated Goldfarb to the Presidential Task Force which created the Office of Economic Opportunity under the guidance of Sargent Shriver, who would later become Goldfarb's client in the writing of his authorized biography, Sarge.
When Robert F. Kennedy ran for the U.S. Senate in New York, he recruited Goldfarb to work on that campaign as a speech writer. He resigned from the Justice Department to do so. Goldfarb's book, Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes, about those Justice Department experiences was published in 1995 by Random House; paperback in 2002 by Capital Books. "Mr. Goldfarb's descriptions of the investigative and prosecutorial processes are dead-accurate and engrossing. He richly details the intellectual, ethical and emotional challenges." - Lloyd George Parry, The Baltimore Sun. "...a compelling piece of work, strongly evocative of an era that seems, more and more, to have been one of the most extraordinary periods in our history." - Don Delillo, author, Underworld, White Noise, and The Body Artist. "You've caught him well, and no one else has remotely touched what you have done about the fight against organized crime. So it is important as well as moving." Anthony Lewis, The New York Times. Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes and the story of one of his trials have been optioned for a movie.
After the successful Kennedy senate campaign, Goldfarb handled select cases (successfully arguing one appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. v. Harris), and wrote two books: the award winning, Ransom, A Critique of the American Bail System (introduction by Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg) published by Harper & Row (1965), paperback by John Wiley (1967). "Bail is a barnacle on the back of the poor. In this book, Goldfarb brilliantly describes how the poor suffer from this iniquitous anachronism and tells why it should be uprooted from our law." J. Skelly Wright, United States Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals. "Ransom is a deep indictment of current bail practices. It blends scholarship and commitment in pointing the way toward fulfilling the promises of the Constitution, and the ancient pledges of Anglo-American liberties. I hope all lawyers, and concerned citizens, will read his book" Robert F. Kennedy United States Senator. Goldfarb also co-wrote Crime and Publicity-The Impact of News of the Administration of Justice, with Alfred Friendly, the managing editor of The Washington Post (1967), a book published and sponsored by The Twentieth Century Fund. Paperback by Vintage (1968).
In 1966, Goldfarb founded a law firm with Stephen Kurzman (formerly legislative assistant to New York Senator Jacob Javits) which specialized in special legal assignments (both worked on the Kerner Commission study of riots; Goldfarb was a consultant to The Brookings Institution on courts and The Administration of Justice, and to the California Legislature's Study of Courts and The Administration of Justice in California.) He was appointed Special Counsel to the United States House of Representatives Inquiry into the charges against Representative Adam Clayton Powell. He taught at many colleges as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow for one-week periods.
The firm changed members in ensuing years: Goldfarb & Singer; Goldfarb, Singer, & Austern; Goldfarb, Kaufman, & O'Toole; presently, Goldfarb & Associates. He specialized in public interest law, particularly in correctional reform (trying a landmark Eighth Amendment case condemning conditions at the D.C. Jail), peacefully negotiating a hostage-taking riot at the jail, organizing an ex-offender organization which has operated successfully for over forty years. He also was counsel for other public interest organizations: Washington Independent Writers; The Association for the Advancement of the Humanities; The Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
With a Ford Foundation grant he co-authored a book on correctional reform, After Conviction, Simon & Schuster, 1973, with a colleague, Linda Singer (paperback in 1977). "After Conviction contains not only a massive indictment of the criminal justice system, but also recommendations for sensible and workable reforms. Ron Goldfarb is one of the most thoughtful and knowledgeable people writing on the criminal justice system today. After Conviction is a real contribution to the field." Tom Wicker. "After Conviction is magnificent. . .well written. . .authoritative.. It is a sort of book that really hadn't existed until Ron Goldfarb put it together." Karl Menninger.
Again for The Twentieth Century Fund, he wrote Jails-The Ultimate Ghetto, Doubleday (1975; Anchor paperback, 1976).
