Daniel Sheehan (attorney)

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Daniel P. Sheehan
Daniel Sheehan.png
At the Romero Institute, 2012.
Occupation Chief Counsel of the Romero Institute

Daniel P. Sheehan is a Constitutional and public interest lawyer, public speaker and educator. Over the last forty-five years he has participated in numerous legal cases of public interest, including the Pentagon Papers Case, the Watergate Break-In Case, the Silkwood Case, the Iran Contra Scandal and others. He established the Christic Institute and the Romero institute, two non-profit public policy centers. He has also spoken publicly about UFOs and alien visitation.

Today, Sheehan is Chief Counsel of the Romero Institute, where his current focus is the Lakota People's Law Project. The Lakota People's Law Project seeks to end what they claim are unlawful seizures of Native American Lakota children in South Dakota, and stop the state practice of placing the vast majority of these children in non-Native homes, in violation of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

In addition, he recently published a memoir, The People's Advocate, and is finishing work for a book on the most up-to-date theories of the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Current Work[edit]

Lakota People's Law Project[edit]

"Our Children are Sacred". Logo of Lakota People's Law Project

Since 2005, Daniel Sheehan and the Romero Institute have spearheaded the Lakota People's Law Project. They are working with leaders of the Lakota Indian tribes to end the epidemic of illegal seizures of Native Lakota children by the state of South Dakota. In addition, they are working to stop the state practice of placing the vast majority of these children with non-Native families, in violation of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. Their mission is to build a foundation for the renewal of Lakota families and culture.

Currently, Lakota Law works with noted Lakota activists Madonna Thunder Hawk and Chase Iron Eyes, Oglala Sioux, along with many others, to create the solution to "the taking" of Lakota children by the state. In July 2013, the Governor of South Dakota even endorsed Lakota Law's plan to re-direct funding away from the South Dakota Department of Social Services and toward new, Lakota-run tribal foster care programs.

Most recently, seven of the nine Lakota tribes in South Dakota, with the help of A Positive Tomorrow, have submitted their Title IV-E Applications for Federal Planning grants. These tribes are Crow Creek, Oglala (Pine Ridge), Yankton, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, Flandreau, and Lower Brule. If approved, these grants will help to create an infrastructure for tribal run foster care and other programs.


Daniel Sheehan has played a key role in many of the most famous public interest cases of our times. These include the Pentagon Papers Case, Eisenstadt v. Baird, In re Pappas: Branzburg v. Hayes, (408 U.S. 665) (1972), Black Panther 21trial, State v. Byrd, the Watergate burglary case, the Wounded Knee trials, Morton v Mancari, the Silkwood Case, Three-Mile Island Incident (PIRC v. Three Mile Island), American Sanctuary Movement Case (U.S. v. Stacey Lynn Merkt, et al.), Greensboro Massacre (Waller v. Butkovich), and the Avirgan v. Hull and the Iran-Contra Affair.[1]

Early life[edit]

Daniel Peter Sheehan was born in 1945 in Glen Falls, New York. He grew up in the town of Warrensburg, between Lake Champlain and Lake George at the southern edge of the Adirondack forest and by the border of the independent Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy. He was born into the Atomic Age, just 100 days before the detonation of the first atom bomb at the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, in the first years of the post-World War II Baby Boom generation. At the age of 14 Daniel began attending Catholic Mass every Sunday, a tradition he continues to this day. During his teenage years he developed a strong sense of justice and an inclusive view of humanity. These values motivated him in both his studies and pursuits.


While studying at Northeastern University in 1964 Daniel considered joining the Green Berets. However, he changed his mind during classes on how to kill women and children in Vietnamese villages. In the summer of 1965 he co-founded Roxbury Summer, a project of the Boston Archdiocese that converted unused Catholic High Schools into pre-school, child care, and job training centers for that neighborhood's African-American residents. He then transferred to Harvard College. There, under advisers Paul Freund and Arthur Sutherland, he completed a senior thesis on "The 5th Amendment in American Jurisprudence." He graduated in 1967 with a Degree in American Government with Honors.

Following his graduation from Harvard College, Sheehan continued his studies at the University's Law School. He served as Chief Research Associate to International Law Chair Jerome Cohen and as Co-Editor of the Harvard Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review. He initiated, filed, and argued important cases on the First Amendment (Branzburg v. Hayes; In re Pappas) and reproductive freedom (Eisenstadt v. Baird). He also served under Professor Milton Katz, then President of the Association of International Jurists, as Director of the Biafran Relief Commission, which successfully circumvented the Nigerian Government's blockade of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War to deliver an emergency airlift of food supplies to its people.

Cahill Gordon, The Pentagon Papers, In re Pappas[edit]

After receiving his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1970, Daniel Sheehan was hired as Associate First Amendment Counsel by the Wall Street law firm of Cahill, Gordon, Sonnett, Reindel & Ohl. Among other cases, he prepared the petitioner's brief for In re Pappas—which he had originally filed while still at Harvard Law School—as well as amicus briefs for the companion cases of Branzburg v. Hayes and U.S. v. Caldwell, following their consolidation and certiorari by the Supreme Court.

