In the surprise climax to a long series of legal hanky-panky, Samuvel L. Popkin, lecturer in Government, was freed from Norfolk County Correctional Institute after a week of imprisonment.
Popkin had been sent to jail the previous week by District court Judge W. Arthur Garrity as a penalty for his continual refusal to answer certain questions before a Boston grand jury investigating the distribution of Pentagon Papers. The sentence was set to expire at the scheduled end of the grand jury's term, on January 12.
The government's steadfast refusal in court to take any compromise in order to reduce or eliminate popkin's sentence seemed to indicate that it had a definite idea of what he could provide for them, and that it was willing to wait to get it. Nevertheless, in an extremely surprising move, representatives of the U.S. Attorney's Office asked District Judge Frank J. Murray to disband the grand jury, thus automatically freeing popkin.
More surprising, perhaps, were statements by several sources that Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, had played a "highly significant" part in negotiations with the government to free Popkin.
Steiner met last Friday with A. William olson chief of the Justice Department's Internal Security Division and had what he later called a "full and fair hearing" of the issues involved. Several sources suggested that without Steiner's help, Poplin probably would have served his full sentence.
Despite his astonishment at being released six weeks early, Popkin was hardly at a loss for words. Grand juries, he told a group of reporters shortly after his release, "have become the government's tool for gathering intelligence." He further warned that "today we may be faced with as great a threat from the use of grand juries as was ever posed by Joe McCarthy."
Popkin also cautioned that if scholars and journalists cannot talk confidentially with officials, "the First Amendment will protect nothing more than polemics and official handouts."
Popkin denied that he had martyred himself for a cuase, saying that he had just been in a certain position at a certain time and felt that the had to adhere to his ethical principles.
"I am equally glad that this and other cases have alerted people to the threat posed by the use of grand juries to the First Amendment and the free inquiry I believe it protects." He said.
At the end of the week. Popkin was vacationing in the Virgin Islands with his wife, Susan Shirk.