Richard Borow, L.A. attorney who fought for Angela Davis’ right to teach at UCLA, dies

Richard Borow
(Courtesy Irell & Manella)

Richard Borow, a Los Angeles trial attorney who defended Angela Davis after the UC Board of Regents dismissed the outspoken UCLA assistant professor because she was a member of the Communist Party in what became one of California’s great fights over academic freedom, has died at 87.

Borow, who died Sept. 3, spent months representing the UCLA faculty in a drawn-out fight over Davis’ fate, a legal showdown that unfolded as college campuses were gripped by sometimes rebellious protests over the Vietnam War, heavy-handed policing and racial inequities in America. A young Black woman and avowed Marxist, the regents seemed driven to go after her.

Over the firm opposition of then-Chancellor Charles Young, the regents ousted Davis in late 1969, cheered on by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. The courts later ruled that her dismissal was unconstitutional and she was reinstated, though the unyielding regents dismissed her again, this time for what it said was her use of inflammatory language, such as using the word “pig” to refer to a police officer.


Davis was later hired as a philosophy professor at UC Santa Cruz and, in a moment of great irony, was invited to serve as a regents visiting lecturer at UCLA in 2014. She famously became a fugitive in 1970 and was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for allegedly buying a gun that was used in a fatal courthouse shooting. Davis was later arrested in New York, tried in California and acquitted on murder charges by an all-white jury.

Angela Davis speaks at the University of North Carolina in 1970.
(Associated Press)

Davis is now a professor emerita at UC Santa Cruz, an author and frequent lecturer.

As for Borow, he ended up on President Nixon’s notorious enemies list, a fact his colleagues said he acknowledged with great pride.

Richard Henry Barow was born in New York in 1935 and graduated from Columbia Law School. He came to Los Angeles in 1965 and helped launch the litigation arm of Irell & Manella, then a small firm specializing in tax and transactional law.

Among the cases he took on was the media fight in 1980 to stop an L.A. judge from closing the preliminary hearing for the “Hillside Strangler,” the notorious serial killer accused of killing 10 women whose bodies were dumped in the city’s hillsides in the late 1970s. The killings were ultimately found to be the work of two cousins, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr.

Borow urged the judge to have “the courage” to declare unconstitutional a section of the penal code that then permitted a defendant — in this case Buono — the right to close a preliminary hearing to the public and media. The judge refused.

Borow was also an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law for 14 years. He served as chair of the Judicial Evaluations Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. and was a trustee and board member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In retirement, he became an avid golfer and realized a dream when he played “Amen Corner” at Augusta National Golf Club, clearing the hole in one under par.


He is survived by Trudy, his wife of 65 years; son Harlan Borow; daughters Carolyn Sorenson and Jennifer Borow; and four grandchildren, Joseph, Amanda, Ryan and Olivia.