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Mistrial for Panther chief, Seale gets 4 yrs. in jail

This article was originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Nov. 5, 1969. It describes the opening remarks of the “Chicago 7” trial.

Bobby Seal speaks at the First Black National Political Convention at West Side High School in Gary, Indiana, on March 11, 1972.
Bobby Seale speaks at the First Black National Political Convention at West Side High School in Gary, Indiana, on March 11, 1972. Seale was one of the original Chicago Seven.
From the Sun-Times archives

Black Panther leader Bobby G. Seale was found guilty of criminal contempt Wednesday at the Conspiracy 8 trial.

U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman was interrupted by Seale’s shouts of “That’s a lie!” as he read a list of the alleged offenses.

The maximum sentence without a jury trial is six months for each criminal contempt offense.

In reading a list of the contempt charges, Hoffman said he was citing “only the most flagrant.”

Hoffman said the first incident occurred Sept. 26 — two days after the trial’s start — when Seale called him “a blatant racist.”

When Hoffman accused Seale of “conduct producing violence,” Seale shouted, “That is a lie. I never attacked anyone and you know it.”

Hoffman said the Black Panther’s courtroom activities were a “deliberate and willful attack upon the administration of justice in an attempt to sabotage the functioning of the federal judicial system.”

“That’s a lie,” shouted Seale.

“You’re making it very difficult for me, Mr. Seale,” Hoffman said.

“You’re making it difficult for me, Judge Hoffman,” Seale replied.

Hoffman said the contempt convictions were an effort to ensure that the trial would be “conducted in an atmosphere of dignity” and order.

Even binding and gagging Seale had “provided insufficient,” Hoffman said.

Seale admitted that he had called Hoffman a fascist, racist and pig. “That’s what I consider you,” he told the judge.

Hoffman started the afternoon session 35 minutes late. He had cut short the morning session during testimony by the first witness to focus directly on Seale’s alleged role during the 1968 Democratic National Convention disorders.

Hoffman recessed the morning session 90 minutes early after he and Seale tried to out-talk each other in front of the jury.

THe judge once again sent the jury outside when Seale called the trial “a complete, overt, fascist operation.”

Their disputes followed familiar lines as Seale made another attempt to cross-examine a witness himself.

This time the witness was Bill H. Ray, a deputy sheriff from San Mateo County, California.

Hoffman apparently recessed the trial early because he wanted time to consider ways to avoid further delays in the trial.

Seale was gagged and bound to a chair for two and a half days last week after he tussled with the courtroom marshals.

Seale says that he wants to defend himself and that he has fired William M. Kunstler as his attorney. But Hoffman has refused Kunstler’s motion to withdraw from Seale’s defense.

About one minute after Ray returned to the stand Wednesday Kunstler announced that, since Ray had testified only about Seale, he would not cross-examine “because I do not represent Mr. Seale.” Leonard I. Weinglass, another defense counsel, echoed Kunstler.

“He (Seale) was bound and shackled last week because he wanted to act as his own attorney,” Kunstler said.

“He was bound and shackled because he insulted a U.S. District Court,” Hoffman told Kunstler.

Then Seale rose. “I think I have the right to cross-examine,” he said as he walked to the lawyer’s lectern.

He fired such questions as: “Why did you follow me?” and “Have you ever killed a Black Panther Party member?” Ray remained silent.

Meanwhile, Hoffman was loudly saying, “No, you do not have the right to cross-examine. Will you sit down sir?”

“Why don’t you let me cross-examine the witness?” Seale finally asked the judge. Then he called the trial a “fascist operation.”

After the jury left, Seale told Hoffman: “You talk about insulting you, you’re insulting me. You’re insulting the people on the world, the people of America and you know it.

Earlier in the day, Hoffman denied a motion by Kunstler to issue an injunction restraining the prosecution team from issuing subpoenas to newsmen who have heard defense lawyers make public statements outside court.

Kunstler called the subpoenas “intimidation of the defense counsel” and “part of a vendetta that has been going on for some time.”

He said the subpoenas are an attempt to inhibit the attorney’s rights of free speech and are “obviously intended” to punish defense lawyers after the trial.

Asst. U.S. Atty. Richard G. Schultz said the defense counselors have been “violations a local rule which prohibits attorneys from commenting on a criminal case that is pending.” He said the defense had acknowledged its awareness of the rule in open court Sept. 24.

Then Weinglass tried to read a section from the American Bar Assn. canons of judicial ethics relating to attacks by one attorney on another.

But Hoffman cut him off by saying “All of the canons of ethics have been observed by this court and always have been.”

Then Weinglass, in an obvious allusion to his dispute Tuesday with U.S. Atty. Thomas A. Foran, tried to move that the court be instructed to abide by canons.

Hoffman, who has borne the brunt of epithets shouted in the courtroom during the trial asked him:

“Is there anything in the ABA canons of ethics requiring a lawyer not to allude to a judge’s personal qualities?”

Ray had testified Tuesday that on Aug. 27, 1968, he and two other policemen saw Seale and two other Black men in the San Francisco International Airport terminal.

That was about as far as Ray for when Seale, who was ordered bound and gagged for three days last week, leaped up and sid “I object to this testimony on grounds I do not have a lawyer.”

Asst. U.S. Atty. Richard G. Schultz pointed out that Seale has raised the same objection many time previously and that Judge Hoffman has ruled Seale is represented by defense attorney William M. Kunstler.

Seale then began shouting, the judge asked him to sit down and two marshals rushed to Seale’s side. Seale sat down.

Then Ray pointed out Seale in the courtroom to officially identify him for the record, and Seale interrupted again.

“May the record show too, that I’m a Black man and I’m being railroaded,” Seale said.

Ray went on to tell of seeing Seale board a flight to Chicago, and Seale began again to demand the right to cross-examine the witness.

As Seale continued shouting, the judge excused the jury and adjourned court for the day, about 20 minutes early.

Still another unusual aspect developed in the unusual trial when a group of about 30 attorneys filed a separate suit in U.S. District Court asking that the trial be halted until Seale is granted the right to defend himself.

Judge Edwin A. Robson dismissed the suit Wednesday, saying that no District Court has authority to review the conduct of another trial court.

Then he said Judge Hoffman had probably found that Seale was adequately represented by counsel and that allowing Seale to defend himself would disrupt and delay the trial.

“(Kunstler) asked leave to withdraw as counsel (for Seale) Oct. 16, four and a half weeks after the trial started and after he cross-examined 16 witnesses for Seale. The record indicates that Seale is represented by competent counsel, Robson said.

He also defended Hoffman’s gagging of Seale. “While a defendant in a criminal case has an absolute right to be present during his trial, he does not have the right to brazenly make a shambles of the criminal judicial process and attempt to force a mistrial.