From the Editors
We at the Human Rights Defense Center are saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Kent Alan Russell on August 9, 2020. Many readers know him as the author of the California Habeas Handbook and California’s leading expert on habeas corpus. In addition, he provided invaluable assistance to our readers via his Habeas Hints column that appeared regularly in Criminal Legal News.
Kent passed away peacefully surrounded by his son Kane, daughters Blaire and Chandra, sons-in-law Arvind and Abe, and six grandchildren. Kent’s wife of 37 years, Pamela, and parents, Arthur and Zina, preceded him in death.
Kent was born in New York, New York, in 1947. His younger brother Lance came three years later, and the two would share a passion for singing and songwriting. A reserved elementary and high school student, Kent came out of his shell while attending Princeton University from 1964 to 1968. Bonding over the Beatles and Dylan, he and three classmates formed the rock bank Us4, playing gigs throughout New England.
After his days at Princeton, Kent attended the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, where he served as an editor on the California Law Review, grew out his hair, and joined the 1968 protests. He interviewed at a prestigious corporate law firm, but he knew it wasn’t a match when they asked him to cut his hair. Instead, he took a job at the law offices of Melvin Belli, the “King of Torts.” It was there that Kent honed his legal skills tackling criminal defense cases and became a talented trial lawyer himself.
In 1976, Kent opened his own law practice. He won acquittals in numerous criminal cases, including that of Sonny Barger and his then-wife Sharon in the year-long RICO trial, as memorialized in Sonny’s book Hells Angel.
In 1981, Kent posted an ad at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law for volunteers to help host a networking event. A female student name Pamela Russell answered the ad, and it was love at first sight. The couple married in Mexico, and together they founded their law practice, Russell and Russell.
Over time, Kent developed a specialty in habeas corpus law, representing prisoners challenging their convictions. He authored and published the California Habeas Handbook, providing prisoners user-friendly tips for navigating the complex habeas process. Kent’s professional legacy was not about winning but leveling the playing field for the “underdog.” His passion for his career inspired his two daughters to attend both his alma maters and become lawyers.
In 2007, Kent was diagnosed with the first of five cancers. His illness became a musical muse, providing inspiration for songs he wrote during chemotherapy. In 2018, cancer surgery on his tongue didn’t stop him from traveling to his 50th college reunion where he performed with his Us4 bandmates – featuring the song “Reunion 50” that Kent wrote for the occasion.
Kent’s friends and family will forever remember him for his boundless optimism, infectious passion, razor-sharp intellect, leg-thumping musical performances, and unshakable resilience.