Brian Rohan, ‘Dope Lawyer’ for the Grateful Dead, Dies at 84
Brian Rohan, the lawyer who represented celebrity clients such as the Grateful Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane, has died at the age of 84.
Rohan’s death was confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle by his daughter, Kathleen Jolson. The lawyer had reportedly been battling cancer for six years.
"He worked until the last day of his life, clutching his phone in one hand and his iPad in the other,” Jolson told the newspaper. “He fought for his clients, he fought for his friends, and he fought for what he thought was right.”
Rohan graduated from Stanford before getting his law degree from UC Hastings College of Law. His first law firm was located in San Francisco’s famed Haight-Ashbury district and its residents soon caught the young attorney’s attention.
“My father grew up very straitlaced, and he was fascinated by what he saw in the Haight,” Jolson explained. “He was looking for somebody to help, and he saw that nobody was there to protect the kids flocking to San Francisco.”
Rohan became known as a “dope lawyer” due to his ability to help clients get out of marijuana-related charges.
His first high-profile client was novelist and counterculture figure Ken Kesey. Rohan was part of the 1965 defense team which represented the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest author following his arrest on two felony charges for marijuana possession and one charge of international flight to Mexico. Kesey could have gone to jail for several years, yet Rohan and his colleagues were able to argue it down to just six months.
Kesey would recommend Rohan to the Grateful Dead, thus ushering the lawyer into the world of music. He helped negotiate the Dead’s first record contract with Warner Bros., and, years later, got drug charges against the band dropped following a police raid of their house during the Summer of Love.
It was also around this time that Rohan co-founded the Haight-Ashbury Legal Organization, a group of volunteer lawyers who helped hippie clients.
More than just a “dope lawyer,” Rohan served as a music attorney for many years, representing such notable acts as Aerosmith, Kris Kristofferson, Motorhead and Boston.
Rohan also became infamous after a 1977 incident in which he punched powerful record producer David Geffen at Clive Davis’ Grammy Awards party. The lawyer was reportedly upset because Geffen had "stepped on" his clients and then refused to take Rohan’s calls.
As news of the lawyer's death became public, many artists took to social media to pay their respects (see below).