Sheehan acted as Legal Counsel to Attica inmates in the Western District of New York, helping to secure placement of a Committee of Observers inside the prison. As one of the observers himself, he helped establish that hostages were killed by State Police gunfire and not, as officials claimed, by inmates. He also served as pro bono Associate Trial Counsel for 21 leaders of the New York Black Panther Party, falsely accused of a bombing conspiracy. The jury in the case (State v. Byrd) found each of the defendants innocent of all criminal charges (the jury actually insisted on using the term "innocent," despite the unorthodoxy of it).

But Sheehan's most important work at Cahill was the landmark First Amendment case New York Times, Co. v. U.S. ( "Pentagon Papers Case") that won the right of the New York Times and Washington Post to publish a classified Pentagon study revealing the secret history of the Vietnam War. Sheehan served as Co-Counsel before the Supreme Court along with Chief Counsel James Goodale (New York Times) and attorneys Alexander Bickel (Yale Law School) and Floyd Abrams (Cahill, Gordon, et al.).

Unwilling to take on many of the corporate clients represented by Cahill, and frustrated by their attempts to limit his work on politically-charged cases, Sheehan left the firm in 1972. Having seen firsthand, through his work on the Pentagon Papers case and others, the Nixon administration's immoral and criminal conduct, he accepted a position at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as the Assistant New York State Campaign Director for George McGovern's Presidential campaign and as the New York State Director of Voter Registration. While there he helped strike down State laws prohibiting mobile voter registration. As a result, the New York Democratic Party went on to register record numbers of voters that year. He also served under William vanden Heuvel as Special Counsel to the Rockefeller Commission in oversight of the New York City Knapp Commission's investigation and public hearings into Police Department corruption. At the center of these hearings was the testimony of patrolman and Officer Frank Serpico.

Bailey, Alch & Gillis; Watergate[edit]

While President Nixon easily won reelection, this work led to Sheehan being retained as Associate Trial Counsel for the Boston-based law firm of Bailey, Alch & Gillis. Initially brought on to help defend founding partner and famed criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, he later served as Special Counsel in the Watergate Burglary case before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. During that case defendant James McCord wrote his now famous letter to presiding Judge John Sirica. The letter, which admitted to a connection between the Plumbers Unit and high-level White House officials, elevated the Watergate break-in to the level of national political scandal. Of course, it also led to President Nixon's impeachment and resignation.

Harvard Divinity School, the American Civil Liberties Union[edit]

In 1973 Daniel Sheehan decided to continue his formal education. He entered Harvard Divinity School to begin graduate study in Comparative Social Ethics. During his second semester he took a leave of absence to accept an offer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Working out of Denver, Colorado he served both as Trial Counsel to the Rocky Mountain Regional Office and as Legal Counsel to the National Organization's Committee on Native American Rights. Once again, Sheehan found himself in the middle of momentous social events. During his brief tenure with the ACLU he was involved in several First Amendment cases, including: In re Last Tango in Paris, successfully defending the United Artists film against obscenity charges by the State of Idaho; Associated Student Body v. University of Wyoming, defending the right of University of Wyoming students to screen motion pictures free from administration censorship; and In re Slaughterhouse Five, overturning a decision by the school district in Drake, North Dakota after it banned—and burned—the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five and fired the teacher who had assigned it.

Native American Rights, Wounded Knee[edit]

He also worked on several important Native American rights cases. In Morton v. Mancari he authored briefs that led to a Supreme Court decision holding that the Bureau of Indian Affairs' preferential hiring of Native Americans did not violate the Equal Employment Opportunity Act nor the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Following the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (AIM), he served as amicus curiae in the eight-month long Wounded Knee Trials against AIM leaders. The defendants were able to demonstrate a pattern of government misconduct that led to the case being dismissed.

Jesuit Social Ministry, Worldviews[edit]

Daniel returned to Harvard Divinity School from 1974-1975. During this time he began researching human worldviews with Professor Ralph Potter, developer of the Potter Box model for ethical decision making and protégée of Talcott Parsons, a founding Professor of Harvard's Department of Sociology. This work—which he has expanded on over the last forty years—sought to identify and understand the various human worldviews from which our economic, political, scientific, religious and all manner of human systems flow. Although only one semester shy of receiving his Master of Divinity, Sheehan was given a unique opportunity to combine his spiritual values, legal training, and passion for justice. In the summer of 1975 he accepted a position as General Counsel to the United States Jesuit Order's National Office of Social Ministry in Washington, D.C. This position would have a profound influence on his professional and personal life. In Washington, D.C., Sheehan worked closely with Father William Davis, who introduced him to and connected him with leaders of the country's religious and progressive movements. He served as Counsel for Fathers Daniel and Phillip Berrigan, Dick Gregory, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Ralph David Abernathy among others. Together, Sheehan and Davis developed a reputation as fierce advocates of the rights of political and peace activists.