He was appointed Chairman of a Special Review Committee created by the federal trial court in Washington DC to implement a major nationwide court order against the Department of Labor regarding the improvement of living and work conditions of migrant and seasonal farm workers. For two years, he conducted hearings around the United States on behalf of the Court. Goldfarb's work for the court was praised by Judge Richey. The Ford Foundation supported Goldfarb's later book on the subject, A Caste of Despair, Migrant Farm Workers in the United States, Iowa State University Press (1981). "Here is a strongly worded, trenchant, discerning, fair-minded analysis of a major American social problem. Here, too, is a kind of exemplary witness what it means to be a compassionate, high-minded lawyer and what it means, as a matter of fact, to remember in one's mind and heart, in one's working life as an attorney, as a citizen, those word engraved on the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., 'Equal Justice Under Law.' One concludes the reading of this book wishing (hope against hope!) that it will be the very last one written and wishing, too, that those who practice the law could claim more colleagues such as Ronald Goldfarb, a moral example to a profession, to all of us." from the Foreword by Robert Coles.
Goldfarb created a course for judges and lawyers on legal writing which was conducted for many years under the auspices of the National Center for State Trial Judges, and later privately. With Professor James Raymond, Goldfarb wrote Clear Understanding-A Guide to Legal Writing, published by Random House (1983).
Goldfarb's law practice evolved into representing writer's organizations, The Washington Independent Writers for many years and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs to the present. He has represented hundreds of writers as well, as their attorney and agent. His literary practice evolved into an active literary agency bearing his name. He co-authored The Writer's Lawyer, Essential Legal Advice for Writers and Editors in All Media with a former colleague, Gail Ross (Times Books, 1989). "When writers want to make sure they've got it absolutely right, Ron Goldfarb is the one they turn to. And The Writer's Lawyer is the book they should read." Nick Kotz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Goldfarb also has presided over MainStreet, A Television Production Company, organized with Hodding Carter in 1987. Goldfarb hosted a weekly discussion show on public television, Devil's Advocate, and produced many television shows and documentaries, some of which have won awards, most recently Desperate Hours, winner of the District of Columbia Independent Film Festival Award in 2002. MainStreet is now associated with Matador Productions, a New York City-based movie, television and web production company.
In 1998, Goldfarb wrote TV or Not TV, Television, Justice and the Courts, again with support from the Century Fund, and published by New York University Press. "Going beyond the obvious controversial of recent years, Goldfarb surveys the role of television in courtrooms with cool, but crisp detachment. He brings historical context, legal analysis, and rich experience to bear on the issue, concluding that courts are public institutions that do not belong exclusively to the judges and lawyers who run them. His persuasive argument for greater openness is bound to influence future debate on the topic." Sanford J. Ungar, Dean, School of Communication, American University. "A tour de force, a one-stop repository of the history, facts and the law of the matter. I plan to plagiarize from it shamelessly. This is an important subject, and Goldfarb's book provides the first comprehensive, in-depth study of the issue." Fred Graham, Chief Anchor, Managing Editor, Court TV. "Goldfarb argues persuasively for cameras in the courtroom, O. J. notwithstanding. He is aware of the problems but believes strongly that the more open a courtroom, the more open and free our society. The challenge, which he describes so well, is to balance the new demanding technology against our traditional dedication to democracy." Marvin Kalb, Director, Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, Harvard University. In his writings and congressional testimony Goldfarb has advocated televising Supreme Court arguments and decisions.
The author of many law journal articles and about 600 newspaper articles, blogs and op-eds, Goldfarb writes a regular monthly book review (or article) for The Washington Lawyer, journal of the District of Columbia Bar Association, a column “CapitaLetters” for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and has written blogs for The Hill, plus articles for American Prospect, The Daily Beast, TIME Magazine, Politico, and others. He was a long time board member of The Alliance For Justice, and served on other boards such as Common Cause, American Jewish Committee, Yale Law School Association, and The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He also worked on several Presidential Commissions, including the National Advisory Commission of Civil Disorders, Commission to Revise Federal Criminal Law, and The Agenda for the Eighties.
