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A Special Supplement: The Trial of Bobby Seale

MR. RUBIN: This guy is putting his elbow in Bobby’s mouth and it wasn’t necessary at all. [Mr. Rubin is a defendant. He refers to a very large Negro marshal who has attempted to silence Mr. Seale.]

MR. KUNSTLER: This is no longer a court of order, your Honor; this is a medieval torture chamber. It is a disgrace. They are assaulting the other defendants also.

MR. RUBIN: Don’t hit me in my balls, mother fucker. [The Judge declined to read these obscenities and the one that follows into the record, asking the reporter to add them later. He explained his reluctance on the ground that there were women and young people in the courtroom.]

MR. SEALE: This mother fucker is tight and it is stopping my blood.

MR. KUNSTLER: Your Honor, this is an unholy disgrace to the law that is going on in this courtroom and I as an American lawyer feel a disgrace.

MR. FORAN: Created by Mr. Kunstler.

MR. KUNSTLER: Created by nothing other than what you have done to this man.

MR. HOFFMAN: You come down here and watch it, Judge. [Mr. Hoffman is a defendant.]

MR. FORAN: May the record show that the outbursts are by the defendant Rubin.

MR. SEALE: You fascist dogs, you rotten, low-life son-of-a-bitch.”

[Mr. Seale is addressing the Negro marshals.]

MR. SEALE: [Interrupts the Judge’s reading from the transcript] That was right after I got hit in the testes by your marshals who attacked me.

THE COURT: [After Mr. Seale’s interruption, Judge Hoffman continues to quote Seale from the transcript.] “I am glad I said it about Washington used to have slaves, the first President—

MR. DELLINGER: Somebody go to protect him.

MR. FORAN: Your Honor, may the record show that that is Mr. Dellinger saying someone go to protect him and the other comment is by Mr. Rubin.

MR. RUBIN: And my statement, too.

THE COURT: Everything you say will be taken down.

MR. KUNSTLER: Your Honor, we would like the names of the marshals. We are going to ask for a judicial investigation of the entire condition and the entire treatment of Bobby Seale.

THE COURT: You ask for anything that you want. When you begin to keep your word around here that you gave the Court, perhaps things can be done….

MR. KUNSTLER: I just feel so utterly ashamed to be an American lawyer at this time.

THE COURT: You should be ashamed of your conduct in this case, sir.”

Thereafter, because of the chaos in the courtroom, the morning session of court recessed.

Item No. 15:

During the afternoon session on Thursday, October 30th, 1969, the following occurred:

MR. SEALE: [Through his gag] I would like to cross-examine the witness. I want to cross-examine the witness.

THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I will have to excuse you.

MR. SEALE: My constitutional rights have been violated. The direct examination is over, cross-examination is over, I want to cross-examine the witness.

THE COURT: Please be quiet, sir. I order you to be quiet.

MR. SEALE: I have a right to cross-examine the witness. I want to cross-examine the witness at this time. I object to you not allowing me to cross-examine the witness. You know I have a right to do so.

THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you are excused until tomorrow morning at ten o’clock. I must order you not to talk with anybody about this case, or let anybody speak with you about it, do not read the newspapers or any other journals. Do not listen to radio or television or look at television. If anybody attempts to communicate with you about this case in any manner, please get in touch with the United States Marshal who will in turn lay the matter before me.

You are excused until tomorrow morning at ten o’clock…. Mr. Marshal, you may take the jury out.

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

THE COURT: Now I want to tell you, Mr. Seale, again—I thought you were going to adhere to my directions. You sat there and did not during this afternoon intrude into the proceedings in an improper way.

MR. SEALE: I never intruded until it was the proper time for me to ask and request and demand that I have a right to defend myself and I have a right to cross-examine the witness. I sit through other cross-examinations and after the cross-examinations were over, I request, demanded by right to cross-examine the witness, and in turn demanded my right to defend myself, since you cannot sit up here—you cannot sit up here and continue to deny me my constitutional rights to cross-examine the witness, my constitutional right to defend myself. I sit throughout other cross-examinations, I never said anything, and I am not attempting to disrupt this trial. I am attempting to get my rights to defend myself recognized by you.

