The New York State Bar Association today extends its sympathy to the family and friends of Lawrence E. Walsh, an influential attorney, judge and adviser who died Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at the age of 102.
Mr. Walsh – perhaps best recognized as independent counsel to the Iran-Contra investigation from 1986-1993 – was a leader in the New York legal community for many decades, serving as president of the State Bar from 1966-1967 and president of the American Bar Association from 1975-1976.
“Lawrence Walsh left a deep and lasting impact on the legal community and the citizens of the United States through his vigorous advocacy for the rule of law and fairness in the judicial process,” said State Bar President David M. Schraver of Rochester (Nixon Peabody). “He will be missed not only for tireless advocacy for the profession, but for his wisdom and counsel.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to his daughters, Barbara, Janet and Elizabeth, his stepchildren Sara and Dale, his grandchildren and the other members of his family at this time of sorrow.”
While president of the State Bar Association, Mr. Walsh vowed to make the rule of law a reality for the oppressed, sought to eliminate political partisanship in the re-election of sitting judges, and urged planning major new courthouses as a reminder of the importance of liberty and justice.
In his most public role as the lead investigator in the Iran-Contra scandal, Mr. Walsh spent more than six years examining the Reagan Administration’s illegal sale of arms to Iran and using the profits to fund contra rebels in Nicaragua who were attempting to overthrow the Sandinista government.
During a 2012 interview with the State Bar News to mark his 100th birthday, Mr. Walsh credited his success as a lawyer to his lower-income upbringing and overcoming the challenges of being an underachieving college student.
In the same interview, Mr. Walsh reflected on the challenges of leading the Iran-Contra investigation, including maintaining the integrity of the investigation under pressure from Congress and in the face of illegal acts committed by individuals on behalf of a popular president.
“In the process of conducting a criminal investigation of the most complex and difficult sort, I found myself at the center of a constitutional maelstrom: the conflict between the rule of law … and the system of political checks and balances,” he said.
Walsh said in the interview that over the years, his position on President Reagan had softened, describing the nation’s 40th president at the heart of the scandal as “very sincere” and “well-intentioned” and having “the country’s best interests in mind.”
A graduate of Columbia University and Columbia Law School, Mr. Walsh had a long and distinguished career as a prosecutor, judge and adviser to presidents and governors.
His many positions in the legal community included deputy assistant district attorney of New York County, assistant counsel to New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Deputy Attorney General of the U.S., and ambassador in the U.S. Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1969. He also spent many years in private practice.
He retired to Oklahoma City, where he died on Wednesday.
The New York State Bar Association, with 75,000 members, is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country. It was founded in 1876.