Goldfarb has contributed chapters to ten books, including a chapter on "Politics At The Justice Department" in the book, Conspiracy: The Implications of the Harrisburg Trial for the Democratic Tradition, edited by John Raines; he wrote the Foreword to Freedom For Sale, A National Study of Pretrial Release by Paul B. Wice, and How To Try A Criminal Case, an American Trial Lawyers Association book, 1967. He has contributed selections to several encyclopedias on law and government: The Encyclopedia of Criminology, edited by Raymond Corsini, Macmillan, 1994; The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, Commission of the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution Project, Simon & Schuster, 1994; The Encyclopedia of Publishing and Book Arts, Henry Holt, Spring 1995; The Macmillan Encyclopedia, 1997; The Constitution and Its Amendments and Cameras in Courts; and in the Yale Biographical Dictionary of Law, a sketch on Fred Rodell.
His eleventh book, In Confidence: When to Protect Secrecy and When to Require Disclosure, was published by Yale University Press in 2009. James Srodes, writing in The Washington Times called In Confidence "an important book" and the author "a creative legal philosopher," concluding, "This book is a must-read...for both the layman and legal professional." The Electronic Privacy Information Center review stated: ". . .Goldfarb's book is packed with interesting history, case studies, and legislative efforts to chart the way for confidentiality. . .The book is only 244 pages, but do not be misled you must set aside some quiet time to really get the best out of the experience of reading In Confidence . . .This book is written from the perspective of a very good legal mind. . .Goldfarb does an excellent job at provoking and stimulating the thought processes around confidentiality which is a slice of the privacy landscape." "The book is a dizzying journey through the history of confidentiality and privacy, questions of privilege, government secrecy, and game changing technologies that are ruling all of these issues. Despite the weight of the topics. . .the work reads more like an adventure story one that impacts our daily lives. . .Ronald Goldfarb makes these issues as current and personal as today's twitter message. . .In Confidence is very much a happening work that puts what read on the front pages in full historic, and current, perspective." Joseph Rothstein, Editor, EINNews.Com. The American Prospect reviewer added, Goldfarb draws on an impressive store of knowledge about the subject. . .[and] manages to stake out his own territory. He provides a guide to the legal milestones in confidentiality and includes relatively new media in his survey. . .manages to bring these difficult issues out into the open and to provide insight. . ." "Well balanced discussion and insightful comments. . .A great job. Deserves a wide audience. . ." Justice Earl Johnson (Ret.), Scholar in Residence Western Center on Law and Poverty.
Goldfarb’s most recent work is as editor and contributor to for AFTER SNOWDEN: Privacy, Secrecy and Security in the Information Age, published by St. Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books) in 2015 with contributions from Thomas Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive; Hodding Carter III, former newspaper editor; Georgetown Law School and constitutional scholar David Cole; Journalism School professors Edward Wasserman and Pulitzer Prize winner Barry Siegel; Law school professor and Dean Jon Mills.
Writing under the pseudonym, R.L. Sommer, his first book of fiction, COURTSHIP: A NOVEL OF LAW, LOVE & LIFE was published in 2015 by a new fiction imprint of the ABA American Bar Association, Ankerwycke Press.
In 2018, the Goldfarb’s donated their family library to the Syracuse University College of Law Library. He and his wife received the Melvin Eggers Senior Alumni Award* from Syracuse University in 2019.
(Photo by Behna Gardner)
Goldfarb lives and works in Alexandria, Virginia and Key Biscayne, Florida. He is married to Joanne Jacob, an award-winning architect. They have three children, Jody, a social worker, Nicholas, a television and movie writer and producer, and Maximilian, artist, and seven grandchildren.