Pump up the volume

Attorney Jeffrey Kravitz hopes to parlay his civil rights work into a national radio show

Lawyer Jeffrey Kravitz broadcasts his concerns about the state of our rights on station KDVS.

Lawyer Jeffrey Kravitz broadcasts his concerns about the state of our rights on station KDVS.

photo by Larry Dalton

Sitting at the microphone in the KDVS studio, surrounded by shelves of CDs and old records, the walls covered in bumper stickers bearing lefty political slogans, Jeffrey Kravitz looks more like a firebrand talk show host than a constitutional law attorney.

Actually, he’s both. Kravitz made his mark on the Sacramento legal community with some high profile civil liberties cases. And now he’s making a mark on the general community’s social conscience by bringing up the same issues on his Panic Attack radio show.

“This is a blast! It’s like a dream come true,” Kravitz gushes. “All my life I’ve wanted to be a talk show host.”

One can almost see the wheels turning in his head while he listens intently to guests and callers, all the while nervously twisting and pulling a rubber band between his fingers. That kind of manic energy is something he applies to both his vocations.

Interviews with Kravitz are squeezed among court hearings, phone calls from clients or the police, media interviews, and his need to eat lunch—which he frequently misses. In his law office, even Slither, his yellow-bellied stuffed snake, perches precariously on a stack of files, as if ready to strike an unwitting victim at any moment.

Whether it’s his robust laughter, animated dialogues, or the distant hum of industrial machines drifting through his window, there’s no silence in his sixth-floor office. Outside the window, K Street bustles with life, from homeless derelicts to working professionals—a range representative of his diverse client base.

Kravitz’s work on controversial cases like the Headliners adult strip club; the Timbya Whitted case of police brutality; and, most recently, the Tabloid 95 hip-hop club in Old Sacramento, have established Kravitz as a champion of civil rights. Moreover, it’s cases like these that have him convinced that the erosion of civil rights in this country is even more pronounced in the Sacramento region.

As a member of the Indigent Defense Panel program, Kravitz represents many poor people who have their civil rights violated by the police. Increasingly, he said, as people step out of line even a little, they’re rounded up on charges that may or may not stick, just so the police can get them into the system.

Sacramento Police Department spokeswoman Audrey Lee denies that police round up citizens without good reason. “We don’t go out hunting for things. Mostly, we just respond to the calls we get,” she said. “Our job is to protect the citizens and their property, and that’s what we do.”

Yet Kravitz doesn’t see police as such a benign force. Every project Kravitz takes on reflects his passion for the preservation and expansion of civil liberties. He believes that the United States is quickly becoming a police state—citing the war on crime, the war on drugs, and our zero tolerance mindset as proof.

“First of all, the war on drugs is the single greatest curtailer of civil liberties in the world. It’s the worst government policy in all of history. By definition, war is the absence of civil liberties. Civilians who are damaged by war are just collateral damage,” said Kravitz. “Number two, because of what the war on drugs is trying to do—curtail private behavior undertaken by people privately—it is necessary to erode people’s freedoms in order to accomplish this goal.”

Kravitz is of the opinion that the government is at war with a large portion of the population and he believes too much power has been ceded to police and police agencies. However, he doesn’t blame them for the phenomenon. Instead, he said people are at fault because they want the police to do everything for them, and at the same time, power has been stripped from judges and school officials to make decisions.

Kravitz absentmindedly rolled a pen back and forth on the desktop, as he explained how civil liberties violations are less race-based than in the past, but rather, class-based. Still, he clearly sees race as a factor in several of the cases he’s covering.

“Do I believe there is an undercurrent of racism in Sacramento County, which leads to some of the cases I’m working on? The answer is absolutely yes! And you have to be blind not to see it,” Kravitz said. “I mean frankly, the whole problem over Old Town that has happened, absolutely has racial overtones.”

He explained that the parties involved expressed disdain for the “hip-hop crowd,” which he believes means black people. Old Sacramento officials have denied that race is a factor, saying the problem is young troublemakers, but Kravitz scoffs as such justifications.

