Popkin Faces Jail Sentence In Contempt of Court Case
Samuel L. Popkin, assistant professor of Government, was found in contempt of court and was jailed for a short time yesterday for his refusal to answer questions before a grand jury investigating the Pentagon Papers case.
The hearing was held in Boston's Federal District Court before Judge Frank J. Murray, who ordered that Popkin be taken into custody until he clears himself of contempt by answering any and all questions put to him by the grand jury.
Popkin offered in court to answer the specific questions the grand jury had previously asked, but refused to answer further questions.
Murray refused to grant Popkin either a stay of sentence or bail, finding no apparent grounds for appeal on the ruling. Popkin was handcuffed and removed to the Charles Street Jail.
Popkin was later granted a 48-hour stay of sentence and was released following a hearing in chambers between a Federal attorney. Popkin's lawyer and Judge Bailey Aldrich of the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The stay will remain in effect pending a ruling by the court on whether Popkin has valid grounds for appeal. A hearing on that question will be held today at 11 a.m.
Popkin, who has been subpoenaed several times by the Boston grand jury, was last called before it on January 19 after the Federal District Court refused to hear a motion for a protective order on his behalf.
He has attempted to seek exemption from questions relating to his academic work on the grounds that information from his scholarly sources is privileged.
Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, said last night after conversations with Popkin and his lawyer that he is "trying to see in what ways we can help them."
Steiner has stated previously that the University might file an amicus curise brief in favor of Popkin if he and the government were to battle over the issue of testimony about scholarly activities.
James Q. Wilson, chairman of the Government Department, said last night that he was "appalled to think that Mr. Popkin would have to spend time in jail until or unless the larger issue is resolved."
He defined that larger issue as "the question of the role of academics and their ability to engage in scholarly research on sensitive matters without jeopardizing their reputations or personal freedom."
"There is a lot more involved in this case than Mr. Popkin alone, and I would hate to see him pay some personal penalty for (his actions) while the larger issue remains," Wilson said.
Wilson introduced a resolution to the Faculty Council in mid-January condemning the government's interrogation of scholars on the grounds that "an unlimited right of grand juries to ask any question and to expose a witness to citations for contempt could easily threaten scholarly research." The resolution passed the Council unanimously.