Saturday, December 22, 2012

1997

"A Former Communist Thanks His Defenders A Team Of Phila. Lawyers Put Cold War Paranoia Aside And Took His Case. Last Night, They Reunited"
Today, at age 72, Sherman Labovitz is a respected academic, historian and social researcher, a professor emeritus at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey.

Forty-four years ago, Labovitz was a young husband and father, a World War II veteran eking out a living as a furniture salesman, and the most certain thing about his future was that it would likely include a stretch in prison.

The reason was that Sherman Labovitz was a Communist. Not an alleged Communist, but as then-U.S. Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy would have put it, a "card-carrying Communist."

Yesterday, Labovitz and five Philadelphia lawyers who defied the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s to defend him and his codefendants described for a rapt capacity crowd of more than 200 the terror and turmoil of those Cold War years and how their trial helped break the federal Smith Act prosecutions.

The reuniting of Labovitz and five members of the defense legal team - Charles C. Hileman 3d, John Rogers Carroll, Robert W. Sayre, Henry W. Sawyer and retired Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Edmund B. Spaeth Jr. - was sponsored by the Philadelphia Bar Association's Civil Rights Committee.

In 1953, the association, under the leadership of Bernard G. Segal, organized the unpopular defense of the nine Philadelphia Communists. The defense team was headed by Thomas D. McBride and included nine young lawyers recruited from the city's top law firms.

Spencer Coxe, then head of the city's fledgling chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who approached Segal about the need for a Bar Association-backed defense team, yesterday spoke of the ``prevailing attitude of paranoia in Philadelphia at the time. It's difficult to convey that to people who weren't around, the degree of panic and hysteria generated by the Cold War and by the demagogues who exploited it."
Charles C. Hileman 3d, John Rogers Carroll, Robert W. Sayre, Henry W. Sawyer [3rd], Judge Edmund B. Spaeth Jr: Philadelphia lawyers in every sense of the word, and to the manor born. Coxe wasn't a lawyer.

When the ACLU was more principled than it is today; it took no position on 2nd Amendment debates.

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