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Medina Suddenly Turns Sweet Before Jury Panel

By Howard Fast

Author of My Glorious Brothers, Citizen Tom Pain, The American and other works.

It was a new Judge Medina who presided over the selection of the jury, and once again I marveled over the many-sidedness of this curious man. Like Adolph Menjou turned producer, he does his own type casting, and on this day, the first day of the questioning of the prospective jurors, he had cast himself in the role of the benign and gentle teacher.

This was Medina the Yogi, Medina the father, Medina the compassionate one who rocked with such Christian charity in his rosy-hued swivel chair, and every hair of his sad mustache curled with understanding and sympathy.

The jurors were the "little ones" who had gathered around to drink at the font, and his attitude was such that you waited constantly for him to spread his hands and bless them. But the amazing thing about this Harold Medina is that regardless of the role he assumes, the content never varies: he never indulges in the mistake of fair play.

The court was full of the jury panel. Some four score of them occupied all of the spectator's benches. Most of them were past middle age; many were white-haired and venerable; and from the group of them there came an unmistakable effusion of genteel but somewhat shabby petty bourgeois respectability. On the previous day, the Judge had announced that the trial might run a full two months, and on the basis of this, most of the busy executives had pleaded out.


Workers there were not, to begin with; and left were those who could spare the two months easily, aged retired gentlemen of "quality," sharp-textured political hacks of both sexes, intense ones who had a mission, little, gray-haired ladies who had emerged from the declining shadow-years of the rentier, eager clerks who would thus win immortality--and a scattering of those unidentifiable men who seem "to work not, and neither do they play."

There they were, so that the 11 Communists might be judged by their peers; and one could not but reflect that even if this jury system in this Southern District of New York were not proven rotten--as it was proven and decisively--what sort of workers or family man can take two months at five dollars a day to sit? What sort of man, one had to reflect, would decide a question so momentous, so decisive in importance to the toiling masses of the entire world? Would they be wise, judicious, temperate, understanding--filled with the broadest responsibility for the public weal?

The clerk rose then and spun the little rabbit hutch--which casts forth justice by chance and lot--and one by one the first 12 filed into the box and took their seats. The very first was a Negro housewife, one of three Negroes in the panel of 80 or so; and afterwards this brought jubilation to the monopoly press; so that they who had never written a word on the six Negroes who sit in the death-house in Trenton could crow that here were the Communists confounded by their own propaganda.

But the Negro was there only because of the fight the defendants waged, and not one Negro but hundreds and thousands spell democracy; and not every Negro is willing to fight the monster of his own oppression.


So the box filled and Harold Medina radiated light and sweetness. In a voice that ran with honey, he told the jurors what he wanted. Oh, how different this man was now that the jurors were present, how gentle, how civilized! And he told them that he desired a special person with a special mind. "A mind like this sheet of paper----" which he held up so that all might see.

"A mind like this sheet of paper--blank."

And then he began to question them, the jurors, and a true wonder of wonders was revealed. For here were a round handful of people living in this America in 1949 who were utterly without prejudice.

They read nothing, joined nothing, heard nothing, saw nothing, sensed nothing, smelled nothing, felt nothing, hated nothing, feared nothing and knew nothing. Like the virgin sheet of paper, which Judge Medina offered as his model for the citizen of the democratic state, they were blank. By and large, they had never a doubt that they could sit without bias. It is true that two admitted the world and thus were excused; but they were replaced by two more who spoke no evil, saw none and heard none.

And so began the choosing of the jury, with Judge Medina asking the questions and sometimes answering them too. Only 14 men and women had passed before him on the day I was there, and it may be that 12 honest folk will end up in the box.

But, however, the jury is constituted, it cannot--so far as I can see--be a group that has ever been involved in the struggles of the working class, the Negro people or the Jewish People. These groups are truly represented by 11 defendants; they should be represented by the 12 jurors. Only in that way would justice be served.