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A Special Supplement: The Trial of Bobby Seale

Seale’s demands, thereafter, increased in vehemence despite Judge Hoffman’s warnings that if they continued Seale would be bound and gagged. On the afternoon of October 29, Seale was taken forcibly by two marshals through the door to the lockup and returned, ten minutes later, chained hand and foot to a metal chair. A gag of muslin was in his mouth.

The following morning, since the first gag had proved ineffective and the rattling of the chains against the metal chair had obviously disturbed the jury, Seale was brought to court strapped to a wooden chair. The gag that passed over his mouth and was tied in a knot at the nape of his neck was supplemented by another of the same muslin which passed under his chin and was tied in a sort of bow at the top of his head. Under the gag his mouth was taped. Seale sat quietly throughout most of the day, but as the afternoon session ended he managed to speak in a loud, if muffled, voice, once more insisting on his right to defend himself.

The following morning the gag was further strengthened by an elastic bandage and Seale’s mouth was stuffed with some kind of cotton which the marshals had managed to insert by holding his nose. This forced him to open his mouth. The arrangement proved effective, but as Seale attempted to breathe the elastic bandage tightened around his head and he choked. Mr. Weinglass, at this point, petitioned the Court to loosen the gag and Judge Hoffman, having inquired whether the government agreed and upon the affirmative reply of the assistant prosecutor, Mr. Schultz, ordered the gag loosened.

Kunstler and Weinglass then moved to recess the Court for the rest of the day so that one of them could fly to California and consult with Garry about a way out of the impasse. Upon the urging of the government lawyers, the Judge agreed. Mr. Schultz admitted that the gag and straps might damage the government’s case in the eyes of the jury.

When the trial resumed on the following Monday, Seale entered the courtroom free of his gag and straps. However he continued to interrupt the proceedings, insisting on his right to defend himself, evidently aware that his demands, and Judge Hoffman’s refusal to hear them, had put the Judge and, indeed, the judicial system itself in a most awkward position, a conclusion which the Chicago Bar Association confirmed at a press conference on the following day. By Wednesday morning the Judge recessed the Court to prepare the following statement which he read that afternoon.


The Transcript

(The following proceedings were had in open court, out of the presence and hearing of the jury:)

THE COURT: There is a matter that I wish to take up, gentlemen, before we proceed further with this trial.

I think, Mr. Witness, you may be excused and go into the witness room.

(Witness temporarily excused.)

THE COURT: As I think everyone who has attended the various sessions of this trial must, if he is fair, understand, the court has done its best to prevent, or to have repeated, efforts to delay and obstruct this trial which I think have been made for the purpose of causing such disorder and confusion as would prevent a verdict by a jury on the issues presented by the indictment and the pleas of not guilty thereto.

I must now, as I perceive my duty and obligation to be, take proper steps to insure that the trial as it continues be conducted in an atmosphere of dignity, an atmosphere that the defendants and each of them are entitled to have prevail in the trial of this case. As we all know, the defendant Bobby G. Seale has been guilty of conduct in the presence of the court during this trial which is not only contumacious in character but his misconduct was of so grave a character as to continually disrupt the orderly administration of justice.

We have in the federal courts the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure which together with Title 18 of the United States Code represent the rules that the court must interpret and apply in the trial of criminal cases. In conformity with Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and Title 18, United States Code, Section 401, I certify at this time that I saw and overheard the conduct of the defendant Bobby G. Seale to which I shall refer during these observations, which conduct took place in the actual presence of the court during the trial of this case which is entitled United States of America v. David Dellinger and others, the case number being 69 CR 180.

The trial commenced on September 24, 1969, and has continued through this morning. I find not only from seeing and hearing the conduct to which I am about to refer, the conduct of the defendant Seale, but from reading the transcript of the proceedings that the acts, statements and conduct of the defendant Seale which I shall specify here each constitute a separate contempt of this court; that each constituted a deliberate and willful attack upon the administration of justice in an attempt to sabotage the functioning of the federal judicial system.

MR. SEALE: That is a lie. I stood up and spoke in behalf of myself. I stood up and spoke in behalf of myself and made motions and requests.

THE COURT: I don’t permit anybody to speak while I am talking.

