Back to the Library
This case received wide news and public attention. It arose out of the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in August 1968. The defendants were a group of men, most quite young, who led or were involved in protests in Grant Park and nearby areas against the United States involvement in armed conflict in Vietnam and other alleged government civil rights violations: Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale and Lee Weiner. Days of confrontations between police and protesters ensued. The United States attorney in Chicago, Thomas Foran, obtained an indictment against eight defendants, charging them with a conspiracy to incite riots, and other related offenses.
Read More Mr.Seale, the sole African-American defendant, was represented by Charles Geary, a well-known criminal defense lawyer from San Francisco, California. The lead lawyers for the other seven defendants were William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization based in New York City. The trial judge was Julius Hoffman.
Shortly before the trial was to begin, Mr. Geary was hospitalized for an operation and hence unable to appear for the trial on the day scheduled. A motion was made to either postpone the trial until he recovered or sever Mr. Seale. Both motions were denied. Instead, Judge Hoffman found that four out-of-state lawyers – Michael Kennedy, Gerald Lefcourt, Dennis Roberts, and Michael Tigar - had entered appearances on Mr. Seale’s behalf, but had not presented a motion to ask permission to withdraw their appearances, nor had they come to court at the outset of the trial. Each of these lawyers had signed pretrial motions and briefs on Mr. Seale’s behalf, along with Mr. Geary, concerning substantive and procedural legal matters. Judge Hoffman ruled that they were in contempt of court for failing to appear when the trial began on this day in 1969; he ordered them to appear before him for sentencing on Friday, September 26, 1969; and he issued bench warrants directing U. S. marshals to arrest the lawyers and bring them in custody to Chicago. Two of the lawyers traveled to Chicago on their own, and two were brought in custody by marshals and placed in the federal building lockup.
Partner Thomas P. Sullivan – who previously had extensive contacts with CCR lawyers in the Dr. Jeremiah Stamler/House Un-American Activities matter – was asked to represent the lawyers on a pro bono basis when they appeared before Judge Hoffman. This was the first of a number of occasions that Tom became involved in the case, assisted from time to time by partner John C. Tucker.
When Tom, John and two lawyers of the lawyers appeared before Judge Hoffman on Friday, September 26, 1969, Tom explained that Mr. Geary had been retained as Mr. Seale’s trial lawyer, that the four lawyers had assisted only on several pretrial motions and were not prepared to defend Mr. Seale. After a brief hearing, Judge Hoffman adjourned the matter until Monday morning and directed the marshals to take the lawyers into custody over the weekend. Tom requested that they be released to his custody, with his assurance that they would return on Monday as directed. Judge Hoffman said, “I do not release alleged contemnors” or words to that effect, and entered his chambers. The marshals took the lawyers to the lockup in the federal building, where they joined the two who had been brought in custody. (These events are discussed in John Schultz’ book, The Chicago Conspiracy Trial, pages 43-47. He quotes Tom as saying, as he rushed from the courtroom to try to reach a judge of the Court of Appeals to order the layers released, “You’ve heard of nothing new under the sun; well, there it is.”)
Tom telephoned Mr. Foran and asked that the lawyers be kept in the federal lockup, and not sent to the Cook County jail, until he contacted a Circuit judge to seek an order permitting the lawyers to remain free over the weekend; Mr. Foran agreed. Tom telephoned Circuit Judge Walter Cummings, who was attending a dinner party, explained the situation, and requested entry of a release order for all four lawyers, with his assurance that they would appear as directed. Judge Cummings entered the order, and the lawyers were freed.
The four lawyers appeared in court with Tom on Monday, September 29. Meanwhile, as the New York Times reported, “over the weekend lawyers from throughout the country began pouring into the city to demonstrate against the judge’s actions. This morning, lawyers from New York, San Francisco, Washington, Boston and other cities, as well as a delegation representing 13 faculty members at the Harvard Law School, were in and around the building.”
After discussion, in what appeared a thinly disguised effort to extricate himself from the situation he had gotten himself into, Judge Hoffman stated, “Since their clients [the eight defendants] have said in open court that they give them leave to withdraw, the contempt proceedings will be vacated.” This led to further acrimonious exchanges among Messrs. Kunstler, Weinglass, several defendants, the prosecutors and the judge. The vigorous objections of both Messrs. Seale and Kunstler were unavailing. Tom and the four lawyers left the courtroom.
The trial proceeded with Mr. Seale not having a lawyer he accepted to act on his behalf. Thus ended the firm’s first involvement in the case.
