Daily Worker |
Feb. 1, 1949
A Day at Foley Square with Howard Fast
The Judge -- A Portrait
Whether chance or careful selection assigned Judge Harold R. Medina to this case of the 12 Communists, I do not know, but however it may be, he is assured of his small niche of immortality. Possibly he would agree with this--since he seems by no means unaware of the importance of his role--but he and I would certainly disagree concerning the point of view with which the future will observe him. In any case, this judge is well worth observing, a grand inquisitor almost type cast in the best Hollywood tradition, handsome and assured, Adolph Menjou with all the poise and gravity of Lewis Stone--and as curiously divorced from the heartache and hope of life, to all appearances.
My first morning in the already historic courtroom at Foley Square was his morning, and he made the most of it. Neither his picture nor what I have read of him do full justice to his histrionic ability. Only in motion--in the peculiar deftness of motion which he manages so well--can the gently devious quality of him be fully appreciated. And like many other good performers, he knows that the understress is of more value than the bludgeon; he depends on the content, preserving the courtly form of a cultured barrister of the old school.
His gray mustaches droop apologetically as he makes a point, and each dagger thrust is tinged with polite regret. "My dear Mr. Gladstein," he said at one point, "why do we have all this trouble, this bickering?" He does not like bickering, and it is quite apparent, even through the charm, that he does not like the Communists, who go in not only for bickering but for much more overt forms of opposition.
TACTIC OF NAIVETE
The Brahmin and the Mandarin are combined in this jurist, who was born in Brooklyn of Mexican parents. An Episcopalian, he lives in New York's seventeenth, silk-stocking, grand-jury district and can recall a brilliant legal career before he came to the bench. To think of him otherwise than as a well-trained and coldly calculating lawyer would be a mistake, and I would suspect that his naiveté is as much a thoughtful tactic as each of the various gestures which give old world charm to his bench presence. For example, there was put into evidence this morning a series of marked maps which alleged to prove that the Federal jury system in this district is rather illegal, a matter which seems all too obvious to the most casual observer, but which has to be wrapped in a mystical sort of cellophane before it can get into a court record; and Judge Medina who, you will recall, did not know what Congressional District he inhabited some days ago, now asked plaintively for something that would delineate these confusing areas for him, complaining:
"I 'm not very well versed in these political matters."
The pride that mingled with the shy regret in his voice told you that, unlike Caesar's wife, he was not only above suspicion but above politics too. Not blind, perhaps, which would be carrying things a trifle too far, but certainly looking discreetly the other way these past 10 years, when the world was full of a number of things, most of them highly political.
At another time, Gladstein, reminding the judge that he had complained of the smallness of type on the maps, produced a huge magnifying glass, which he offered as a gift from himself to the bench. The bench reacted like a debutante to her first corsage.
"Why, Mr. Gladstein," Judge Medina said, with deep sincerity, "that is very nice. I appreciate that."
You knew he appreciated it. Everyone in court knew he appreciated it. And what a pity that Communists couldn't realize that at no moment were the nicer details of living unnecessary! And, of course, he was consistent. He reminded the defense that two motions were still pending his decision, and with great kindness, he asked Mr. Isserman whether he didn't have something to add to his argument on the motions.
"I let them stand as in the record," Mr. Isserman said.
"And I have decided to deny both of them," the judge told him gently and regretfully. I guess only I wondered why he had asked so sincerely for more argument, when his mind was already made up; but after a while I realized that Judge Medina's consistency was never allowed to interfere with his good manners. He just made a practical joke of denying everything the defense asked for and granting everything the prosecution asked for; and in that he was quite the same as Judge Richmond B. Keech of Washington, who in my own trial combined the same procedure with a rather crusty exterior.
The outcome of the trial remains to be seen, but just as sure as sunrise, it's going to make Emily Post just as proud of the bench as Tom Clark has any right to be.