40 Years Later, 'Chicago 7' Trial Still an Iconic Event
Oct 21, 2009
By Martha Neil
A perfect storm of political unrest, generational conflict and a
biased judge set the stage for a 1969 trial that is still memorable
40 years later for its drama and iconic import, participants in an
American Bar Association panel told a standing-room-only audience Tuesday.
Although the months-long Chicago Seven conspiracy trial ignited
international debateone searing image was of a bound and gagged
Bobby Seale, originally the eighth defendant in U.S. v. Dellinger, et
al.panelists offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of little-known
aspects of the high-profile trial. Brought against activists who
participated in anti-Vietnam War protests at the Democratic National
Convention in 1968, the federal case offered an opportunity for
defendants including Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin to
create a media circus, and they took full advantage of it.
The effort was aided by a trial judge who offered a substantial
target for criticism at the best of times and for this case was "the
worst possible judge," recounted partner Thomas Sullivan of Jenner &
Block, who was then a young lawyer in Chicago. Baited viciously by
defendants and counsel, U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman eventually
handed down hefty contempt terms that were reversed on appeal.
From the outset, however, Hoffman clearly favored the prosecution,
according to Sullivan and other panelists.
After Seale's intended lawyer was stricken with a gall-bladder attack
three days before the trial was to begin, Hoffman scoured the
pleadings to identify other attorneys who had entered an appearance
in the case on Seale's behalf for peripheral purposes. Finding four,
the judge sent a court marshal out to locate the lawyers and bring
them in to defend Seale, briefly jailing two attorneys who didn't
come in voluntarily, Sullivan said.
When the four lawyers, represented by Sullivan, told Hoffman they
weren't adequately prepared to try the case, he attempted to jail all
four over the weekend until another judge intervened.
As the case progressed, a parade of celebrity witnesses took the
stand, noted journalist Rich Samuels, who presented a program on the
trial for local news affairs program Chicago Tonight. They included
folk singer Judy Collins and Timothy Leary, a well-known fan of the
drug LSD who had earlier taught psychology at Harvard University,
After months of trial that stretched into 1970, the jury was
deadlocked. But a verdict was finally reached after a court official
told holdouts that the judge could keep them in the courthouse until
they rendered a decision. "That terrified them," said John Schultz,
who covered the entire Chicago Seven trial as a reporter for the
Evergreen Review and has written a book about the case.
Jurors were originally unwilling to talk about the verdict, but
Schultz persevered, and his coverage helped point the way toward a
Although widely viewed as an incendiary factor in an out-of-control
trial, Hoffman himself initially saw the Chicago Seven case as a high
point in his career and was proud of having played an important role
in it, said Jeffrey Cole, a federal magistrate and adjunct law
professor who as a young attorney was involved in the appeal. "He
thought this was a turning point in the history of the whole country."
Repeatedly invited by Hoffman to discuss the case, post-trial, in the
wealthy jurist's exquisitely furnished chambers, Cole noted that the
judge had framed the few newspaper articles that took a favorable
view of the trial. After being criticized by the Chicago-based 7th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for his handling of the case, however,
Hoffman eventually died "a very disappointed and horribly unhappy
man," Cole said.
For more details, take a look at the full ABA Public Program Series
broadcast, which can be downloaded next week on an ABA web page about
the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial program. It was sponsored by the
ABA Division for Public Education and moderated by Edward Adams,
editor and publisher of the ABA Journal.
ABAJournal.com: "Chicago 7 Trial Sketches Spark Memories" [see below]
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law: "The Chicago Seven Trial"
Chicago 7 Trial Sketches Spark Memories
Sep 18, 2007
By Martha Neil
With his feet propped up, 1960s activist Abbie Hoffman reads a book.
Blue-jeans-clad cohorts munch snacks and catch up on their sleep. No,
this wasn't some student-lounge gathering but one of Chicago's most
famous trials, at which at least one celebrity poet testified in Sanskrit.
Arrested after a violent confrontation between demonstrators at the
1968 Democratic National Convention and Chicago police, the
defendants in the so-called Chicago Seven trial that began on Sept.
24, 1969, did their best to put their own spin on the daily courtroom
drama. Judge Julius Hoffman had the unenviable task of presiding over
the turbulent trial, and at one point ordered that Black Panthers
leader Bobby Sealewho was originally an eighth defendantbe bound
and gagged, recounts the Chicago Tribune.
Five defendants were found guilty of intending to incite a riot, and
all seven, as well as two defense lawyers, were given lengthy prison
terms for contempt of court. However, an appeals court reversed all
of their convictions in 1972. Among the reasons cited were the
judge's antagonistic behavior and FBI bugging of defense lawyers' offices.
In addition to the media coverage that helped earn the Chicago Seven
a place in legal history, 483 sketches by freelance artist Franklin
McMahon depict the players in the courtroom farce. These trial
illustrations have now been acquired by the Chicago History Museum,
which already owns the judge's trial papers and notes, the Tribune reports.
"This courtroom kind of became a theater for acting out all of those
important issues of the day," says Joy Bivins, the museum's curator,
citing the Vietnam War, civil rights and a youthful counterculture
movement whose leaders saw themselves as pitted against an older
generation of Americans. "One of the reasons why these illustrations
are really important is because you can read page after page after
page, but you are rarely going to get a chance to visualize all the
actors involved in this kind of courtroom drama."