THE PRESIDENT and Fellows of Harvard College retain a prestigious Boston law firm, but to many students the position of "attorney to the University" is held by John G.S. Flym. Flym was the star of last month's University Hall trial. He defended most of the 174 arrested for criminal trespass, and is handling practically all who are appealing the charge. He was lawyer for John Sisson '67 in a precedent-setting case last month which established the right of a man to C. O. draft status without the benefit of religious training or belief. He is defending King Collins against the various charges brought against him by Harvard. He is legal counsel for The Old Mole.
These political-legal type cases constitute right now about half of Flym's practice. He recently left a large law firm to start his own--Flym and Zakhind--so that he could spend more of his time on this type of case. The firm's specialty is litigation. Flym is interested in draft cases; his partner handles many pertaining to narcotics laws. Fully 40 per cent of their clients are poor people from Boston's ghettos. "People in the ghetto always seem to be in trouble with the law," Flym says, "and they often have trouble finding someone to defend them." John Guy Serge Flym was born in 1936 n Oran, Algeria--the home of Albert Camus--where his parents emigrated from Germany in the early thirties to escape the Nazis. In 1949, when his father is still employed as a building superintendent. An immigrant living in New York City, Flym fell for some sort of Jeffersonian agrarian vision--he decided he wanted to be a dairy farmer. "I found the concept of a farmer's life appealing," he says.
He spent a year at the Cornell School of Agriculture, sandwiched between two summers working on farms in Pennsylvania and upper New York state. He became disillusioned, however, when he discovered that farming was really big business. Dairy farming involved buying a lot of equipment, and for that you needed capital. He was also having trouble understanding his teachers because, he says, they talked too fast for his limited English comprehension.
HE DROPPED OUT of Cornell and enlisted in the Air Force, where they trained him to be a radar repairman. The military being what it is, a man who had had to leave school because of language difficulty found himself teaching others how to repair radar for three years in Biloxi, Miss., followed by a year putting his training into practice in Greenland.
Flym left the Air Force in October, 1957. He entered the Columbia University general studies program in the spring of 1958 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Cum Laude in 1961. He got his Ll. B. from Harvard in 1964, spent a year as clerk for a district judge in Denver, Colorado, then came to work for the firm in Boston where he stayed until March of this year. He was married three days before the University Hall trial began.
Flym is short, with dark features and squinting eyes. Because English is a second language, he speaks it slowly and dis-tinc-t-ly, a little like Peter Lorre. The overall--mistaken--impression one receives is of a tough, devious, plotting man. Some Mafia mouthpiece maybe, or a loanshark. Perhaps to counteract this, he likes to play the part of the lawyer--wearing grey suits and white shirts, and constantly putting his arm on people's shoulders. When King Collins first met Flym after his arrest--he had talked to him on the phone the day before and Flym had agreed to defend him--he refused to have anything to do with Flym because he looked too straight.
Flym first became interested in the draft several years ago through a Quaker friend. He is now executive chairman of the Selective Service Lawyers Panel, a group of Boston lawyers concerned about the draft. He works with Boston Draft Resistance, and is staff attorney for a Harvard Law School group called The Committee for Legal Research on the Draft.
TROUGH THESE groups, through the Sisson and Collins cases, and through The Old Mole, he became known to many of Harvard's political activists. Several of these, Mike Ansara among them, contacted him the afternoon University Hall was taken, asking his help if there was a bust. A Law School friend called him as the police were moving, in and he headed down to the East Cambridge Courthouse. As the occupiers were arraigned one-by-one, most decided to have Flym defend them.
Flym acts as a bridge between his radical friends and the legal establishment. Indeed, he is often the only communications link between the two. He tries hard to emphasize, however, that Flym the lawyer is dominant over Flym the political idealist: "I'm craftsman," he says. "What I'm interested in, in these cases, is more the legal issues than the political questions. But the political questions often raise fundamental legal issues." And a lawyer's pragmatism colors the idealist's view of a controversy: "While there's a lot of heat generated, it's a matter of starting out with respect for the others' opinions and avoiding arrogance."
Flym agrees with all six of the original SDS demands, and says that those who occupied the building had a right to do so. "You can reach back to when this nation was formed," he says. "Means were necessary to accomplish certain objectives. The objectives of the students warranted relatively drastic means. And remember, the occupation of a building is an essentially non-violent form of exercising one's point of view. In judging the appropriateness of this means, consider the example of the rise of the unions--it is the doctrine of countervailing power.
"We have to develop at colleges some form of countervailing power. What now exists is a largely autocratic system that holds sway over issues that transcend the academic, such as the future of the city of Cambridge and cooperation with national foreign policy that necessarily means placing a stamp of approval on things like the war in Vietnam."
These beliefs do not constitute a legal defense, of course. "The way our system of justice works," Flym explains, "you can't address yourself to questions not relevant to the specific charge." Nonetheless, Flym says that the charge of criminal trespass could be profitably addressed at two levels. First, whether those inside were ever actually forbidden to be there by someone in authority; second and more important, whether anybody indeed had the authority to tell them to leave. "An argument with some validity," Flym says, "would have been that the trustees do not have any authority to take such action. But it would have been silly to try this in District Court--that's an argument for the Supreme Court."
INSTEAD, he relied on the first argument. "By raising in court the question of whether the authority had been exercised by the President and Fellows, then we would raise the question on campus of whether the President and Fellows indeed have that authority. [In delivering the warning and ordering in the police] someone purported to speak on the part of the University. Dean Watson and Dean Glimp both disavowed any authority to remove the people from the building. If someone had said 'Yes, I did it,' he'd have a lot of questions to answer to the Faculty, because they would dispute his right to do it."
Therefore, "given the system as it exists, criminal trespass was not an inappropriate charge. But criminal law needs to be reformed. It really needs to be reformed more than any other body of law today. The criminal process is not intended to look a the big picture. It distorts reality by focusing on a small corner. It therefore works badly in these political-legal cases because it doesn't permit taking into account the motivations of the actors in the drama." But once again, Flym the political idealist clashes with Flym the hard-nosed lawyer. "I guess it would be difficult to design a legal process that would not--as a rule--tend to limit the issues. But if you need to have an institution like the criminal process--and I think you do--you must decide what kind."
Flym is engaged in many leftist political causes and organizations outside his practice, from "wishy-washy McCarthy types" on out. "Right now I'm trying to find my way politically," he says. "The University Hall cases are interesting to me because I have a chance to engage in dialogue with different shades of radical opinion."
Flym hopes to develop a practice "partially centered around the needs of the disadvantaged." He is still defending several student on various "political-legal" charges, including several Harvard students whose cases he says he can't discuss.
"It is the nature of the times," he says, "that these legal issues are political issues. And because of the nature of these times, I'm a political man more and more." MICHAEL E. KINSLEY