THE COURT: You have employed one of the most competent criminal lawyers I have ever seen.

MR. SEALE: He is not employed by me. He is not, and you know Charles R. Garry is my only lawyer. He is not here.

THE COURT: I have a written appearance here in his own handwriting.

MR. SEALE: I fired him. He filed an appearance to see me in jail before the trial began. Mr. Charles Garry is the only one I ever agreed with that would be my trial counsel and you know that.

THE COURT: I must tell you, sir, that time is running out. If you are going to persist in this sort of thing, the Court will have to deal appropriately with your conduct.

MR. SEALE: I have a right to object. I have a right—

THE COURT: Mr. Marshal, the Court will be in recess.

MR. SEALE: I have a right to my constitutional rights.

THE MARSHAL: The Court will be in recess until tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.”

Item No. 16:

On Wednesday, November 5th, 1969, during the morning session, following the direct examination of the witness Ray, the following took place:

MR. SEALE: I would like to approach the lectern.

THE COURT: You may not cross-examine, sir.

MR. SEALE: Well, I think I have a right to cross-examine.

THE COURT: No, you have no right in the circumstances of this case.

MR. SEALE: Why did you follow me, could you please tell me, Mr. Witness—[The witness is a deputy sheriff of San Mateo County, California. He had observed Mr. Seale purchase a ticket at the San Francisco Airport, presumably to Chicago.]

THE COURT: Mr. Seale—

MR. SEALE:—at the airport?

THE COURT: Mr. Seale, I ask you to sit down.

MR. SEALE: Have you ever killed a Black Panther Party member?

THE COURT: Mr. Seale, I will have to ask you to sit down, please.

MR. SEALE: Have you ever been on any raids in the Black Panther Party’s offices or Black Panther Party members’ homes?

THE COURT: Mr. Seale, this is the third time I am asking you to sit down, as courteously as possible.

MR. SEALE: Why don’t you let me cross-examine the witness and defend myself?

THE COURT: Because you are not entitled to. You have a lawyer of record who signed his appearance in his own handwriting.

MR. SEALE: This man was fired. He was not my lawyer before the jury heard one shred of evidence, before one witness even raised his hand to be sworn in the trial. The trial had not started until that happened.

THE COURT: You may not stand up—

MR. SEALE: This man is not my counsel.

THE COURT: Will you sit down, please.

MR. SEALE: He is not the representative of me. I am trying to defend myself. I’m being railroaded.

THE COURT: Will you sit down, sir.

MR. SEALE: Why can’t you see that I have a right to try and cross-examine witnesses, and I have a right to defend myself?

THE COURT: I am saying that you do not have the right at this juncture, sir….

MR. SEALE: Me, myself, my own person have no right to defend myself? This is erroneous. It is a complete, complete overt, fascist attempt, fascist operation—

THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury—

MR. SEALE:—of denying me my constitutional right.

THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to leave the courtroom.

(Whereupon the following further proceedings were had herein, in open court, outside the presence and hearing of the jury:)

MR. SEALE: How about that? You are talking about insulting you. You are the one that is insulting me, insulting the people of the world, insulting the people of America, and you know it.

THE COURT: Gentlemen, we will recess until two o’clock.”

Accordingly, it is therefore ordered that pursuant to the authority vested in this Court by Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and by Title 18, United States Code, Section 401, the defendant Bobby Seale be punished for contempt.

I will hear from you, Mr. Kunstler.

MR. KUNSTLER: Your Honor, I have already indicated that because I have been discharged I can say nothing for Mr. Seale. He wants to be his own attorney, as your Honor has read at least thirty or forty times from your own opinion, and I think that I would be derelict in my duty to my understanding of my right and liability as an attorney were I to speak for him now.

THE COURT: Mr. Seale, you have a right to speak now. I will hear you.

MR. SEALE: For myself?

THE COURT: In your own behalf, yes.

MR. SEALE: How come I couldn’t speak before?

THE COURT: This is a special occasion.

