George Bernard Harris.

Memories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 online

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Online LibraryGeorge Bernard HarrisMemories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 → online text (page 15 of 18)
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Stanford University also occupying a very important role in the
opposition to the three-judge court. Judge Pope [pause] wrote the
prevailing opinion for the United States circuit court on review; and
in a very terse opinion, reversed our conclusions. Those were the
highlights of it.

Morris: There was also a question in that case about the selection of the
jury. There were, I gather, some infirmities in the methods of
selecting the jury in Maui County. That aspect of the case is
cited as a test case.

Harris: Many of the refinements have gone out of my mind. I did look upon
it, and it was looked upon by the public as an important case, and
in truth and in fact a test case. The circuit court, however, did
not see it our way.

Morris: What I m curious about is the matter of test cases in general; if

you were aware at the time that you were sitting on the case that it
was likely to become a test case?

Harris: Yes. It was perfectly evident to me that we were sitting on a case
of grave importance to the community, and that it would likely be

Morris: And that it would likely be reversed?

Harris: Yes. I indicated that to Mr. Justice John Biggs, whom I had a profound
respect for. Judge Walter Pope from Idaho, a circuit judge [pause]
wrote a very terse reversal expressing the prevailing opinion.


Harris: Delbert Metzger passed away in the last several years. Justice

John Biggs of the circuit court has been quite ill for some time.

Morris: That s unfortunate. I was wondering if there were aspects of this
case that had a bearing on the Bridges case, and other cases
involving members of the ILWU.

Harris: No.

Morris: There seem to have been four or five cases within a few years from
1948 to 1951 that you sat on, and I wondered if this was an unusual
number of cases involving the ILWU.

Harris: No, the tempo of the times was such as to justify the conclusion

that there were many problems of national significance being passed
through the courts involving the labor movements and allied

Morris: Would this be things like the Taft-Hartley Act and the National
Labor Relations Act?

Harris: Yes, Taft-Hartley. Merely for the record, I should add that I had

the first Taft-Hartley hearings in the western states, and the first
Taft-Hartley hearings in Seattle, and issued a government decree
appropriate in form and nature upholding the act.

Morris: Does that mean you granted an injunction?
Harris : Yes .

Morris: Okay. Did the appearance of the Taft-Hartley Act and the National
Labor Relations Act mean that there was then an increase in labor-
management cases coming to the federal court?

Harris : Yes .

Morris: Were those primarily brought by employer organizations or by the

Harris: The unions, of course, had to engage in defensive tactics, looking
toward their rights. Both acts increased the burdens on the court
immeasurably, with very, very far-reaching litigation.

Morris: In the reading I did, I gathered that there were some conflicting

provisions in the National Labor Relations Act and the Taft-Hartley

Harris: Without going into the innumerable problems, my answer would be
yes, under the circumstances.


Morris :

Harris :

Morris :

Harris ;
Morris ;


Does that mean in some cases that it allows you, as the judge,
greater leeway in arriving at a decision?

There was considerable discretionary latitude reposed in the jurists,
and the administration of the act.

The Hawaii labor action also came to your court in two other cases:
The NLRB v. Gerald A. _Brown, ILWU and Longshoe and Allied Workers
of Hawaii. This involved the picketing in California of a relief
ship that was on its way to Hawaii. The decision was first rendered
in your court on September 7, 1949.

Could you repeat that? I missed some of that.

There was a relief ship in California that was supposed to be loaded
with supplies for feeding the people in Hawaii because of the dock
strike. The union was picketing that ship in California. There
was a suit under the NLRB that came to your court. One of these
was the NLRB v. Gerald Brown. You issued a temporary restraining
order, and then continued the case. I wondered if this case had a
bearing at all on Harry Bridges own trials, which were due to come
up shortly.

I can t presently recall any direct bearing that it had.
the Brown case?

That s

Morris :


Morris ;

Harris :


Harris ;

Yes. And one of the issues in the Brown case was whether or not the
union and the Matson Navigation Company were willing to negotiate
the current strike. I wondered if Harry Bridges would have testified
in the Brown case.

