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'Why I Write So Much About Judge Medina'

By Howard Fast

Those of you who have followed my occasional observations on this filthy spectacle at Foley Square might have wondered why, when there are so many good, brave men in that courtroom, I have taken up so much space with Judge Harold R. Medina. This is an interesting question, and I myself was not quite certain of the answer until the other day--the day after Gill Green had been remanded to jail.

I came to court to watch Gil Green, and I found myself watching Harold Medina. Gil Green is on trial, and when I was there, he was in the witness stand, and he was testifying not only about himself, his integrity and his life, but about the hopes and aspirations of good men everywhere. I have known him many years; yet I never thought of him as a particularly brave or spectacular person; like so many Communist organizers, he does his work quietly and he doesn't advertise the quality of it. But the other day he was brave--in the sense that the Spaniards use that word--and he was spectacular and now and then he was a little magnificent too, and all of it on a quiet afternoon when nothing in particular happened.

He answered a few questions, and his answers were clear and clean and angry; and the substance of them was hurled into the teeth of that incredible man, Judge Medina, who is now, in my mind and forever, the rocking-chair God of Foley Square; and I found the answer as to why I write so much of Judge Medina.


"It was our decision to build a united front, so that we might halt the rising tide of fascism," said Gil Green, and in the cool matter of factness of his words was all the hell that had raged across the world, and all the blood spilled by free men to stop it; and I remembered him saying to me, in Chicago, in 1945, during the great strike wave, "Why do we want something for nothing? Has there ever been any other price on freedom than the blood of a brave man?"

But Medina rocked and softly stroked his mandarin mustaches and rocked and rocked--the new Medina. He can send men to jail--a month, a year or 10 years. He has only to desire it. He has only to say to himself, "I, Harold Medina, desire it." I tell you, the man has expanded, grown, reached new levels of existence never dreamed of before. Even the poor, miserable Claudius I, who was found hiding behind a curtain by the palace guard and then set up to rule over all Rome, blossomed with new foliage when he was vested with all the authority due a god; and this is Medina of the new sanctuary, with an unctuousness and a fake humility that can only be compared to a sentimental moment in the life of Henry VIII, done by Charles Laughton in technicolor.

There was a woman sitting next to me, and, after one of those uncomfortable pauses, after Medina has sustained eight--yes, eight, objections all in a row, she said:

"He has the patience of a saint, hasn't he?"

When I withheld decision, she informed me that she had been dispatched to court by the Dale Carnegie Institute to prepare a series of talks on Communism. A friend of the court had slipped her into the press section. "I hope the Russians get it," she said, nodding at the defendants. "Our school is full of them."

"Russians?" I asked, amazed that a bridgehead had been established on, of all places, the very doorstep of Dale Carnegie.

"They call themselves liberals," she said, "but none of us are taken in--not Mr. Carnegie, not me."

When I pointed out that the defendants were Americans, she began to recognize me for what I was, and with "That Medina--he's beautiful," as a parting shot, she transferred her confidences to the Farrel Dobbs who covers the trial for The Militant, the Trotzkyite sheet.

But her words stayed with me. "That Medina--he's beautiful." It echoed and re-echoed, like one immortal fragment out of a lost poem, and even took on some of the rhythm Medina and McGohey execute so faultlessly when they go into their objection-sustained cotillion. It was a quiet afternoon, with Gil Green permitted only one statement, a simple, straightforward exposition of the United Front, and having nothing better to do, I scored 20 objections by McGohey which were sustained and three that were overruled.

On the last of the three, Judge Medina (He's beautiful), said, like a man surrendering a penthouse, "I think we'll allow that, Mr. McGohey." But Mr. McGohey did not take this sitting down; he rose, and like a man who knows who's running the show, he stared fixedly and accusingly at the patient judge. I must report that while Harold Medina fidgeted, he held firm. "I'll allow that," he said benignly, but with just enough of an apologetic note to smooth the furrows from the prosecutor's brow.

And so another day of this indecent perversion of justice passed, and I left before any of the law school boys at McGohey's table burned their joss sticks.