MR. SEALE: Wait a minute. Now are you going to try to—you going to attempt to punish me for attempting to speak for myself before? Now after you punish me, you sit up and say something about you can speak? What kind of jive is that? I don’t understand it. What kind of court is this? Is this a court? It must be a fascist operation like I see it in my mind, you know,—I don’t understand you.

THE COURT: I am calling on you—

MR. SEALE: You just read a complete record of me trying to persuade you, trying to show you, demonstrating my right, demonstrating to you the need, showing you all this stuff about my right to defend myself, my right to defend myself, history, slavery, et cetera; and you going to sit there and say something about, “OK, now you can speak”?

What am I supposed to speak about? I still haven’t got the right to defend myself. I would like to speak about that. I would like to—since you let me stand up and speak, can I speak about in behalf of—can I defend myself?

THE COURT: You may speak to the matters I have discussed here today, matters dealing with your contemptuous conduct. The law obligates me to call on you to speak at this time.

MR. SEALE: About what? About the fact that I want a right to defend myself? That’s all I am speaking about.

THE COURT: No, about possible punishment for contempt of court.

MR. SEALE: Punishment? You’ve punished black people all your life. I mean, you, they even say you own a factory that produces raw materials to kill people in Viet Nam [the family of Judge Hoffman’s wife is involved in the Brunswick Corporation which produces war materials, among other things], you know, so it’s nothing, death is nothing, I mean, if that is what you’re talking about, or putting me in jail, or prison, or hanging people, and all that stuff. I have nothing to say about that. I have something to say about the fact that I want to defend myself still. I want my rights, to be able to stand up and cross-examine the witnesses. I want that, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.

THE COURT: I have tried to make it clear.

MR. SEALE: All you make clear to me is that you don’t want me, you refuse to let me, you will not go by my persuasion, or my arguments, my motions, my requests to be, to the extent of even having to shout loud enough to get on that record for that record so that they can hear me half the time. You don’t want to listen to me. You don’t want to let a man stand up, contend to you that that man is not my lawyer, show you and point out that fact, in fact, made motions and told you that I fired the man.

And to stand up here and say, “Look, I have the right to defend myself,” continuously over and over, even to the point just recently on Friday you recognized that I did have only one lawyer by letting this man and Thomas Hayden to go and to talk to Charles R. Garry to see about coming out here for me, which begin to show me that I was beginning to persuade you to do something, at least allow somebody to investigate my situation. Now what are you talking about? Now all of a sudden on the record?

THE COURT: I want to make it clear. I don’t want to be questioned any further. The law gives you the right to speak out now in respect to possible punishment for contempt of court, sir.

MR. SEALE: Well, the first thing, I’m not in no contempt of court. I know that. I know that I as a person and a human being have the right to stand up in a court and use his constitutional right to speak in behalf of his constitutional rights. That is very clear, I hope. That’s all I have to say. I still want to cross-examine the witnesses, I make those requests. I make my motions, and I make those requests, and I will continue to make those requests, hoping that once in one way along this trial, you will recognize my rights as a human being, a black man living under the scope and influence of a racist decadent America where the Government of the United States does not recognize the black people’s constitutional rights, and have never recognized them from 1867 to the Dred Scott case situation, in a period of slaves you never recognized them, and here you are, and all I can say is that you’re probably acting in the same manner as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. We are hep to that kind of business.

THE COURT: Oh, but you are mistaken about that.

MR. SEALE: Oh, yes, you’re acting in the same manner as those courts acted in those periods of slavery history, and you know it. That’s what you’re doing.

If a black man stands up and speaks, if a black man asks for his rights, if a black man demands his rights, if a black man requests his rights, what do you do? You’re talking about punishing. If a black man gets up and speaks in behalf of the world—

THE COURT: Are you addressing me, sir?

MR. SEALE: I’m talking. You can see I’m talking.

THE COURT: That’s right, but if you address me, you’ll have to stand.

MR. SEALE: Stand? Stand now. Now let’s see, first you said that I couldn’t stand. I got my suit. It’s going to a higher court, possibly the highest court in America. [A group of lawyers, including many blacks, had filed suit before another federal judge in Chicago on behalf of Mr. Seale’s right to defend himself. The suit was denied.]

