Hallinan was born into a large immigrant Irish-Catholic family and raised in San Francisco and Petaluma, California. His father Patrick was said to be a member of the Irish National Invincibles, a revolutionary organization that, among other activities, was reputed to have assassinated the Chief Secretary for Ireland and his secretary in 1881 (the infamous Phoenix Park Murders). Allegedly, the elder Hallinan had fled to the U.S. after the murders. The elder Hallinan became a streetcar conductor in San Francisco, and was one of the leaders of the Great Front Strike of 1899-1900.
Trained by Jesuits in high school, Hallinan passed the California Bar at the age of 22, after studies at Saint Ignatius College and Law School, (now the University of San Francisco). He passed the California Bar Exam on the first time and before he had graduated from law school. He was a militant atheist.
Hallinan's early successes in court included personal injury actions against the powerful Market Street Railway Company which ran most of the trolley lines on the streets of San Francisco and was a subsidiary of northern California rail interests. The rail company also owned the system whereby jurors' lists were kept and consulted by an appointed jury commissioner, in Hallinan's time an official of the railway, and he fought against this system for years before state law made the voter rolls the sole source of jurors.
Hallinan's years as a lawyer led to his selection in 1949, with a partner James Martin McInnis, to defend Harry Bridges of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on perjury charges arising from accusations that he had once been a Communist but had denied it.
After the trial, Hallinan spent six months in McNeil Island Prison for a contempt citation during the high-profile Bridges trial. He was subsequently disbarred by the State Bar of California but fought his way back into the bar after his release from jail.
He and his wife Vivian were indicted on 14 counts of tax evasion. Vincent was convicted on five counts and was fined $50,000 for evading $36,739 in federal income taxes after he reported only 20% of his income from 1947 to 1950. He served 18 months in his second prison term. Vivian was acquitted.
Vincent visited U-2 pilot Gary Powers in Moscow soon after his conviction for espionage. He encouraged Gary to "study the Communist form of government, stating it was a "remarkable system...realizing the American system had grave flaws", and if he were to study it Gary "would learn a great deal."
In his 1963 autobiography, Hallinan claimed that he was prosecuted by the IRS for his political views, and that the government did not differentiate between tax avoidance (legal) and tax evasion. Also in his autobiography he argued for prison reform and in favor of treating drug addiction as a medical condition and providing clean maintenance drugs to addicts, and legalizing prostitution; and against laws forbidding private consensual sex, contraception and abortion, and against imperialism and American foreign policy.
Hallinan is the father of writer Conn M. Hallinan, San Francisco attorney Patrick Hallinan, of politician Terence Hallinan and grandfather of several, including attorneys Brendan Hallinan, Neil Hallinan, and Kate Hallinan.
Walsh, James P. (1937- ). San Francisco's Hallinan: Toughest Lawyer in Town. Presidio Press, Novato, CA. Illus., 270 pp.