From my present viewpoint, I can t see that it would affect the
Bridges case.

Reading the reports of these cases thirty years later, I have the
feeling that you were sort of swamped with things related to Harry
Bridges and his union, various cases. I wondered if you felt that
way at the time?

I assume we did. The courts, as I ve already indicated, were
brought into a welter of decisions and cases, and the demands were
very, very heavy. To remember the minute details at this time is a
demanding task.

It is, and you re very patient when I press you for details. It s
taken me quite a lot of time just to try and understand the succession
of events.

Well, it s taken a lot of the time of everyone affected.
been justified.

I think it s


The United States and Harry Bridges*




I wonder if you recall what kinds of discussions you might have
had with Judge Roche, who was the chief judge of the district court
at that point, about assigning the Harry Bridges case to you.

Michael Roche was a great trial lawyer and a great trial judge. I
had a great respect for him. I served with him in the Hall of
Justice in the criminal courts and came to know him on a very high
level. I recall perfectly well that his parting comment was, "George,
go in and get your feet wet."


This is when he told you you were going to have the Bridges

Harris: Yes. I said it proved to be a little more than a routine assignment,

Morris: Yes. I would think one might feel that one was going to go out into
the depths of the ocean, rather than getting your feet wet.

Harris : Yes . As to the details of the case, again he was very circumspect
and very terse. He was certainly a jurist who removed himself from
any further contact once a case was assigned.

Morris: Did he say, "Go in and get your feet wet," because you were

relatively new on the district court at that point? You d been
there about two years when the Bridges case came to you.

Harris: That s correct.

Morris: Would it have been the most important case that you tried up until
that time?

Harris: Well, it was as difficult a case as I tried up to that time. It

required a great deal of independent study, and it was a demanding

Morris: Did you have any sense, before the proceedings began, that it was
going to be as contentious and arduous a trial as it turned out to

*U.S. v. Bridges; 86 F Supp. 922 (1949), 86 F Supp. 931 (1949),
and 90 F Supp. 973 (1950) , See also extensive scrapbook of press
clippings in Judge harris s papers.


Harris: No, I had no idea. I knew it might be the subject of some acrimony.
I envisioned personalities as being somewhat bitter. But otherwise,
I sought to treat it as a routine case, as best I could.

Morris: The government brought both a civil case and criminal case against
Mr. Bridges.

Harris : Yes .

Morris : Was that a usual way to deal with it?

Harris: No. In this case, there were constitutional issues, and also bearing
upon the running of the statute of limitations.

Morris: Did you envision at the time that that might cause you trouble later
on, or might cause the decision ?

Harris: Yes. Criminal cases and civil cases sometimes are joined; it appeared
here that there were issues leading to a civil controversy as well
as a criminal.

Morris: So there were legal controversies in both cases?

Harris: Yes. The running of the statute of limitation was first brought to
bear in the criminal case. The decision on the civil case was
reserved. [pauses to think] With regard to the issue of the
statute of limitations, I knew that it would be raised by the
circuit, by our ninth circuit. And it was.

Morris: Even though you knew it would be raised by the circuit, you felt there
was sufficient reason to

Harris : The circuit affirmed me in upholding the intentions of the lower court
that statute of limitations was not involved, and did not apply.
This issue was passed upon by the Supreme Court eventually , and

Morris: About the same time, there were several other major trials in other
parts of the United States concerning charges of communist activity,
including a mass trial in New York before Judge Harold Medina. I
wondered if you d had any contact with him or other judges with
similar cases as to how such cases went, or issues that arose?
And if you would have perhaps consulted with Judge Medina on dealing
with a trial concerning allegations of communist activity.

Harris: Judge Medina on one occasion visited me more a social vist than a
legalistic one. And asked me if I had a bodyguard. It was an
honor that I had declined. I cannot recall the details of either
case, but I would judge the atmosphere was similar.