THE COURT: In conformity with the provision of Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, I shall certify that the series of criminal contempts committed as described by the Court in its oral observations and specifications 1 to and including 16 were committed in actual presence of the Court, and were seen or heard by the Court during the trial of the case of United States of America vs. David T. Dellinger and others, 69 CR 180.

I find that the acts, statements, and conduct of the defendant Bobby Seale constituted a deliberate and wilful attack upon the administration of justice, an attempt to sabotage the functioning of the Federal Judiciary System, and misconduct of so grave a character as to make the mere imposition of a fine a futile gesture and a wholly insignificant punishment. Accordingly, I adjudge Bobby G. Seale guilty of each and every specification referred to in my oral observations, and the Court will impose—strike that—and the defendant Seale will be committed to the custody of the Attorney General of the United States or his authorized representative for imprisonment for a term of three months on each and every specification, the sentences to run consecutively.

[According to a recent Appeals Court ruling, a defendant in a contempt proceeding is entitled to a jury trial if the possible penalty exceeds six months. By sentencing Mr. Seale to sixteen terms of three months each Judge Hoffman presumably meant to circumvent this ruling.]

I direct the United States Attorney to prepare from the oral remarks I made here a certificate of contempt for my signature together with a judgment and commitment order.

How soon—you will have to get the reporter to have that written up for you. How soon, Miss Reporter, will it be before it is written? I am glad I have got both of you [reporters] here.

THE REPORTER: Six o’clock.

THE COURT: Get it to Mr. Foran as soon as you can, and I will ask Mr. Foran to get the certificate to me and the case will be continued until tomorrow morning. There will be an order in view of the disposition of this aspect of the case, there will be an order declaring a mistrial as to the defendant Bobby G. Seale and not as to any other defendants.

MR. SEALE: Wait a minute, I got a right—what’s the cat trying to pull now? I’m leaving—I can’t stay?

THE COURT: The court will be continued until tomorrow morning at ten o’clock for signing the certificate of contempt and to continue with the trial in respect to the other seven defendants.

THE MARSHAL: Everyone please rise.

MR. SCHULTZ: If the Court please, we have the jury to inform.

THE COURT: Oh, yes, I’m glad you reminded me.

MR. SCHULTZ: Will your Honor set a trial date for the defendant Seale?

THE COURT: Yes. Yes.

MR. SEALE: I demand an immediate trial right now.

THE MARSHAL: Sit down, please. Come to order.

MR. SEALE: I demand an immediate trial right now.

THE COURT: Yes, we will give you a trial date.

MR. SEALE: I am talking about now. I don’t want to be taken out. I have a right to go through this trial.

THE COURT: A mistrial has been declared with respect to you, sir. Your trial will be conducted on April 23, 1970, at ten o’clock in the morning.

MR. SEALE: I want it immediate, right now, though.

THE COURT: I am sorry, I can’t try two cases at one time, sir.

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

THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I deeply regret having to keep you confined in the jury room this long, but there were matters that the Court had to consider with the parties and counsel out of your presence.

Since it is now nearly a quarter after four, we’ll be in recess until ten o’clock tomorrow morning. The usual orders not to talk with anybody about this case, or let anybody speak with you about it. Do not discuss the case among yourselves. Do not read the newspapers or any other journals. Do not listen to radio or television or look at television. If anybody attempts to talk with you about this case, please communicate with the United States Marshal, who will in turn, lay the matter before me.

Mr. Marshal, the court will be in recess until ten o’clock tomorrow morning.

THE MARSHAL: Everyone will please rise.

MR. SEALE: [The marshals are carrying him through the door to the lockup.] I still want an immediate trial. You can’t call it a mistrial. I’m put in jail for four years for nothing? I want my coat.

THE AUDIENCE: Free Bobby. Free Bobby.

(Whereupon an adjournment was had at 4:15 o’clock p.m. until the following day, November 6, 1969, at the hour of 10:00 o’clock, a.m.)

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