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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: A Few Chicago Short Stories

From Washington Lawyer, September 2014

By Jacob A. Stein

spectatorI met Charles Bellows in 1964. I had heard that Mr. Bellows was a leading criminal defense lawyer in Chicago. He was once a prosecutor and he, with others, created the Criminal Section of the American Bar Association.

The legal proceeding that brought Mr. Bellows to Washington, D.C., was his representation in a criminal trial of a labor union president. I was anxious to see Mr. Bellows perform in the courtroom, and I thought he would be somewhat aggressive as he had tried big criminal cases in Chicago courtrooms. I discovered that the opposite was true. He was calm and reserved.

In those days, the prosecutor disclosed little evidence to defense counsel. Therefore, defense counsel must be careful in the questions asked of the witnesses on cross-examination.

In the trial here in Washington, I recall Mr. Bellows’ cross-examination of the prosecutor’s key witness. Mr. Bellows took a stance in the courtroom between the witness and the prosecutor. Mr. Bellows questioned the witness in such a way that one could not distinguish between the direct examination and the cross-examination.

At one point in the cross, the witness had said what might seem to be a conflict between his direct answers and his answers on cross. Mr. Bellows stopped and said: Sir, let’s pause here. Some people sitting here may think there is a conflict between what you said on direct and what you have just said on cross-examination. I invite you to clarify just what you said. This is because the jury may think you were untruthful, and I think that you might simply need to clarify.

The witness became uneasy. He was looking to the prosecutor for some help. But Mr. Bellows was standing where the witness could not see the prosecutor. Mr. Bellows had made a point.

Later when we were talking about cross-examination, Mr. Bellows said the witness may be mild. The witness may be shrewd and crafty.

Ken Mundy was a resourceful cross-examiner and lawyer. When he asked a question and got the wrong answer, he used this technique. He said to the witness: “Your answer you just gave, I would like to come back to that answer—by the way, were you in Las Vegas on March 15 two years ago?”

The cross-examination that probably is one of the best was the Scopes trial in 1925 when Clarence Darrow cross-examined William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) who asserted that everything in the Bible was accurate, even the episode when Jonah was swallowed by the whale. Bryan died five days after the trial. There is a fictional movie of that cross-examination titled Inherit the Wind.

During the time Mr. Bellows was here in Washington, he told me a few Chicago stories. Here is one. There was a lawyer in Chicago, let’s call him Mr. Rogers. He was not a good lawyer. However, Mr. Rogers obtained clients because he had worked with a Chicago newspaper and his newspaper friends put Rogers’ name in the paper.

Mr. Rogers had as his secretary a young woman from a broken family. She was quick to learn how the law practice worked.

Mr. Rogers had a murder case in which the defendant, a woman, killed her husband. She claimed self-defense. She said that her husband abused her. He was a narcotics addict. The wife was fearful that her husband would kill her.

Rogers’ assistant made up her mind that the defendant had a justifiable defense. The trial was extremely short. On the third day, there were closing arguments. Rogers was unprepared and very nervous. Before he had a chance to stand up and give the closing defense argument, his woman assistant got up and stood before the jury. She gave the closing argument. She was crying and the jurors were crying. The prosecutor did not know what to do. The defendant was acquitted.

After the acquittal, Bar Counsel suspended Mr. Rogers for six months. He had used a person without a license to make the closing argument.

Mr. Bellows himself did not tell me of one of his trials he had in 1959 in Chicago. I learned that he obtained an acquittal in a case in which the defendant was indicted for killing his former wife in their home. Mr. Bellows’ defense was that the former husband was sure that a prowler was the killer. Mr. Bellows had as witnesses three of the defendant’s children. One of them, age six, testified for the defense before a packed courtroom. A Chicago newspaper reported that this was one of the most spectacular trials in recent Chicago courtroom history. The newspaper also reported that Mr. Bellows was one of the city’s most highly regarded and well-respected trial lawyers.

We here in the District have had murder trials, and we have had great lawyers and great acquittals. One famous case arose out of a confrontation on February 21, 1944, in front of Woodward & Lothrop department store on 11th and G streets. Robert I. Miller, a well-known lawyer, caught his wife with a Dr. John Edward Lind, in Dr. Lind’s car. Miller shot Dr. Lind twice and killed him. Miller’s defense argument was that he was insane at the time of the murder. He was driven to kill Dr. Lind by a jealous rage. The defense lawyer, Mason Welch, made the great argument that acquitted Miller.

In 1968 Mr. Bellows gave a speech before a group of lawyers. He told the group that he sees that partnerships are getting more and more partners in the partnerships. He said that it seemed to him that when there are no more than 20 partners, they are friends. More than 20, they are just acquaintances. That comment was a wise prediction.

Reach Jacob A. Stein at [email protected].