Morris: What was there about the pre-trial proceedings that led to Vincent
Hallinan and James Mclnnis being added to the defense counsel for
Harry Bridges?

Harris: There was no significance, save and except that it was one indication
among several that it was to be highly charged and defended cause.
Other than that, there was no significance.

Morris: Because both of these attorneys had a reputation for colorful
courtroom behavior?

Harris : I suppose that had some bearing.

Morris: Okay. There was also a special attorney general brought out from
Washington, D.C. to handle the government s case, a man named F.
Joseph Donohue.

Harris: Yes. He was sometimes known as "Jiggs."
Morris: As in Jiggs in the funny papers?

Harris: Yes. He was quite a colorful fellow, and was trying his first
criminal case in a district court.

Morris: Really? I had assumed he was one of the more senior, experienced
men, and that for some reason, Washington

Harris: Did you ever meet him?

Morris: felt should be in charge rather than somebody from the San Francisco

Harris: He s a very engaging fellow. All right.

Morris: Why somebody from Washington rather than from the local U.S.
attorney s office?

Harris: I couldn t answer that. A question of policy, I suppose.

Morris: Okay, fair enough. Was Harry Bridges himself a major participant
in the proceedings, or was it mostly the opposing attorneys?

Harris: Only when called upon to testify.

Morris: From your observations of him in court, what kind of a man was
Bridges at that time?

Harris : From his appearance in court?
Morris: Yes.


Harris: In what regard?

Morris: Would you have talked with him in your chambers in the pre-trial

Harris: I may have.

Morris: I guess I was thinking in terms of his sincerity, his respect for
the law, his attitudes toward the court proceedings.

Harris: Generally his attitudes and deportment were respectful.

Morris : Even though people on his legal counsel were making some rather

strong charges about the government s handling of the case and the
courtroom proceedings, Mr. Bridges himself managed to be respectful
and quiet in the middle of all that?

Harris: [pause] To the best of my recollection, there was nothing in Mr.

Bridges conduct that would justify a contempt citation. There was

Morris: But you did cite Mr. Hallinan and Mr. Mclnnis for contempt, several

Harris: Yes. Well, their roles were entirely different from Bridges .

Morris: Were the charges about improper government witnesses and things like
that were those unusual in a criminal case?

Harris : No .

Morris: What kind of procedures would you use to try and keep a case like
that moving to reach a resolution, when the attorneys are engaging
in such colorful, opposing charges?

Harris: How do you keep it moving?
Morris: Yes.

Harris: You get the assistance of the court attaches, the skill of the trial
judge, availability of witnesses, availability of counsel so many
factors enter into it. All right.

Morris: Can you recall the general line of your thinking that long night

when you reviewed the proceedings to date and decided not to send the
attorneys to jail for contempt until the Bridges trial was over?

Harris: I did send them to jail.

Morris: Right, but not until after the trial was over.


Harris: That s generally regarded as good practice, because it s designed
not to intrude the criminal matter to the point where it might
influence the decision and otherwise. Is that clear?

Morris: I think so.

Harris: It s a factor in preserving judgment that sometimes works. It s

designed to avoid the consequences of some prejudice that might be
directed to the defendant in having a sentence during a trial.

Morris: If you did sentence a defendant s attorney to jail for contempt,
that would mean things would have to stop while the defendant
went and got a new attorney, is that right?

Harris : Yes .

Morris: Did your announcing that you were going to stop and review the

proceedings and consider whether or not to send Bridges attorneys
to jail did that have an effect at making the proceedings a little
more serene and speeding things up?

Harris: I suppose it did.

Morris: A couple of things turned up during the proceedings that you did not
allow to be included in the trial. I wonder if you could comment on
your reasons for those. In 1945, in an earlier deportation action
against Harry Bridges, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued an opinion,
one of whose sections held that the charge that Bridges was a
communist was not proven. The government s case in 1949 was partly
based on an allegation that Bridges was a communist.

Harris: I ll reserve a comment on that.

