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Farrell Dobbs

How Jury is Being Selected
in Trial of Stalinist Leaders

(9 March 1949)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 11, 14 March 1949, p. 4.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

FROM THE FEDERAL COURTROOM, NEW YORK, Mar. 9 – So far three jurors called for the thought-control trial of the Stalinists have been dismissed for bias against the defendants; one because be knows two members of the indicting grand jury; another for bias caused by membership in the Catholic Holy Name Society; and a third who loudly proclaimed his “absolute contempt” for the Stalinists.

Another 87 jurors were excused on the ground that jury duty in the long trial would impose a hardship. One was a Chinese, employed by the FBI as a translator.

Among the hardship pleas was that of a prospective bridegroom who thought the jury box a poor place for a honeymoon. Amid uproarious laughter, the judge excused him with a wave of the arm.

Since Judge Medina over-ruled the defense challenge of the jury system, there is much intrest in the composition of the panel from which the trial jury will be drawn. A check of the 87 excused jurors gives a partial pictures.

Jury Composition

The 87 include 21 junior and senior corporation executives, 14 small businessmen, 12 salesmen, 9 engineers, 8 housewives, 5 sales-managers, 5 clerical workers, 3 stock brokers, 3 architects, 2 private secretaries, 2 manual workers, an editor, a teacher and a translator. Two of the 87 are Negroes.

Jurors are called to the jury box in groups of 12, while scores of other jurors sit in the courtroom listening to the questioning. All questions are asked by the judge who permits the lawyers to pass him suggestions in writing.

After checking to find if the jurors know any defendant, defense lawyer or prosecutor, the judge puts the prosecutor’s questions. Do ybu know such lawyers as Lee Pressman, O. John Rogge, Carol King, etc.? Or Congressman Vito Marcantonio, Rev. William Melish or Paul Robeson? Or Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers or Elizabeth Bentley?

Have you read any Communist Party newspaper or book? Do you know any Soviet diplomat? Have you had any association with organizations on Attorney-General Clark’s blacklist (which is read in full, including the Socialist Workers Party)?

Defense Questions

Then comes the defense questions. Do you know Louis Budenz, Sidney Hook, Michael Quill, etc.? A Stalinist lawyer passed up a note and the judge asked, do you know Farrell Dobbs?

Have you had any association with the NAM, American Legion, ACTU, Liberal Party, ADA, etc.? Have you read any books by Budenz, Gitlow, Kravchenko, Martin Dies, etc.?

Next the judge reads the Smith Act and the indictment, asking if any juror is prejudiced against that law. Then he inquires if any juror is biased from exposure to the press and radio, or from association with any organization or from any statement he has heard or read.

Twelve jurors now seated in the jury box claim they have formed no opinion about the case and would render a verdict solely on the basjs of the evidence.

When the questioning has been completed, those jurors not dismissed by the judge will be subject to peremptory challenge by the prosecution and defense. However, only 16 challenges are allowed – ten by the defendants, six by the prosecutor. Thereafter, the judge’s decision in the selection of jurors is final.

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Last updated: 9 March 2024