Hoffman, Julius Jennings

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HOFFMAN, Julius Jennings

(b. 7 July 1895 in Chicago, Illinois; d. 1 July 1983 in Chicago, Illinois), former law partner of the mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, and controversial federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois who presided over the trial of the Chicago Seven, the radical activists who were charged with conspiracy to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Hoffman received his Ph.B. in 1912 and his LL.B. in 1915, both from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He served in private practice from 1915 to 1947 and then as a judge of the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois, from 1947 to 1953. Thereafter, Hoffman was nominated to the federal bench by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and received his commission on 14 May 1953. He took senior status on 3 February 1972 and served until his death on 1 July 1983.

Hoffman perhaps is most famous for presiding over one of the most well-known legal cases of the 1960s, the trial of the Chicago Seven. In the eyes of many, this trial came to symbolize the wide cultural divide that had split the nation over such issues as the ongoing war in Vietnam, civil rights, free speech, feminism, and the use of psychedelic drugs. Originally dubbed the "Chicago Eight," the group was made up of the activists Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman (no relation to Judge Hoffman), Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, and Lee Weiner. The Chicago Eight case arose out of the activities of the defendants prior to and during the August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Many groups from across the nation had descended on the convention site to protest the various issues confronting their generation, not the least of which was the conflict in Vietnam. From Sunday, 25 August through Thursday, 29 August, the defendants gathered in Grant Park in proximity to the Conrad Hilton Hotel, which housed important members and groups of the Democratic National Committee. There, protestors organized a rock concert and engaged in various antigovernment speeches and activities, including teach-ins and other nonviolent demonstrations.

Fearing that the thousands of youths rallied there would disrupt the convention, the administration of Chicago's mayor, Richard J. Daley, refused to grant the demonstrators permits to sleep in the city parks and imposed an 11:00 p.m. curfew. In addition, Daley placed the city's twelve thousand police officers on twelve-hour shifts and requested that the state and federal governments supply him with thousands of additional army troops and national guardsmen to supplement his police force. Not surprisingly, clashes, some of which were quite violent and involved clubs and tear gas, occurred between the demonstrators and the police, troops, and guardsmen sent in to try to keep order.

One after another of the Chicago Eight was arrested during the course of convention week for various acts of defiance. Hoffman encouraged demonstrators to hold the park and engage in violence against the police. Hayden let the air out of the tires of a police car and, along with Dellinger, Seale, and Davis, told a crowd of fifteen thousand to "make sure that if blood is going to flow, let it flow all over the city." Davis encouraged demonstrators to "fight the pigs." Seale made a speech advocating violence against the police. Rubin incited a crowd to "Kill the pigs! Kill the cops!" And Weiner and Froines attempted to organize the use of Molotov cocktails against the police. In light of their activities, the government contended that the Chicago Eight's antics were designed to incite the thousands who had gathered there to riot.

Five of the codefendants were charged under a newly enacted law—the Anti-Riot Act of 1968—"with making certain speeches for the purposes of inciting, organizing, promoting, and encouraging a riot." Two of the codefendants "were charged with teaching the use of an incendiary device," and all eight were charged with conspiracy to commit these offenses. On 20 March 1969 a grand jury returned indictments as charged against all of them. The trial commenced in Chicago on 24 September 1969 in the federal courtroom of the seventy-four-year-old Hoffman. From the beginning of the case, it was clear that Hoffman did not hold either the defendants or their attorneys in high regard. For example, of the defendants' fifty-four proposed questions for the potential jurors—a process known as voir dire, wherein parties are able to ascertain whether a potential juror should be excluded for bias—Hoffman allowed only one: "Are you or do you have any close friends or relatives who are employed by any law enforcement agencies?" The defendants had sought to ask the jurors, in an effort to ascertain their "cultural biases," such questions as "Do you know who Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix are?" and "If your children are female, do they wear brassieres all the time?" The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit would later cite Hoffman's decision limiting defendants' voir dire questions as reversible error.

Eventually, two white men, two black women, and eight white women were empanelled as jurors. As indicated by their post-verdict remarks, the jurors clearly were biased against the defendants. One female juror stated that the defendants "should be convicted for their appearance, their language and their lifestyle," while another juror stated that the defendants "should have been shot down by the police."

Another example of Hoffman's lack of tolerance for the defendants was exemplified by his ordering that the defendant Bobby Seale be bound and gagged because of his repeated outbursts during the course of the trial, demanding representation by a lawyer of his own choosing. This action ultimately led to the severance of Seale's case from the other seven on 5 November 1969. Seale was tried separately for contempt of court, but his trial also took place before Judge Hoffman, who sentenced Seale to four years in prison for contempt. This sentence and conviction, however, were overturned by the Court of Appeals.

Thereafter the Chicago Eight became known as the Chicago Seven. The trial, of course, was unusual, but not just because of its political nature and the demeanor of the defendants, who at times would make faces to the jurors, blow them kisses, and even, on at least one occasion, bring a bag of marijuana to court. The witnesses for the defendants were some of the best-known names of the American counterculture scene. They included the Harvard LSD advocate Timothy Leary; the poet Allen Ginsberg; the folk-singers Phil Ochs, Arlo Guthrie, "Country Joe" McDonald, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins; and even the author Norman Mailer.

As the trial came to a close, Hoffman became increasingly intolerant of the defendants' courtroom demeanor, issuing forty-eight contempt citations to them and their attorneys in one two-week period alone. Hoffman ultimately would issue 159 criminal contempt citations for such acts as failing to stand when he entered the courtroom, blowing kisses to the jury, and calling Hoffman a "liar," "hypocrite," and "fascist dog." The Court of Appeals later reversed all the contempt citations, stating that the defendants (which now included the defendants' attorneys) were entitled to a jury trial on the contempt citations. Finally, on 14 February 1970 the jury began its deliberations, and four days later, on 18 February 1970, they found five of the defendants—Davis, Dellinger, Hayden, Hoffman, and Rubin—guilty of violating the Anti-Riot Act. Sentencing took place on 20 February 1970. Froines and Weiner were acquitted of the charge of teaching the use of an incendiary device.

In the era before federal sentencing guidelines, judges had virtually unbridled discretion to sentence defendants to any term of imprisonment they felt was just, up to the maximum provided by law. Not surprisingly, given his contempt for the defendants and finding "that the defendants are clearly dangerous persons to be at large," Hoffman sentenced each of them to the maximum term: five years' imprisonment plus a $5,000 fine. The defendants, of course, appealed. On 21 November 1972, in a lengthy opinion, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed all of the Chicago Seven's convictions. (On 5 March 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the government's appeal of the reversal.) Among the reasons cited by the appellate court for reversing the defendants' convictions was Hoffman's "deprecatory and often antagonistic attitude toward the defense." The appellate court stated that "there are high standards for the conduct of judges and prosecutors, and impropriety by persons before the court does not give license to depart from those standards."

The appellate court found that Hoffman had departed from these standards "from the very beginning" and "in the presence and absence of the jury." According to the appellate court, the most significant problem with Hoffman's courtroom demeanor was his "remarks in the presence of the jury, [which were] deprecatory of defense counsel and their case." The appellate court argued that cumulatively, Hoffman's comments "must have telegraphed to the jury the judge's contempt for the defense." Ironically, then, the trial of the Chicago Seven served not to limit the speech and protestations of a generation but to reassess the standards of courtroom decorum.

For information on the Chicago Seven trial, see Anthony J. Lukas, The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities: Notes on the Chicago Conspiracy Trial (1970). An obituary is in the New York Times (2 July 1983).

Mark Allenbaugh

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