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Law Professors Urge Congress To Examine Judge's Conduct During 1953 Rosenberg Trial

By Gay Seidman

A Harvard law professor urged the House and Senate Judiciary Committees last week to investigate the conduct of the judge who sentenced Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage.

Eighty-two law professors from all over the country, including ten from Harvard, attached their names to a statement calling for an investigation drawn up by Vern Countryman, professor of Law.

Countryman's letter details evidence gleaned from documents recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that suggests Irving R. Kaufman, now Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, may have cooperated with the FBI throughout the Rosenberg's trial and subsequent appeals.

Although Countryman admitted last week that the accuracy of the documents has not been established, he said they may show "a shocking pattern of misconduct" that warrants investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee makes the initial investigation into possible misconduct of federal judges, while the Senate Judiciary Committee initiates trial proceedings in the upper chamber if the House approves articles of impeachment.

Spokesmen for both committees last week declined comment on the letter, which they had just received. They would not predict when a response would be forthcoming.

The FBI documents, which Countryman received from the Rosenbergs' sons and circulated among the law professors who signed the statement, suggest Kaufman favored the death penalty for the Rosenbergs before they were found guilty.

The documents also suggest the judge helped block appeal motions by the Rosenbergs and by their co-defendant, Morton Sobell, who received a 30-year sentence, although Kaufman was no longer associated with the case.

Countryman--who participated in two unsuccessful appeal motions for Sobell--said last week that if a congressional investigation were to find Kaufman guilty of misconduct, he hopes the committees "would make it clear judges are not supposed to act that way. If the panels want to do more to Kaufman," he added, "that's fine with me."

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