Bay Bridge

A Child of the 60’s Who Retains His Activist Streak

Logo - RecorderMarch 19, 2001 | The Recorder

By Brenda Sandburg

Terry Gross’ roster of past and present clients reads like a Who’s Who of headline grabbers: O.J. Simpson, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Mrs. Salvador Allende, Leona Helmsley and the republics of Panama and South Africa.

Not bad for a former hippie who did cabinetry, logging and apple picking and was an early computer engineer before going to law school.

“Terry is a child of the ’60s,” says Gross’ law partner, Adam Belsky. “He had a whole other life before he became a lawyer.”

The San Francisco-based Gross practices a combination of constitutional, intellectual property and international law that gives him a chance to delve into cases that seem tailor-made for his unorthodox background.

“I’m mostly interested in taking cases that are going to make a difference,” Gross says.

Ten years ago, for example, Gross was one of a group of U.S. attorneys invited by the African National Congress to help draft the country’s first post-apartheid constitution. The constitution is recognized by many as one of the most progressive in the world.

He’s now representing South Africa in its efforts to gain the southafrica.com domain name. The owner of the domain name, Seattle-based Virtual Countries Inc., filed suit against the Republic of South Africa in November in a move to keep the name.

A 1980 Boalt Hall graduate, Gross began his legal career at New York’s Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman, an international constitutional law firm with a progressive history. The firm has represented Cuba since the 1959 revolution and represented the government of Nicaragua under the Sandinistas and the Chilean government during Salvador Allende’s presidency.

In 1993, Gross moved to San Francisco and two years ago formed Gross & Belsky with partner Adam Belsky. Gross also retains an of counsel position at Rabinowitz.

Gross cites as one of his most significant cases his defense of Navajo elders who fought relocation from their ancestral homelands at Big Mountain, Ariz.

“A law was passed at the urging of energy companies which wanted the land vacated,” Gross says. He spent more than a month on the Navajo reservation with an interpreter learning about their life and eventually won a court order allowing the elders to remain on the land.

In other disputes, Gross represented the widow of socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende when she was denied a U.S. visa. He was lead counsel to Panama when the U.S. government froze all Panamanian assets in 1989. And in the mid-1990s he and his firm represented the Cuban telephone company when U.S. plaintiffs sought to garnish funds from the company after Cuba shot down a plane over its territory.

Politically active in his youth, Gross recalls that he was in charge of marshal training for demonstrations during the trial of the so-called Chicago 7, a group accused of conspiring to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Gross says he is driven by the philosophy that “individuals deserve economic justice.”

He and Belsky handle about one criminal appeal pro bono a year. In one case they overturned the bank robbery conviction of a client. Among his pro bono work, Gross also represents organizers of the Burning Man festival in intellectual property and other matters.

Among his recent cases, Gross represented O.J. Simpson in an unsuccessful attempt to block distribution of a TV movie about Simpson’s criminal trial. Simpson argued that the movie, and the book it was based on, violated attorney-client confidences.

Gross got the case through his connections to Simpson attorneys Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Barry Scheck. He had previously advised them on media law issues.

Gross also handles more mundane matters, representing high-tech clients in media, trademark and Internet issues. He also is involved in class actions, including a class action against Microsoft.

“We chose the work we do because we believe it’s the right thing to do to further social good,” Gross says.