Chapter 18: The Lawyers, the Judge, and the Jury

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Federal Courthouse, NY, 1938

This is a short podcast to acquaint you with the actors about to come on stage in the drama of Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. They are the government Prosecutor Thomas Murphy, Hiss’s principal defense lawyer Lloyd Paul Stryker, Judge Samuel Kaufman, and the jury. Additional Research Murphy, a 6’ 4” muscular giant of a man with an enormous walrus mustache, tried to come across as the quiet, somewhat plodding, but totally competent and honest government attorney just doing his job. He knew he could not match Hiss’s barrister Lloyd Paul Stryker, the greatest criminal defense lawyer in the country and a dramatic actor who could resemble a July 4 fireworks display if he wanted to. Also, prosecutors’ excessive drama can create sympathy for defendants. In later years, Murphy was briefly Police Commissioner of New York City (appointed by a reform Mayor) and for decades afterwards was a judge, appointed by President Truman, in the court where the Hiss trials occurred — the federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. A lawyer/friend who practiced before him told me that Murphy was a very quiet, laid back, passive trial judge and that these traits reflected his inner total self-confidence and sense of his own competence. My friend said that no matter which side of a case you were on you were always happy when you got Murphy as trial judge. He would let you put on your case as you wished and wouldn’t be interrupting your choreography to preen before the jury, comment on the evidence, or audition for higher office Lloyd Paul Stryker was a magnificent performer, a real barn-burner. He might be out of place in today’s cool culture. To him, his client was all things good and the other side was pure evil. It was that simple. He tended to ‘swing for the bleachers,’ ignoring details and endlessly pounding away at one or two simple points in Shakespearean English. He had a one man office, employing very young lawyers for a few years and then letting them go (with the benefit of having worked for a grand master). Among the books he wrote (in his spare time!) are laudatory biographies of our first impeached President, Andrew Johnson, and the famous 18th-19th century liberal British barrister Thomas Erskine, and two legal treatises — all available on Amazon. By the time of this trial, he was approaching old age. He had made a lot of money but I think he had spent most of it. Little is known about the judge at the first trial, Samuel Kaufman. He must have been good to become a judge in the prestigious Southern District, but he left no mark and was thought by some to be a hack from the Manhattan Democratic Party’s ‘machine’ in Tammany Hall, which was still quite powerful in the 1940s. He was so small physically that, when he leaned back all the way in his swivel chair up on the bench, he sometimes disappeared from view. About the jury, the important thing is that, judging from their occupations, none of them had been to graduate school and perhaps none of them had been to college. They were the kind of people who can’t afford to live in Manhattan any more. This trial took them into an unfamiliar world, of conceptual policy making and political ideology. Questions: Do you think Murphy and Stryker were well suited for the roles in which fate cast them? If you were one of them, how would you use the other’s character traits to your advantage? If you were Murphy or Stryker, how would you take the jury into the foreign (to them) world of the State Department and espionage for the Soviet Union in a way that made your side look good and the other side look bad? How would you make your man, Hiss or Chambers, seem to someone on the jury as just an honest ordinary person like me?

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