Martin T. Manton Trial: 1939

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Martin T. Manton Trial: 1939

Appellant & Defendant: Martin T. Manton
Appellee & Plaintiff: United States
Appellant Claim: Reversal of conviction for conspiracy to obstruct the administration of justice and to defraud the United States, and dismissal of sentence
Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: John T. Cahill, Mathias F. Correa, Frank H. Gordon, Silvio J. Mollo, and Robert L. Werner
Chief Lawyers for Appellant: William J. Hughes, William E. Leahy, John E. Mack, and E. Donald Wilson
Judges: Specially constituted federal court: George Sutherland (former justice, U.S. Supreme Court); Harlan F. Stone (justice, U.S. Supreme Court); Charles E. Clark (judge, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit)
Place: New York, New York
Date of Decision: December 4, 1939
Decision: Conviction upheld (Sentence: 2 years imprisonment and $10,000 fine)

SIGNIFICANCE: This unique appeal brought the senior judge of the country's most prominent federal appeals court before his own colleagues. With all but one of the court's judges disqualified because of their previous association with the appellant, a special federal court had to be constituted to hear the appeal. The case, involving a scandal unique in federal court history, established a landmark in the delineation of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

In 1939, Martin T. Manton was the senior circuit judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a position second only to the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court. As a lawyer, Manton had made more than a million dollars before his appointment to the bench in 1916. His fortune, invested in real estate and business, had been severely depleted by the Depression.

With his friend William J. Fallon and several other men, Manton was indicted in April 1939, for conspiring to influence, obstruct and impede justice and to "defraud the United States of its right to have its legal functions exercised free from unlawful impairment."

"Without Regard to the Merits"

The indictment noted that Manton was a stockholder in, or "wholly or substantially owned or controlled" a number of corporations that had cases pending in his court between 1930 and 1939. It charged that Fallon actively proposed to those litigants that his close friendship with Manton could get them favorable action, and that such parties actively sought Fallon's help "in virtue of Manton's office, position, power and influence." Finally, the indictment charged:

that Manton would accept and receive sums of money as gifts, loans and purported loans in return for such action, and would corruptly act in each of these cases without regard to the merits.

Manton moved to quash the indictment, claiming it charged not one conspiracy but several separate conspiracies on one count, that it did not state an offense, and that more than one crime was charged in the indictment. The motion was overruled.

The trial soon produced evidence that Manton's downfall resulted from continuing his business activities after appointment to the bench. Many suits that reached his court involved patent-infringement disputes, with the loser doomed to heavy losses. Evidence showed that Manton owned stock in companies that were litigants and in whose favor he decided.

In one case, a patent infringement suit brought by Schick Industries against Dictograph Products Company, one Archie Andrews, the principal stockholder in Dictograph, provided Fallon with $10,000 in cash through an intermediary, who gave a receipt for the money for the purchase of Dictograph stock. Fallon went off to see Manton and returned within the hour to say, "Everything is O.K. You can go and tell Archie Andrews that he is going to get the decision in his favor." The decision was against Schick.

The district court jury found Manton guilty. He received the maximum sentence: two years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. He appealed. Paradoxically, the appeal had to land in his own court, where all his fellow judges except one disqualified themselves as his close associates. Only Judge Charles E. Clark, who had been appointed to the bench after Manton resigned while under investigation, could hear the appeal. Therefore, a special federal court was constituted. Its judges were former Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland, Supreme Court Justice Harlan F. Stone, and Judge Clark.

"Conspiracy Constitutes the Offense"

Considering Manton's claim that the indictment wrongly set forth a number of distinct conspiracies in a single count, the special court found:

that the conspiracy constitutes the offense irrespective of the number or variety of objects which the conspiracy seeks to attain, or whether any of the ultimate objects be attained or not.

Manton's contention, it said, "confuses the conspiracy, which was one, with its aims, which were many." The offense was the single continuing agreement among Manton and his cronies to sell judicial action to all willing to pay the price.

Altogether, the court's review found, Fallon had procured some $186,146 for Manton in 28 "distinct overt acts in pursuance of the conspiracy." In conclusion, the court noted that a mass of canceled checks, promissory notes, and other accounts was "so plainly at variance with the claim of Manton's innocence as to make the verdict of the jury unassailable."

Manton requested review by the U.S. Supreme Court. It denied his petition, and he went to federal prison at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on March 7, 1940. While eligible for parole after eight months, he served 19 months before he was released on October 13, 1941. He died in 1946.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

"Ex-Judge Manton of U.S. Bench Here." (obituary) The New York Times (November 18, 1946): 23

"Manton Conviction in Sale of Justice Upheld on Appeal." The New York Times (December 5, 1939): 1.

The New York Times. See Courts, U.S. Federal Inferior, New York Times Index, January-December 1939.

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Martin T. Manton Trial: 1939

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