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NEW YORK CITY, March 29--Pete Seeger '40 was found guilty this after-noon on ten counts for contempt of Congress. He faces the possibility of up to a $100 fine and a year in jail on each count.
The unanimous verdict of eight men and four women came as no surprise to the 42-year-old folk singer. He felt that his case had been lost when Judge Thomas F. Murphy instructed the jury not to consider the propriety of the House Un-American Activities Committee question as the heart of the case.
Murphy told the jury he had determined as a matter of law that the questions asked Seeger were pertinent to the Committee investigation of Communist activity in the entertainment field--a legitimate area of concern for the HUAC.
Relevant to the case, the judge told the jurors, was not Seeger's motive in not testifying, but rather the question of whether his replies were in good faith. The jury was to determine "that the pertinence was undisputably clear to the defendant at the time he was ordered to answer."
Contempt of Congress, Murphy declared, "involves only the deliberate and intentional refusal to answer proper questions."
Answered in "Good Faith"
In his summation, Seeger's lawyer, Paul L. Ross, contended that Seeger's replies to the Committee stating his refusal to answer were "good faith answers, even though not the response desired by the Committee." This contention, the prosecutor said later, had "an Alice-in-Wonderland logic."
The bulk of Ross's argument, however, was directed along other points: a technical one that the HUAC had never explicitly made known to the folk singer why the questions asked him were germane to its investigation and, secondly, a moral one that Seeger's stand was a courageous adherence to principle.
In its one-and-one-half-hour deliberation, the jury evidently agreed with prosecutor Irving Younger '53 that "the only issue in this case is if Peter Seeger committed contempt of Congress. The Committee on Un-American Activities is not on trial. Congressman Walter is not on trial."
Ross maintained that the purpose of the investigation in New York was illicit and in reality an attempt of the Committee to influence a dispute in the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). This argument was ruled out of order, as had been most of Ross's efforts to prove this point to the judge earlier.
During the morning session, Vincent W. Hartnett, author of several important TV black lists, testified that he had furnished the Committee with names and information about entertainers allegedly connected with Communist activities.
Four character witnesses, including Harold Taylor, former President of Sarah Lawrence College, and Helen Parkhurst, founder of the Dalton School, testified to Seeger's reputation for loyalty. Taylor drew the ire of the prosecutor when he admitted he had known that some persons had considered Seeger a Communist but still felt the singer had an "excellent" reputation for loyalty.
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