Clarence Darrow: Jury Tamperer?

Newly unearthed documents shed light on claims that the famous criminal attorney bribed a juror

Clarence Darrow, addressing the jury as a defendant, was never convicted of bribery, but his two trials shattered his reputation. (Public Domain)
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It is not conclusive. But I believe that it adds Mary to the list of Darrow intimates who suspected their hero was guilty.

I uncovered another incriminating detail in one of Darrow’s long-lost letters. Irving Stone purchased the lawyer’s papers from his widow, and they were eventually donated to the Library of Congress. But not all the material in Darrow’s files made it to Washington, D.C. Hundreds of his private letters, unearthed by a collector named Randall Tietjen (many in a box marked “Christmas ornaments” in the basement of Darrow’s granddaughter), were made available to scholars by the University of Minnesota Law School Library in 2010 and 2011. And there I found a 1927 letter from Darrow to his son, Paul, instructing him to pay $4,500 to Fred Golding, a juror in the first bribery trial.

I was stunned.

Darrow was a generous soul. And it certainly is possible that Golding had fallen on hard times and asked for help, and that Darrow responded out of the goodness of his heart. But $4,500 was serious money in 1927—more than $55,000 today—and it’s difficult to imagine that Darrow would be that generous in response to a hard-luck story.

And it should be noted that Golding was Darrow’s most outspoken defender on the jury. Golding took the lead in quizzing prosecution witnesses from the jury box, which was permitted in California. He openly suggested that the case was a frame-up orchestrated by California’s business interests as part of their infamous scheme (immortalized in the film Chinatown) to steal water from the Owens Valley and ship it to Los Angeles.

To be sure, Golding may have been a harmless conspiracy theorist, and Darrow may indeed have conceived of paying him only after the trial.

But the question demands an answer: Did Darrow bribe a juror while on trial for bribing jurors? If so, what does that say about his willingness to join in the McNamara bribery plot?

“Do not the rich and powerful bribe juries, intimidate and coerce judges as well as juries?” Darrow once asked an associate. “Do they shrink from any weapon?”

Finally, there’s a telegram Darrow sent.

It was the philanthropist Leo Cherne who acquired Darrow’s papers from Stone and donated them to the Library of Congress. But in a collection of Cherne’s papers in the Boston University archives, there are several files of Darrow letters, telegrams and other sensitive documents that did not travel with the rest to Washington. Much of the correspondence in the Cherne collection is from the winter of 1911-12. The most intriguing item is a telegram Darrow sent to his older brother Everett the day he was indicted. “Can’t make myself feel guilty,” Darrow wrote. “My conscience refuses to reproach me.”


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