Dallas Times Herald
Feb. 20. 1990 (9A, 11A)
‘Pit bull’ prosecutor targets skinheads
By Alan Van Zelfden
of the Times Herald Staff
Civil rights prosecutor Barry Kowalski strode out of a Dallas
courtroom last year in cowboy boots, looking every bit like a
gunslinger commissioned to ride the nation’s backwoods in
search of lawbreakers.
Instead of a six-shooter, however, the U.S. Justice Department
lawyer uses federal statutes to apply his brand of justice.
And instead of cattle rustlers and highwaymen, his targets
tend to be neo-Nazis with ultraconservative political views
and penchants for racist violence.
Kowalksi arrives in Dallas today to begin prosecution of five
self-confessed neo-Nazis — known as skinheads for their
close-cropped hair — who are accused of assaulting blacks and
vandalizing Jewish institutions in the area. The trial, billed
as the first major U.S. prosecution of a skinheads’ group,
appears ready-made for the 45-year-old lawyer, who declined to
“He’s been described as a pit bull of a prosecutor….He sinks
his teeth into a case and doesn’t let go until he gets to the
bottom of it,” said Dan Rinzel, a Washington lawyer who used
to supervise Kowalski at the Justice Department. “He pursues
his cases with vigor.”
But not everyone appreciates that vigor.
“This case is a pretty political deal for Kowalski,” said a
Dallas attorney representing one of the five defendants. “He
sees himself as a swashbuckling knight in shining armor
wanting to stomp out these Nazis.
“He thinks he’s the big savior for civil rights and that these
five skinheads are part of a huge, sinister organization
espousing the violent overthrow of the government,” he said,
asking not to be identified, “This is nothing but a show
Politics aside, those who know him say Kowalski, son of
now-deceased Connecticut Congressman Frank Kowalski, will make
the trial worth watching.
“His parents came from Poland, and when he was growing up in
the United States, they told him about what happened during
the Holocaust,” said Mark Briskman, regional director of the
Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. “That probably had an
impact on the formations of his world views. His job is an
extension of what he is.”
With those teachings in mind, Kowalski enrolled at Brown
University in Providence, R.I., where he graduated in 1966. He
later received a law degree from Antioch University in
Kowalski’s career took a detour during the late 1960s, when he
joined the Marines. During his military stint, he rose to the
rank of lieutenant and served a short time in Vietnam.
Upon returning to the United States in 1972, Kowalski was
hired as a prosecutor for the Washington D.C. Corp. Council,
which, in the nation’s capital, is the equivalent of a city
A year later, Kowlski began teaching at Antioch. In 1980, he
began his decade-long battle to uphold federal civil rights
One of Kowalski’s first fights came in 1982, when he helped
prosecute avowed racist Joseph Paul Franklin, charged in
connection with shooting civil rights leader Vernon E. Jordan
Jr. outside a Fort Wayne, Ind., motel in 1980.
Kowalski assisted in trying the widely publicized case under
the 1968 Civil Rights Law, which forced the government to
prove not only that Franklin shot Jordan but did so to
prevent Jordan from staying at the hotel.
Although Franklin was acquitted after a weeklong and sometimes
emotional trial, he returned to jail to serve the remainder of
four life sentences he had received in connection with the
sniper slayings of two black men in Salt Lake City years
The skinheads’ trial will be the second civil rights case that
has lured Kowalski to Dallas. The first came in 1984, when he
prosecuted Roy Brockway, then sheriff of Kaufman County, on
misdemeanor charges of beating two prisoners.
Brockway, whom Kowalski described during closing arguments in
that trial as “a bully with a badge,” was convicted. He later
resigned to avoid imprisonment as part of a sentence handed
down by U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer.
One of Kowalski’s more memorable victories came in 1987, when
he helped convict two of four defendants in connection with
the 1984 shooting of Alan Berg, a sometimes abrasive Jewish
talk show host who had ridiculed one of the suspects as being
Kowalski, who saw the jury acquit two of the defendants, said
after the trial that he was “50 percent happy” with the
Those who worked with — and against — Kowalski on the Berg
case remember him as a dedicated prosecutor and a worthy
“It appeared to be that he had done a significant amount of
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nesses who had become government) informants,” said Lee
Foreman, who represented defendant Bruce Carroll Pierce, who
Accolades for Kowalski have reverberated throughout the
“Barry Kowalski is definitely the shining star around here,”
said Deborah Burston-Wade, a spokeswoman for the Justice
Department. “There’s never a question about is abilities.”
Most congnizant of Kowalski’s abilities are white surpremacist
groups, who see him as their No. 1 enemy. Morris Dees,
executive director of the Souther Powerty Law Center in
Alabama, which monitors racist groups, said Kowalski is
consistently disparaged in white supremacist newsletters.
“Lately, Barry has really been concentrating his prosecution
on skinheads because they _are_ the most dangerous element,”
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