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Tuesday, 25 August 2009 22:50

Joan Mellen, Jim Garrison: His Life and Times, The Early Years

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This book brings you closer to the real Jim Garrison. Not the deliberately and grossly distorted caricature that the MSM made him out to be. The real Jim Garrison was nothing like that, writes Jim DiEugenio.

This book is clearly the direct offspring of Joan Mellen's heavily edited 2005 volume on Jim Garrison's JFK investigation, A Farewell to Justice. I reviewed that book after it came out. One of the several criticisms I made of it was that although it had previously been heralded as a full biography, it was nothing of the sort. Mellen heard that complaint. And from the many pages cut out of that book, she culled this one. The complete title is Jim Garrison – His Life and Times, The Early Years. In other words, this covers the DA's life prior to his delving into the John Kennedy assassination. From that complete title, I wonder if we can expect a follow-up volume, sub-titled "The Later Years". Which naturally would trace his life from after Judge Christenberry stopped Garrison's perjury prosecution of Clay Shaw, until the end of Garrison's life.

The book is valuable if only because there is no other biography of Garrison available. But actually I think it is a better book than A Farewell to Justice. At least I enjoyed it more. One reason being that the story line is simpler. Therefore Mellen does not have to juggle different time frames, locales and characters seemingly simultaneously. Which she did a poor job of in the previous attempt. Also, since it does not deal with the JFK case, Robert Kennedy is nearly absent. So thankfully we don't have to put up with her uncontrollable anti-RFK venom. Finally, since it does not deal directly with the JFK case, we are spared all those dubious Cubans like Angelo Murgado who Mellen finds so fetching.

But there are faults left over from that seriously disappointing book. Mellen still throws a lot of sexcapades at the reader. Some of them she actually repeats from the first book. (Although this time around we are gladly spared a description of the shape of Garrison's penis.) And at times, although not as often as in the first book, there are interesting and relevant bits of information that go undocumented. And finally, although the book is working in a much simpler genre than the in depth investigation of a complex crime, Mellen never reaches any kind of dramatic or poetic resonance in the text. In other words, although the prose doesn't get in the way like the first time around, the quality of it is – too be charitable – workmanlike. Because of the simpler task, it should have been better than that.

The book contains a rather interesting introduction. After her first Garrison book, Mellen met a man named Don Deneselya. Deneselya had worked as a translator for the CIA in 1962. Contrary to what the CIA has maintained, Deneselya told Mellen that Oswald had been debriefed by the CIA on his return from Russia. It was by a man named Andy Anderson. The CIA was very interested in the Minsk radio plant where Oswald worked during his residence there. Deneselya reported to Robert Crowley, a close friend and colleague of James Angleton. Crowley handled the Robert Webster defection and Anderson, according to Deneselya, also reported to Crowley. According to this source, Oswald was part of the false defector program and was therefore working for the CIA's Counter-Intelligence unit. (pgs. xi, xii) Deneselya maintains he actually saw the Anderson report on Oswald. Yet Oswald was not actually named in that report. But the context and description, which Deneselya was familiar with, made it clear it was he.

Deneselya talked to both Richard Schweiker and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in the late seventies. (p. xiii) In his HSCA report, he describes his job in detail. It was maintaining files on all technical and scientific industries in Russia, which is why he was interested in the Minsk plant. Oswald gave the CIA a detailed briefing about the Minsk plant. Deneselya appeared on the infamous 1993 PBS Frontline special on Oswald. But his voice was drowned out by that of Richard Helms. The former CIA Director denied the Agency ever debriefed Oswald. What the show's reporters – Gus Russo and Scott Malone – did not tell the public is that former intelligence analyst John Newman was on the set the day Helms issued his denial. When the camera was turned off, Newman leaned over to Helms and said, "Mr. Director, what would be so bad about the CIA interviewing Oswald on his return from Russia? I mean isn't that what they were supposed to do? Doesn't it therefore look bad if you say you didn't?" Helms thought it over a bit. He then told the cameraman to start rolling again. This time he would say that the Agency did debrief Oswald. Of course, the program director did not take him up on that offer. Because PBS was in the tank for the Agency on that one.

I

One of the things the book does is to show just how wildly hatchet wielding Pat Lambert's biographical sketch of Garrison's childhood was. In her god-awful book False Witness, Lambert spent page after page going after Garrison's father. Earling had an alcohol problem and a criminal record. The latter which Lambert noted in long and wearisome detail. It was a clear attempt at guilt by bloodline. What Mellen states though counters all of that. Jane, Garrison's mother, left Earling when young Jim Garrison was barely six years old. (p. 5) After that, Garrison never saw Earling again. He did look him up many years after his death. And the son broke down when he noted that the authorities had written on a legal document that his father had "no family". (p. 225) So Lambert's cheap smears are just that.

