Part 1: Trial of JFR et al

by Amazing 11 Replies latest jw friends

  • Amazing

    Part 1: Trial of JFR et al

    References for the following: Trial Transcript, Pages 64-71, Sect. 190-213.

    NOTE: Future installments will be much shorter. But this installment is important for the setting, and especially the items below noted in Red.

    The Society has often spoken of the trial of Joseph F. Rutherford and the other Officers as a “Railroad” job in reference to the speed and rush to judgment to convict the Society’s officers and end the all important work of the FDS. In years past, this has been characterized as fulfilling Bible prophecy with respect to the Two Witnesses spoken of in Revelation who were killed and then came back to life.

    The visions planted in many JW minds is that the seven Officers of the Society were wrongly accused, drug off in the middle of the night by jack-booted police, and quickly tried before some squint-eyed magistrate who heard only the Government testimony, then in haste banged down the gavel pronouncing guilt on these innocent men.

    This series will go through this trial and see what happened. Here are the questions that will be addressed:

    1. Was the trial a rush to judgment “Railroad Job”?
    2. What was the Government’s allegations?
    3. Did the Government have any cause of action, or a meritorious case?
    4. Did the Government take time to investigate and prepare?
    5. Were the Defendants given opportunity to retain counsel?
    6. Were the Defendants able to delay the case to effect proper preparation?
    7. Were the Defendants given consideration and leeway by the Court?
    8. Did the Defendants make a good case?
    9. What were the arguments of each side?
    10. Was this a Trial by Jury?


    Joseph F. Rutherford
    William E. Van Amburgh,
    Robert J. Martin
    Frederick H. Robinson
    George H. Fisher
    Clayton P. Woodworth
    Giovanni DeCecca
    Robert H. Hirsh
    A. Hugh MacMillan

    A Railroad Job? - Here are the Initial Sequence of Events: Originally, there were 9 Officers Indicted by the US Government, United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. The charges were filed May 6, 1918. The first arraignment of Rutherford, VanAmburgh, DeCecca, MacMillan, Martin, and Robinson (only 6 Officers) took place May 8, 1918 before Judge Garvin. Each Defendant plead Not Guilty. Bail fixed at $2,500 for each Defendant. Each Defendant remanded to give bail and case adjourned to May 15th, 1918.

    On May 9, 1918 Defendants Fisher, and Woodworth were arraigned (2 more Officers). Each plead Not Guilty with leave to withdraw same and Demur (delay) by May 15th, 1918. Bail was fixed at $2,500 each. Defendants request to Demur until may 15th, 1918 was granted.

    On May 14th, 1918 Defendant Hirsh was arraigned and lead Not Guilty (last of the 9 Officers). Bail fixed at $1,000. Case for call may 15th, 1918.

    Total of nine recognizances filed for all.

    May 15th, 1918: before Judge Chatfield, all nine Defendants present with counsel except Hirsh. Case adjourned until June 3, 1918 for call. Defendants ordered to return on bonds.

    Hirsh appeared separately on May 15, 1918 before Judge Garvin. Ordered to return June 3, 1918 on his bond.

    June 1, 1918: Petitions of Defendants and Certificates of attorneys for designation of another Judge filed. Certificate of Judge Garvin filed.

    June 3, 1918: Before Judge Garvin case called. Defendants present. Case referred to Judge Chatfield.

    Before Judge Chatfield a;; Defendants and counsel present. Defendants ordered to return on bonds June 4, 1918.

    June 4, 1918: Before Judge Chatfield. All Defendants present. Defendants asked leave to WITHDRAW their pleas and to Demur. Case transferred to Judge Howe for hearing.

    Before Judge Howe: Case called, all Defendants present. Attorney for the United States moves to dismiss indictment against Hirsh. Attorneys for the other Defendants objects!. Motion granted and indictment against Hirsh dismissed. Attorneys for other 8 Defendants ask leave to WITHDRAW pleas and to Demur. Attorney for the US objects. Defense Motion granted. Defendants move to have certain papers taken under Search Warrant returned and move for Bill of Particulars. Notice of motions and Affidavits filed. Motions argued and granted as to fist and ninth requests, all other denied.

    Defendants re-enter their plea of Not Guilty. US Attorney moves for trial. Defendants attorneys (more than one defense attorney by the way) move for adjournment and case set for trial at 2PM, June 5, 1918.

    June 5, 1918: All defendants and counsel before Judge Howe. Trial begins and then adjourned to June 6th, 1918 at 10:30 AM. Bill of Particulars and notice and petition filed for return of papers. Motion denied.

    Trial takes place over many days as follows:

    June 6, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe and then suspended until June 7th, 1918 at 10:30 AM. Defendants ordered to return. June 7, 1918: Trial resumed before Judge Howe, then suspended until June 10th, 1918 at 10:00 AM. June 10th, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe, then suspended until June 11, 1918 at 10:00 AM. June 11, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe, then suspended until June 12, 1918 at 10:00 AM. June 12, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe, suspended until June 13th, 1918 at 10:00 AM. June 13, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe, then suspended until June 14th, 1918. at 10:00 AM. June 14, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe, then suspended until June 17th, 1918.

    June 17, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe, then suspended until June 18, 1918. June 18, 1918: trial resumes before Judge Howe, then suspended until June 19th, 1918. June 19, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe, then suspended until June 20, 1918. Defendants still out on bail and ordered to return each day up to now.

    June 20, 1918: Trial resumes before Judge Howe, trial concluded, verdict guilty on all counts. Motion to set aside verdict for a new trial. Defendants remanded until June 21, 1918 at 12:00 Noon. Order entered for sustenance of Jurors.