At the outset of the trial, during jury selection and the first several weeks of testimony, Mr. Seale continued to object to being put on trial without the lawyer of his choice, or alternatively that he be permitted to represent himself. Judge Hoffman denied both requests. To save the issue for appeal, Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass declined to act for Mr. Seale. When Mr. Seale persisted in his objections, and engaged in outbursts in the jury’s presence, Judge Hoffman admonished him, and then ordered him bound and gagged, and eventually removed from the courtroom. After six weeks of trial, Judge Hoffman declared a mistrial as to Mr. Seale, and sentenced him to four years in prison for contempt of court. Seale appealed, and was not incarcerated.
The trial proceedings against the remaining seven defendants lasted five months, amid heated exchanges, acting out by the defendants, and insulting comments directed at the judge by the defendants, and at the defendants and their lawyers by the judge and prosecutors.
In February 1970, the jury acquitted Messrs. Froines and Weiner and convicted the other five of non-conspiracy charges. Two days later, Judge Hoffman imposed sentences of varying terms of imprisonment on the counts of conviction and imposed jail sentences for contempt of court on all seven defendants, plus Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass, ranging from two months and 18 days for Mr. Weiner to four years and 13 days for Mr. Kunstler. He refused to set appeal bonds for the five convicted defendants, and they were taken to jail. Tom was asked to assist in obtaining an appeal bond from the Seventh Circuit. He conferred with the five defendants and Mr. Kunstler at the jail, helped draft a motion to the Court of Appeals for an appeal bond, which was granted, and personally posted cash that had been raised to secure their release pending the appeals.
Tom and John assisted the CCR lawyers in writing the briefs in support of the appeals from the contempt findings and sentences and from the convictions of the five defendants.
Prior to oral argument on the appeals, the Court of Appeals directed Judge Hoffman to hold a hearing and send the record to the Court, regarding alleged contacts during jury deliberations among the jurors, Judge Hoffman and several U.S. marshals. Together with Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass, and other lawyers from CCR, particularly Helene Schwartz – who took the lead in writing the portions of the defense briefs about the contacts – Tom assisted in cross examining the jurors and marshals in the hearing before Judge Hoffman, which consumed several days. (These proceedings are recounted in Mr. Schultz’ book, pages 346-54, and in Ms. Schwartz’ book Lawyering, pages 130-66.)
In May 1972, the Court of Appeals reversed all of the contempt convictions and remanded for hearings before a judge other than Judge Hoffman. United States v. Seale, 461 F.2d 345, 351-52; In re Dellinger, 461 F.2d 389, 392-97 (1972).
In November 1972, the Court of Appeals reversed the criminal convictions of the five defendants and remanded for a new trial, “if the government elects so to proceed.” The reversal was based on a number of grounds, including contacts between the marshals and the jurors which were disclosed during the hearing ordered by the Court of Appeals. The opinion demonstrated in scathing detail how both Judge Hoffman and the prosecutors had demeaned the defendants and their lawyers in the jurors’ presence. United States v. Dellinger, 472 F.2d 340 (1972). The government eventually dismissed the indictment against the five defendants and Mr. Seale.
Pursuant to the Court of Appeals orders, a federal District Court Judge from Maine held new hearings with regard to the contempt citations against all eight defendants, and Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass. Tom was asked to testify to the contretemps concerning Bobby Seale’s lawyer, and Judge Hoffman’s treatment of the four out of state lawyers. The defense theory was that Judge Hoffman’s conduct was so outrageous that it triggered reactions from the defendants and their lawyers that justified, or at least explained, why they reacted so forcefully to Judge Hoffman’s continued demeaning conduct during the trial. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge upheld several contempt charges, but declined to impose sentences or fines.
The Conspiracy 7 case was thus finally concluded, with no convictions and no penalties imposed for the contempt charges that were upheld.
1. State v. Jerry Rubin.
Tom represented Jerry Rubin pro bono in a state court charge of mob action, to which Mr. Rubin pled guilty, and served a short jail sentence.
2. City v. Peter Weiss, et al.
Tom and partner Russell J. Hoover represented a lawyer from New York, pro bono, who was one of the 13 defendants in a state court charge of disorderly conduct involving a march on August 29, 1968, during the Democratic convention, of supporters of Eugene McCarthy for the vice-presidential nomination. After a bench trial that lasted three weeks, the defendants were found guilty and fined from $250 to $400 each. A direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was taken. Tom and Russ, together with Arthur Kinoy of CCR, prepared the briefs for Mr. Weiss, and Tom argued the case in Springfield. The Supreme Court affirmed. City v. Weiss, et al, 51 IL 2d 310, 281 N.E.2d 310 (1972).