In 1977, Sheehan was approached by leaders of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Among them was Sara Nelson, NOW's Labor Committee Chair, who was spearheading a NOW campaign and a broad coalition of progressive groups seeking to bring attention to the death of Karen Silkwood. A chemical technician and union activist, Silkwood died when her car was run off the road while on her way to meet with a New York Times reporter. She had told the reporter she would bring evidence of irregularities and safety violations at the plutonium fuel rods plant where she worked. Davis, Sheehan and Nelson formed an immediate bond. In concert with their allies they filed a lawsuit on behalf of Silkwood's children. They organized a massive public education and organizing campaign to put a spotlight on the case. They won a record-setting judgment that established new precedent in liability law and effectively ended construction of all new nuclear power plants in the United States. Dan and Sara also started a family.

The Christic Institute, 3 Mile Island, Greensboro Massacre, American Sanctuary Movement[edit]

In 1979, Daniel Sheehan, Sara Nelson and many of the allies and architects of the Silkwood case gathered back in Washington, D.C. to found The Christic Institute. Based on the ecumenical teachings of Teilhard de Chardin, and on the lessons they learned from their experience in the Silkwood fight, the Christic Institute combined investigation, litigation, education and organizing into a unique model for social reform in the United States. Over the next 12 years, as General Counsel for the Christic Institute, Sheehan helped prosecute some of the most celebrated public interest cases of the time. Christic represented victims of the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island; they prosecuted KKK members for killing civil rights demonstrators in the Greensboro Massacre, and they defended Catholic workers providing sanctuary to Salvadoran refugees (American Sanctuary Movement).

The Iran-Contra Affair[edit]

In 1986, the Christic Institute brought charges against 28 individuals involved in the Iran-Contra Affair (Avirgan v. Hull). Filed under the provisions of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organizations Act (RICO), the case gave Christic broad investigative powers. Using these powers they were able to compel testimony and subpoena evidence that revealed the existence of a "secret team" within the United States intelligence community that had been engaged in a decades-long pattern of criminal activity in the conduct of covert operations. The Christic Institute's suit and public education campaign created broad public awareness of the Iran-Contra Affair, eventually forcing the appointment of Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh. Ultimately, the suit failed to win any civil judgment against the defendants.

President George H. W. Bush pardoned the principal conspirators and the case was dismissed by Federal Judge James Lawrence King. The final blows came when Judge King ordered Christic to pay one million dollars of the defendant's legal fees and the IRS stripped the Institute of its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status after claiming the suit was politically-motivated.

The Romero Institute[edit]

With the Christic Institute shut down, Daniel Sheehan and Sara Nelson relocated their family to California. There, they were elected to lead the Romero Institute, named after martyr and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, and they soon began to take on other projects. Sheehan represented the brother of Colonel James Sabow, a decorated Marine Colonel and the Assistant Chief of Staff at El Toro Marine Base in California. Colonel Sabow was found dead from a shotgun blast to the head in his backyard on the morning of January 22, 1991. While the death was initially ruled a suicide, subsequent forensic evidence showed that suicide was a physical impossibility.

Extraterrestrials and the Disclosure Project[edit]

In 1994, Daniel served as Legal Counsel to John E. Mack, Chair of the Department of Clinical Psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Mack was a Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer who, utilizing the scientific methods of medical psychology, conducted extensive research on the phenomenon of alien abduction. In 1994 the Dean of Harvard Medical School called Dr. Mack before a special committee to defend publication of his controversial book Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. Sheehan represented Dr. Mack before the committee, successfully protecting his right to academic freedom.

Daniel Sheehan's work with Dr. Mack was not the first time he had come into contact with the issue of life outside of Earth. In the late-1970s he acted as a Special Consultant to the United States Library of Congress investigation into the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence that had been requested by President Jimmy Carter. Following this work he presented a closed-door seminar on the Theological Implications of Contact to leading scientists in the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In 2001 he served as General Counsel to The Disclosure Project, which coordinated the sworn testimony—before members of the United States Congress—of former U.S. Military Officers, Federal Aviation Administration officials, and NASA employees attesting to direct personal knowledge of Government information concerning the UFO phenomenon and the potential existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Sheehan also served as General Counsel to the Institute for Cooperation in Space, a U.S. citizens group dedicated to banning space-based weapons and the development of any weapons intended for offensive use against potential extraterrestrial civilizations. He has also presented, on multiple occasions, a talk on the Philosophical and Theological Implications of the Human Discovery of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence at the International UFO Congress.

In 2013 he served on the investigative panel for the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure [of UFO phenomena]- April 29 to May 3[1]

The New Paradigm Project, Worldviews[edit]

Daniel Sheehan's work has focused on identifying and cultivating non-dialectical, cooperative models for change. In 1999, he served as Director of the New Paradigm Project at Mikhail Gorbachev's State of the World Forum. There he joined world leaders in examining the obstacles to a new era of sustainable economic and social organization. Through the Romero Institute he is currently working to establish the New Paradigm Academy, a year-long program that will give young leaders of the Millennial Generation the tools they need to effectively address global challenges. The Academy would house the Worldview Institute, a think-tank that incorporates an understanding of human worldviews into the resolution of global political and policy problems.