    June 21, 1918: Defendants present before Judge Howe. Motions to set aside verdict, arrest judgment, fix bail, and set new trial denied. US Attorney moves for sentence.

    Sentencing: Rutherford, VanAmburgh, Martin, Robinson, Fisher, Woodworth, and MacMillan sentenced each to 20 years. Sentence of DeCecca deferred until further consideration of the Court to have his past career investigated. DeCecca was sentenced to ten years by Judge Howe on July 10th, 1918.

    Many more motions and court dates take place up to March of 1919 while Rutherford and the others are in Federal Prison in Atlanta, GA..

    Comment: So, rather than being drug off by jack-booted police in a rush railroad job at midnight … the Defendants were out on bail. They were able to hire attorneys. The Defendants objected to the case being dismissed against their fellow, Hirsh. Defendants had time to plea Not Guilty, withdraw their Not Guilty plea, and re-enter their Not Guilty plea … have arraignment, bond, and continuances. From May 5, 1918 through June 20, 1918 the pre-trial and trial took place. Then after they were convicted, their attorneys were in court 19 times over the next 10 months until March 1919 filing motions and petitions, appeals, etc.

    Was this a Railroad job? So far, it looks like the process was about normal. Letting Hirsh off the hook against the wishes of his fellow Defendants seemed like the Government was trying to be fair. Defendants even asked for and got another Judge!

    The next part will get into Jury examination: It will amaze you to see that Rutherford and his team had plenty of time to participate in Jury selection and examination … and how his attorney acted. … Stay tuned for Part 2.

  • Gopher


    This is all very interesting. And of course, we were never given any of this background by the WT Society. We were only given the high-level summary which was designed to make it seem that the WTS was the victim of blind, angry persecution as a result of intense nationalism during the "Great War".

    The WT Society has had ample opportunity to tell the real deal about its history, including that sad excuse of a whitewash volume "Kingdom Proclaimers". They had promised that this book (published in 1993) would be a forthright, candid history of the organization. YEAH RIGHT.

    J.R.Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.
    Mark Twain (1835-1910)

  • Fredhall


    The Judge was railroad and 850,000 others knew it too.

  • coffee_black


    Where do you get your numbers? There were nowhere near 850,000 jws at that time. There weren't many sympathizers either. I don't think he had any cats either, although I don't know if that has been researched. You have a very strange sense of humor Fred, and I really don't think you are a JW.


  • Fredhall


    If I would you, I would do some research on how many people signed a petition of releasing the Bible Students. I could be wrong on the number, but number was very high at that time.

  • coffee_black

    Fair enough. I'll do the research. My grandparents were in the borg at that time. (dead now, though) I'll check it out. I used to have all the publications of that time period. Wish I had kept them.


  • Pureheart


    You've got me on the edge of my seat. Can hardly wait. Thanks


  • VM44

    This is going to be good (although, everything Amazing writes is

    During the trial,did Rutherford, being the highly skilled lawyer
    and former Judge he was, help prepare the legal defense for himself
    and the other defendents? This would be interesting to know.

    At the very least, he could have used his training in shorthand
    to take extensive notes for the defense team!

    If I recall correctly, ever time the topic of this particular
    trial comes up, the WT makes sure to mention that the trial
    judge was convicted for something in the 1930s. ("See? the judge
    was corrupt! We had no chance for justice with such a judge!")

    Looking forward to the other parts in this series!


  • Amazing

    HI VM44: You asked,

    "During the trial,did Rutherford, being the highly skilled lawyer and former Judge he was, help prepare the legal defense for himself and the other defendents? This would be interesting to know."

    The Trial Transcript does not say that he acted in any sense to prepare or support his own case. If he did, we will never know. If he had truly been a "co-chair" in his own defense, the Transcript would have listed him as co-counsel of record, because there were other Defendants represented by the same law firm. The only Defense counsel mentioned is the law firm they hired. I will name that firm in my next post.

    Given some of the activities it would be easy to speculate that JFR was savvy to the proceedings, and as such he likely had influence on his attorneys, and/or influenced his co-defendants to accept the advice of counsel.

    While JFR was not formally educated in law through university, he did pass the Missouri Bar exam - answering oral question before a Bar Panel. That was a common practice in those days ... and he met the test. He did practice law, and represented some high profile clients. JFR was not stupid, but he was not the brightest attorney in town.

    JFR only served as a "fill-in" Judge for four days. The sitting Judge went on vacation, and asked JFR to sit in for him. This is common practice and is one way that attorneys gain Judicial experience for future appointments or elections as Judges.

    During the four days he served there were 4 cases on the Docket. Two were continued, so JFR only heard two minor cases as an "acting" Judge.

    There is no record of JFR ever being asked again to serve as an "acting" Judge. Also, he was never appointed or elected to a Judicial position of his own. In all fairness to JFR, he may have gotten wrapped up in the Bible Students religion before he could move forward in his career. So, we will never know if he would have gone on to serve in more Judicial cases, or even get appointed or elected. Thank God! we will never know!

    After I deal with Jury Selection, then I will get into the Indictment before going on to Trial Questions and Answers. The Indictment is fairly large. There were 4 Counts, but each Count had many sub-parts ... so the Government's case was not a minor charge. Also there were 42(?) items in the Bill of Particulars used as evidence against the Defendants.

  • VM44

    Thank you Amazing for your answer to my question.

    I have started a new thread about "Rutherford's legal Career"

    There is still a question in my mind of how competent Rutherford
    was as an attorney. I agree with you that he was not stupid, but
    at the same time, he was capable of some very illogical reasoning,
    as evidenced in some of his books (if indeed he actually wrote the
    books, but that is another question)


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