Charles Ogletree, Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s Lawyer, An Experienced Litigator

By Joel Zand on July 22, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. retained Harvard Law School Professor Charles J. Ogletree (inset) to represent him after being arrested on disorderly conduct charges by Cambridge police. 

The charges were subsequently dropped against Prof. Gates, but the legal fury over being accused of breaking into his own home, handcuffed and reportedly harassed by local law enforcement in front of his neighbors, may prompt Ogletree to file a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of his new client.

Prof. Ogletree's civil rights litigation history is extensive.  Here is a sample of high-profile and high-impact lawsuits in which he has been involved with over the last decade:

    • National Black Farmers Association Class-Action Discrimination Lawsuit Against the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

      Ogletree represented Leonard Farmer, a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed by approximately tens of thousands of black farmers against the U.S.D.A. who were denied federal loans and subsidies.  The suit accused the U.S.D.A. of treating black farmers differently than white farmers over decades.

      Ogletree represented Hunter on a pro bono basis. A settlement was reached in 1999 between the USDA and the majority of plaintiffs.

    • Successfully Sued N.Y.C. For Plaintiffs In Police Assault Case

      Olgetree represented four plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In 2000, Ivy League college graduates Jason Rowley, Sheldon Gilbert, Lauren Sudeall, and Marie Claire Lim were parked in Rowley's car outside the Union Square subway station when a man leapt from a nearby taxi with his gun drawn and rushed their car.

      Afraid that they were being carjacked, Rowley put his car in reverse and tried to get away, only to hit two unmarked police cars behind him, one of which included the taxi. Plainclothes N.Y.P.D. officers then smashed Rowley's car window, then dragged and beat Rowley and Gilbert, the two men, from the car. The N.Y.P.D. took the two terrified women, Sudeall and Lim, from the backseat of the car, and handcuffed them.

      After the arrests, the police learned that their conduct was based upon an incorrect computer report that incorrectly listed Rowley's car as stolen.

      Ogletree and his colleagues at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP filed a lawsuit three months after the incident, and settled the case in 2006 before trial. New York City paid Rowley $100,001, GIlbert $75,001, Sudeall $25,001, Lim $25,001, and their attorneys' fees totaling $330,946.

    • Co-Counsel to John Gotti, Jr., Resulting in Plea Agreement and Dismissal of Most Charges

      Oglethorpe was co-counsel with well-known New York City defense lawyer Gerald Shargel and Long Island defense lawyer Richard Rehbock, getting most of the felony charges against organized crime figure John Gotti, Jr. dismissed, and leading to a plea agreement of 77 months in prison, 3 years supervised release, a $10,000 fine, $336,000 in restitution.

    • Acquittal of Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy

      Oglethorpe successfully represented Mike Espy, the former Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton, in a federal trial brought by Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz that accused him of receiving improper gifts from companies like Tyson Foods and Quaker Oats.

      After trial, a jury acquitted Espy of all charges, prompting one juror to publicly state: "We, the American people, don't want any more of these trivial, petty cases."

    • Slavery Reparations Class-Action Lawsuit

      Olgetree was instrumental in helping launch a slavery reparations lawsuit in 2002 involving "one of the largest class actions ever filed in America." Ogletree believed that "litigation will show what slavery means, how it was profitable

      The suit was consolidated with similar federal suits, and ultimately dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2006 for lack of standing.

Photo credit: Harvard Law School

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