“If there were lots of crowds of white youth hanging out around clubs in Old Town, and there had been fights, would there be a crisis? Would there have been concerns? There would have been concerns. But I do not believe they would have been able to keep up the type of campaign that they have kept up against the area if it wasn’t for the use of this racial issue subliminally and overtly,” said Kravitz.

Kravitz has been practicing law for five years, working on criminal cases and licensing issues in addition to his civil rights focus. Family law attorney Katherine Sabo, a recent guest on the radio show, said Kravitz is complex and difficult to pin down.

“He has very strong opinions and very strong beliefs, and every now and then he’ll say something and you think you’ve got him into a box. [You think,] ‘OK, I’ve got him stereotyped. I’ve figured him out.’…[Then] he’ll have a very firm belief about something totally contradictory to that box you put him in,” said Sabo.

Criminal defense attorney Russel Fong, who has also been a guest on the radio program, said there’s nothing phony about Kravitz: “His life is not a reflection of what he wants people to see. What you see is what you get.”

And what you’re certain to get is an intellectual conversation, a good laugh, and maybe even a bit irritated by his chronic tardiness, which is a source of consternation for Kravitz.

“Like many, many attorneys, I am addicted to doing things at the last minute. There are always fires to put out. You need to be planning things in advance, not doing everything at the last minute. Very often, you become a good gunslinger. You shoot from the hip and hit. It’s not a good idea, but you can become used to doing it,” Kravitz said.

While he hasn’t changed much since his activist days in college, where he said he was arrested three times for his protest activities while studying history at the University of California, Berkeley, Kravitz now works within the confines of the law. Prior to attending law school at the University of California, Davis, for several years he tried his hand at selling health supplements and publishing and editing a travel magazine.

While at UC Davis, Kravitz said he served as editor of the law school newsmagazine, The King Hall Advocate, and continued to promote social justice and civil rights issues. But after law school, his life once again took an unexpected turn, leaving him divorced, with his children on the weekends, and working at a conservative law firm—something that was completely out of step with who he was.

After a year, he said he came back to his senses. He quit the law firm and moved back onto the path that he’s always wanted to be on—not realizing that his work on the high profile Headliners case, and charisma, would earn him his own radio program in 1999.

Shifting his civil rights rhetoric onto the airwaves via Panic Attack was a welcome transition. Broadcast from the UC Davis campus, the show airs Tuesday evenings from 5 to 6 p.m. on 90.3 FM. It features attorneys and other experts who focus on various areas of law or public policy, and has a listener-call-in format. Sabo said the host’s unique use of personal anecdotes and humor puts people at ease.

Unlike some radio hosts, Kravitz lets listeners and guests have their say, though he’s been told he cuts people off too much. His goal is to get people thinking and arguing about the topics discussed on his show. Yet, no matter how much they rant, he remains unruffled.

While he’s never outright rude, his use of sarcastic humor is disarming, leaving callers wondering if they’ve just been insulted. For example, he jokingly refers to Abe, a regular listener and a conservative, as a “nut.” Or he had no qualms about telling one caller to please put down his crack pipe before asking his question.

“I try to be pretty nice, even when I ask the hard questions. People joke that my style is kind of a combination of Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. And, sure, there is some of that there,” said Kravitz. “I handle difficult people all the time. That’s what my job is.

While his self-confidence and frequent references to his next media appearance can seem egomaniacal and self-promoting, Sabo explained that Kravitz is only looking for any opportunity to promote his clients, their interests and the radio show. Perhaps surprisingly, Kravitz said what he wants to be most known for isn’t his legal practice, but Panic Attack.

“I don’t emphasize my practice as much as other attorneys do as a purely money-making mill. I’m most interested in this radio show right now. It’s like my passion,” said Kravitz. “I do everything else so that I can do the radio show. What I want is, what I will hopefully have soon, to be able to make money from doing the show.”

Kravitz hopes to someday see Panic Attack expand to include a national audience. His desire to be involved with things that are constantly moving forward is the driving force in his life. That is why he said he chooses to live by the Chinese proverb, “He who rides the tiger cannot dismount.”