Morris: There were also some letters concerning Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry

Harris: That came in obliquely.

Morris: And you felt they did not have a bearing on the matter at hand?
Is that correct?

Harris : I ruled it out.

Morris: Yes. You don t recall why?

Harris: Why? I didn t think it had any probitive value.


Morris : I came across a reference to some articles that you wrote in a law
journal about those letters. Was that accurate during the Bridges
trial, did you take time out to write an article for a law journal
about the Eleanor Roosevelt letters?

Harris: No recollection.

Morris: I didn t come across such an article when I was looking through your
papers . *

Harris: I don t remember.

Morris: When that long trial was finally over, how did you counsel the jurors
to deal with the opposing counsel s presentation?

Harris: To preserve decorum?
Morris: Yes.

Harris: The bailiffs and the court attaches handling decorum had the usual
prob lems .

Morris: Did you have to issue any special instructions to the bailiffs?
Harris: I assume not.

Morris: How about the jury itself? What kind of instructions did you give
them to deal with this mass of data?

Harris: I particularized and was very careful in preparing and giving
instructions .

Morris: Is there any sense, in a case as contentious with as many strong
statements being made back and forth, that the manner of the
opposing attorneys or the nature of their charges has an impact on
the jury?

*Further search, after interviewing was completed, yielded a speech
titled "A Free Press and Its Relation to the Federal Courts" given
by Judge Harris at the Ninth Judicial Council Conference in San
Francisco, June 27- July 1, 1950, which also appeared in The Recorder
June 28, 29, 30, 1950. The speech notes reporter Westbrook Pegler s
comments on letters purportedly written by Eleanor Roosevelt
concerning Harry Bridges and gives interesting insights into the
climate of the Bridges trial, as well as outlining the origins and
contemporary views of the principle of freedom of press. See Appendix
for full text.


Harris :
Harris :

Morris :

Harris :

Harris :


Harris ;
Morris ;
Harris :

Harris :
Morris :

I do not doubt that the general attitude and decorum in the courtroom
had some effect upon the jurors.

The jury came in with its verdict, and then you wrote an opinion on
the case?

I gave instructions to the jury which are matters of record,
on points of law, admissibility of evidence, and wrote some

I ruled

Are those rulings in your opinion a fairly routine matter, or in
something like the Bridges case does this cause you some ?

The Bridges trial was a little more demanding.

The case was completed in June of 1950, and Mr. Bridges was at large
on bail awaiting his appeal of the court s opinion that he was
guilty. On August 7th, 1950, Bridges bail was revoked, and he went
to jail, which was just a few days after the Korean conflict began.
The allegations were that he had been, I guess, offering aid and
comfort to the enemy, by saying that the United States military
forces should not have become engaged in military action in Korea.
I wondered if the revoking of his bail was an action that you could
take on your own initiative, or did the U.S. attorney ask you for this?

My action. I thought at the time that there were valid grounds for
a revocation and accordingly revoked. My reasons are matters of
record at the time.

As the Bridges perjury conviction was reviewed in the circuit court
and the Supreme Court, I wondered if there was any communication
between the district court where the case was heard and the appellate
levels .

Any communication?

Yes, or if it s just a matter of the record of the case being reviewed.

Just the record of the case.

Did you have a particular interest in following the case as it went
through the various appeal levels?

It was followed as a routine matter.

Okay. So what the U.S. Supreme Court did in 1953 was to order a new
trial. Does this action make the judge who originally heard the
case feel that his judgment is being questioned? How do you feel
when the Supreme Court reverses you and orders a new trial?


Harris :

Morris :

Harris ;

Harris :
Morris :

Harris :

Let me walk around the table, [brief tape interruption]

We were winding up with the Harry Bridges case. Looking back on it
over these thirty years, would you say that it was an instructive
experience in spite of the fact that it was a contentious trial and
the higher courts saw fit to disagree with you?

It was an expected decision of the jury,
expectation would prevail today [pause]
question. That s enough.