MR. SEALE: I stood up and walked to the lectern and demonstrated the fact I wanted to cross-examine the witness. You allowed these men here and Tom Hayden to go all the way to California to see about my lawyer, which indicated, and I tried to persuade you again to recognize it. I was there no more than five minutes. You are talking about disrupting the proceedings of this trial? That’s a lie. That’s a lie.

THE COURT: You are making it very difficult for me, Mr. Seale.

MR. SEALE: You are making it difficult for me, Judge Hoffman.

THE COURT: I tried not to—I have done my best. I have done my best.

MR. SEALE: I have a right to stand up and speak in my own behalf. I do. You know that.

THE COURT: You know you do not have a right to speak while the Judge is speaking.

MR. SEALE: I have a right to speak and make requests and make arguments to demonstrate the fact I want to cross-examine. When you say I disrupt, I have never tried to strike anybody, I have never tried to hit anybody. I have never. You know that. And in my arguments and motions I called you a racist and a fascist and a pig, and that’s what I consider you as, and my arguments and my motions will always carry that as long as my constitutional rights are being denied. So it is a lie, and you know it.

THE COURT: I find, I repeat, that the acts, statements and conduct of the defendant Seale to which I shall refer specifically each constitute a separate contempt of this Court; that each constituted a deliberate and willful attack upon the administration of justice in an attempt to sabotage the functioning of the Federal Judicial System; that this misconduct was of so grave a character as to continually disrupt the orderly administration of justice.

To maintain the dignity of the Court and to preserve order in the courtroom under these circumstances has been a task of utmost difficulty. There were, accordingly, as the record shows clearly, repeated warnings and admonitions to the defendant Seale to cease this conduct and there were warnings that it would be dealt with accordingly at an appropriate time. However, his continued disruptive conduct made it necessary for the Court for the first time within the experience of this Court to physically and forcibly restrain him. Even these measures proved insufficient because of the potential effect that the continuation of these activities might have had in the future on the administration of justice.

In this case I find that it is necessary that I deal with his conduct at this time. I have tried—I have endeavored on many occasions to make it clear to the defendant that his conduct was contumacious but I was not successful even right down to a few moments ago in persuading him to so conduct himself as we expect individuals to conduct themselves in the courts of the Federal System.

As isolated excerpts from or references to the transcript can give but a partial view of the acts, statements and conduct to which I refer, I make the entire record part of these proceedings. The Court also notes that a reading of this record cannot and does not reflect the true intensity and extent of the disruption which in some instances were accompanied by a physical violence.

MR. SEALE: That is a lie.

THE COURT:—which occurred in the presence of the Court.

MR. SEALE: That is a lie. I never attacked anyone, and you know it. I never struck anyone and you know it.

[On the morning of October 29 a group of perhaps twenty Black Panthers had taken seats in the spectators’ section. Before the morning session began, and while both the Judge and jury had not yet entered, Mr. Seale addressed this group. He advised them to remain “cool,” but in the event they were physically attacked by the marshals they were to defend themselves. When the Judge entered the Court, Assistant US Attorney Schultz accused Seale of having talked about an “attack.” Seale vehemently objected to Schultz’s misrepresentation and repeated before the Court what he had in fact said. The Judge ignored or failed to understand Seale’s clarification. See page 45.]

THE COURT: Accordingly I adjudge—

Mr. SEALE: I will stand up in any court in America and say that.

THE COURT: Accordingly I adjudge the defendant Bobby Seale guilty of the several criminal contempts to which I shall refer. In citing these specific acts and statements of the defendant Seale as contemptuous, the Court has selected only the most flagrant acts.

On Friday, September 26, 1969, during the motion session prior to the time opening statements were made, the defendant Seale addressed the Court in the following manner:

If I am consistently denied this right of legal defense counsel of my choice who is effective by the Judge of this Court, then I can only see the Judge as a blatant racist of the United States Court.

THE COURT: Just a minute. Just a minute.

MR. SEALE: With gross prejudicial error toward all defendants and myself.

THE COURT: Just a minute. What did you say?

Read that, Miss Reporter.

MR. SEALE: I said if my constitutional rights are denied as my constitutional rights have been denied in the past in the course of the trial, et cetera, then the tenor is the act of racism and me a black man, there seems to be a form of prejudice against me even to the other defendants on the part of the Judge.”

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