Ali Silvert graduated from Friends in 1976 and matriculated to Tufts before completing his undergraduate studies at UCLA. After moving back to the east coast, Ali wanted to be a political science professor and pursued a joint degree in law and political science while driving a taxi in NYC. He had no plans to become a lawyer; however, he ended up at Boston College Law School, where he particularly enjoyed his clinical classes. Upon graduating in 1984, Ali became a state public defender in Philadelphia and later a federal defender. In 1989 he moved to Hawaii where his wife’s family is from, soon after they had their first child.
From 1991 until 2020, Ali worked as a federal public defender in Hawaii. After his law career, Ali wrote a book, The Mailbox Conspiracy: The Inside Story of the Greatest Corruption Case in Hawaii, based on a public corruption case he won that has had a profound impact on Hawaii government. Enjoying not having a 9-5 job and having the flexibility to do what he wants, Ali vows to never step inside a courtroom again.
Read more to learn how Friends Seminary has made a lifelong impact on Ali’s life and career:
In what ways have Quaker values and your experience at Friends influenced the work you do today?
“In many ways. Friends teaches you to be inquisitive and not to accept flat answers from anyone. At Friends we were taught to find out what’s really going on in the world.” Ali was a history buff at Friends. “My history teacher Peter Klemm helped me get interested in global affairs. I took an independent study class with him during my senior year. Mr. Klemm was a conservative, while I was more liberal in my views of the world. I did a paper on Che Guevara, and we had many interesting conversations about Cuba and his role in the revolution. These discussions taught me how to take a position and stand my ground. My former math teacher, Eva Stangel, is also someone who was memorable. As a lawyer, you have to ask the right questions and not to accept just any answer that is given. Friends gave me the ability to not accept things at face value, and the desire to help the less advantaged.”
How do you understand the work you do now as bringing about a world that ought to be?
As a federal criminal defense attorney, 95% percent of people who go to trial plead guilty. In my opinion, the justice system is fundamentally unjust to those less advantaged. I feel the need to stand up for these people to ensure they get a fair and just trial. There was a time at Friends where there was a conflict between the PTA and the Quaker Meeting. The PTA was trying to open up the School and to distance the School from Quaker meeting elders. During our senior year this came to a head, with some teachers feeling mistreated by the Quaker elders. As a result, my senior year was, at times, a little unpleasant, but it also resulted in me speaking out for the first time in the Meetinghouse in support of the teachers.
You were part of a very closely followed case in Hawaii, which helped expose Honolulu’s culture of corruption. What role, if any, did Quaker values or your time Friends play in your approach to the case?
Friends gave me the grounding in logic and research to uncover the truth. As students we were encouraged to develop a willingness to do the hard work, to do research and to dig, to search for the truth and get to the facts. Friends played a huge part in how I approached my trial work.
What is so special about Friends?
Friendships with fellow students. In my class there were about 50 students. My closest and best friends to this day are still my high school friends from Friends Seminary. We remain in touch to this day.
* Click here to read more about Ali’s book, The Mailbox Conspiracy: The Inside Story of the Greatest Corruption Case in Hawaii.” The book is also available on Amazon.