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Squabbling opens trial of 8

This article was originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Sept. 27, 1969. It describes the opening remarks of the “Chicago 7” trial.

Jerry Rubin discusses his new book, “Growing (Up) at 37,” in a conference room in Chicago on March 8, 1976.
Jerry Rubin discusses his new book, “Growing (Up) at 37,” in a conference room in Chicago on March 8, 1976. Rubin was a member of the Chicago Seven, a group of individuals charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot regarding anti-Vietnam War protests. From the Sun-Times archives.
From the Sun-Times archives

Opening arguments began Friday in the trial of eight persons charged with conspiring to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Initial statements were delayed, though, by a squabble between U.S. District Court Judge Julius J. Hoffman and defense attorneys before the 12 jurors entered the courtroom.

Four defense attorneys, were arrest had been ordered by Hoffman, sought to withdraw from the case. Two of the four — Michael E. Tigar from Los Angeles and Gerald B. Lefcourt of New York — were in court, in custody and under arrest. The others — Michael J. Kennedy of San Francisco and Dennis J. Roberts of New York — did not appear.

Seal stirs judge’s anger

Earlier, one of the defendants, Bobby Seale, chairman of the Black Panther Party, dismissed eight of the nine defense attorneys representing hi,. He announced that Charles R. Garry of San Francisco was the only attorney “who can defend me and be effective.”

Seal requested a continuance of the trial until Garry, who is recuperating from surgery, can appear. He added that if his petition were denied, he (Seale) could only regard Judge Hoffman “as a blatant racist.”

The judge reacted angrily and warned Seale that his remarks might be in contempt.

When defense attorney William M. Kunstler repealed Seale’s request for a continuance, Hoffman reminded the attorney that “You are now addressing a judge who presided over the first school desegregation case in the North and ordered desegregation.”

Judge Hoffman denied the motion for a continuance.

Terms for lawyer’s withdrawl

A similar motion for continuance until Garry could appear had been denied earlier by the U.S. Court of Appeals and affirmed last Tuesday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Chicago attorney Thomas P. Sullivan then appeared on behalf of the four defense attorneys seeking to withdrawn from the trial.

Tigar, who was arrested Thursday in California and brought to Chicago by two federal marshals, spent the night in the Federal Building lockup.

Lefcourt was in court voluntarily after a federal court in new York Thursday stayed the bench warrant for his arrest. However, the stayed expired Friday morning and at recess, both Tigar and Lefcourt were taken into custody.

Judge Hoffman refused vacate the bench warrants for the arrest of Tigar, Lefcourt, Roberts and Kennedy.

However, he said he would consider their request to withdraw if the defendants agree to move and if they indicate they would be adequately represented by the remaining five defense attorneys.

Two of the remaining five, Kunstler and Leonard I. Weinglass, are serving as trial attorneys. Two others — Stanley Bass and Irving Birnbaum — are serving as local counsel and the fifth is Garry.

Judge’s conditions rejected

The defendants, who have maintained that their representation is not adequate without Garry’s presence in court, did not agree to Judge Hoffman’s conditions for allowing the four attorneys to withdraw.

Meanwhile, Kunstler continued to press for vacating the arrest warrants for the four attorneys. He told the judge, “I’ve never had a case with co-counsel in custody.”

Judge Hoffman replied, “I’ll not hear you further on the subject,” and as defense attorneys crowded around the bench, arguing with the judge, the jury was brought in to hear the opening arguments.

Asst. U.S. Atty. Richard G. Schultz presented a summary of what the government intends to prove during the trial.

As he introduced each defendant by name to the jury, several of the defendants greeted the jurors in distinctive manners.

tom Hayden, one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society, rose and shook a fist at the jurors. Judge Hoffman ordered the jury removed, then told Hayden that the court did not allow such conduct.

Hayden replied that he meant no disrespect — “It’s my customary greeting,” he said.

Another defendants, Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, greeted the jury by blowing a kiss at the 12-member panel.

Judge Hoffman, no relation to the defendant, dutifully instructed the jurors to “disregard his conduct.”

Yippie Jerry Rubin waved to the jury, and Black Panther Seale responded with “All power to the people.”

Defendants David T. Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner limited themselves to standing as their names were called out.

Government’s case outlined

Schultz said the government would prove that the eight defendants had an over-all plan to encourage numbers of persons to come to Chicago for legitimate protests, to create a situation where a riot would develop.

He said the government would prove the conspiracy was planned in three steps, using the unpopularity of the war in Vietnam to attract persons to the convention site.

Once here, Schultz said, the defendants incited th people to resist and defy the police, city officials and the National Guard and create a situation where the demonstrators would confront the police in the streets. Schultz recounted various incidents during the week of the convention, which he told the jurors would prove the government’s case.

Constitutional rights noted

Speaking for the defense, Kunstler said the defendants would prove that they came to the convention only to exercise their rights under the First Amendment, which guarantees peaceable assembly and petition of grievances.

He said the violence was caused by a conspiracy of city and federal officials to prohibit the defendants from exercising their rights “by all means necessary, including physical.”

Closing for the defense, Weinglass told the jury, “We do consider you in this courtroom to be the highest authority.”

Judge Hoffman interrupted at that point and ordered the jury removed. He then found Weinglass guilty of contempt for his “persistency in disrespecting the court and the law.” The judge indicated that punishment would be set later.

Tight security precautions were in effect for the third day of the trial. All briefcases and purses of persons entering the Federal Building were searched by security guards.

Stairway doors on the 23rd floor, where the courtroom is located, were locked, and a chain across the corridor barred approach to the courtroom. Women’s purses were searched by a woman security guard and men had to leave their briefcases outside the courtroom. Only 45 spectators were allowed in, instead of the earlier announced figure of 75.