[pause] Whether such

It would present a difficult

Would the reversal have had a bearing on Judge Murphy s ruling, when
he assigned the Bridges case to Judge Goodman for a second hearing
in June of 1955?

That was on the new indictment. Let me hear your question again.

Okay. In June of 1955, Chief Judge Murphy, who was then the chief
judge of the Northern District Court, heard the opening of the new
trial which was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court of the Bridges
matter. I wondered if you would have had any discussions with Judge
Murphy or with Judge Goodman, who was eventually assigned to hear the
trial after the pre-trial hearings.

Judge Goodman dismissed the matter.

Had there been changes in the climate of opinion or in the relevant
law that led to his dismissal? More simply put, why did Judge
Goodman dismiss the Bridges case when it came back a second time?

The decision he reached, from a present viewpoint, would seem
inevitable, [siren outside] That s enough.

Years as Chief Judge////


Harris :

Morris :

What I d like to wind up with, then, is a few questions about your
years as chief judge of the Northern District Court. In 1961, you
became chief judge. I wonder if that s a matter of the judges
sitting down and taking a vote or if it s seniority. How does one
get to be chief judge?

[pause] That s a routine matter. It involves point of service and
recognition by the court of the capacity of the judge.

So, in due time, it will be your turn to be chief judge,
the way it goes?

Is that





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Harris: In the ordinary course of events, you would attain the distinction
of a chief judge.

Morris: As chief judge, did you continue also to hear cases?

Harris: A chief judgeship involves manifold duties and burdensome duties,
extra and in addition to the routine affairs of the court. Some
men are ideally equipped for the office. Others some men are
ideally equipped for the office, period.

Morris: Did you find being chief judge a satisfying kind of additional
respons ib ility ?

Harris: Yes, I enjoyed it immensely. It was a constant challenge.
Morris: What did you find most challenging about it?

Harris: I found it entrancing no. I found it engaging and demanding to
review my brethren s efforts.

Morris: Is there an operating procedure for meeting with each judge on the
court and reviewing with him his current cases and offering advice
and counsel?

Harris: Yes. It s a constant vigilance of duty. It s hard to say precisely
what is the most demanding.

Morris: Is it your responsibility to orient a new judge when he s appointed?

Harris: If a judge is available, it is sometimes very helpful to have him
added to the court for immediate duties.

Morris: This is people from other federal courts that can be assigned for
temporary duty on the district court?

Harris: Yes. What was that again?

Morris: You said it was helpful to have a judge who was available for
immediate duty.

Harris : Yes .

Morris: Is this a new appointee to the court,- a permanent appointee? Or

are there judges who are temporarily assigned to the district court?

Harris: Temporarily assigned.

Morris: In the state courts, I know the superior court, for instance, can

occasionally have the services of a municipal court if the superior


Harris: Yes,

Morris: Does that work in the district court?

Harris : No .

Morris: As chief judge, do you make recommendations as to who might be an
appropriate addition to the court?

Harris: No, not ordinarily.

Morris: Let s see. Your fellow judges included Albert Wollenberg and Bill
Sweigert. Did they come on the court while you were chief judge?

Harris : Yes .

Morris: I wonder if you could give me a summary of Judge Wollenberg s special
skills that you would consider when assigning cases.

Harris: Judge Wollenberg is well-adjusted and adapted to the business of
trying cases and other allied activities in the courts. He s a
thoroughly mature judge and known for his patience.

Morris: How about Bill Sweigert?

Harris: Sweigert is a very able man, somewhat of a philosopher, and a man
of infinite patience and judicial good manners.

Morris: Is there an opportunity for the judges to meet together?

Harris : Yes .

Morris: Would you call regular meetings on administrative kinds of questions?

Harris: Quasi-administrative,,

Morris: In other words, the responsibility for administration was all yours,
but you could informally consult with them?

Harris: A judge has the right and opportunity to consult with his colleagues

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Online LibraryGeorge Bernard HarrisMemories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 → online text (page 15 of 18)