Jane Garrison moved the family from Iowa to New Orleans. While there, young Garrison attended Alcee Fortier High School, class of 1939. He did not play sports but he did participate on the debate team. And he found there his first romantic interest, a girl named Peggy Baker. He would often go to her house after school and stay there until he had to go home. The Bakers became a sort of surrogate family for Garrison. (p. 12)

As a senior in high school, Garrison joined the National Guard. (p. 13) He then entered Tulane. But with war clouds on the horizon, he dropped out after his freshman year to join the service. It was a European artillery unit in the army. It was here that Garrison had the misfortune to meet Pershing Gervais. (pgs. 15-17) Mellen clearly implies that Gervais – a man of bawdy humor and street smarts – filled a father vacuum for the young Garrison. And Garrison was so charmed by Gervais, that they stayed friends and colleagues for almost 30 years. Even though Gervais was a terrible influence on the future DA. Although Mellen does not come out and say it, this unwise relationship clearly shows an early character flaw in Garrison which the DA never corrected: a blind trust in people he considered friends who really weren't his friends. This trait would be magnified many degrees during his JFK investigation and would be fully taken advantage of by the likes of Bill Boxley, Bernard Fensterwald, and Herve Lamarr. (The last was the French intelligence operative who introduced Garrison to that clever diversionary product entitled Farewell America.)

While in the service, Garrison flew very low altitude surveillance planes nicknamed "grasshoppers". These were meant to spot artillery targets. They were very dangerous to fly and had high fatality rates. (p. 17) Toward the end of the war, Garrison was in one of the first details to liberate the German concentration camp at Dachau.

In 1945, Jane Garrison married a man named Lyon Gardiner. (Garrison named his lawyer son, nicknamed Snapper, after his stepfather.) In 1946, the future DA entered Tulane Law School. (p. 21) Coincidentally, one of his teachers was Leon Hubert, who would later serve on the Warren Commission. In law school, Garrison began to show symptoms of his military service. He would suffer from dysentery and serious back problems for the rest of his life. (p. 25) While in law school, Garrison's first love Peggy Baker got married. Although invited, Garrison did not attend the ceremony. But he did attend the funeral services of both of Peggy's parents.

Garrison graduated from law school in 1949. He later decided to get a Master's of Civil Laws, which he did. In 1950, he tried his hand at writing short stories. (One of these was ironically called, "The Assassin".) He then joined a big name law firm called Deutsch, Kerrigan and Stiles. But being part of a firm bored him. So he decided to join the FBI in the Pacific Northwest. Namely Seattle. But when the Korean War broke out, Garrison reenlisted in the service. But the memories of the dangerous grasshopper flights haunted him and flooded his consciousness. On his first day at Fort Sill, he reported to sick call. He was placed "on quarters" for two weeks and dismissed in October of 1951 due to battle fatigue. (pgs. 35-36)

Returning to New Orleans, Garrison now broke into politics. Eberhard Deutsch (who Garrison named his last son after) introduced him to the Mayor of New Orleans, a man named DeLesseps "Chep" Morrison. Impressed by young Garrison, Morrison appointed him to the Public Safety Commission to govern over Traffic Court. (p. 41) The young lawyer did a bang up job. Unlike his predecessors, he took refusals to appear in court seriously. So he jacked up the fines for doing so and he pursued those who did not pay. He even got a bill passed to suspend the licenses of habitual offenders. As a result, in just one year, revenue from traffic fines nearly doubled. (ibid) And in his first run in with local judges, he assailed Judge Sperling for being too soft on failures to appear. Garrison was so successful that a new separate traffic court now opened with its own judge. (p. 44) Garrison turned down the judgeship. He told Morrison he would rather be appointed as an assistant on the District Attorney's staff. Which he was. And he confided to a friend at the time that his ambition was one day to be the DA of New Orleans. (ibid)

II

In the discussion of Garrison's years as an assistant DA – 1955 to early 1958 – the book disposes of another piece of disinformation. Namely, that Garrison never tried any cases in that position. I should add here, this was a canard that was deliberately made up after 1967 to smear the DA. The overall idea was to have compromised "journalists" like James Phelan, Hugh Aynesworth, and Edward Epstein – among others – do a hatchet job on Garrison's inquiry. And the media barrage would spill over into character assassination against the DA. One way this was done was to paint Garrison as a wildly irresponsible public servant who was abusing his office. To do this, the purveyors had to insinuate that even as an assistant DA Garrison was not trusted by his superiors to handle a case in court. I should add, Clay Shaw's lawyers were still bandying about this goofy deception – in 1994! I know this for a fact since Irvin Dymond, Shaw's lead attorney, tried to dump it on me and Bill Davy in his office at that late date.

The book proves this was nothing but part of the brutal propaganda campaign to caricature Garrison. In that effort, history was rewritten, the record was falsified. And the lawyers in New Orleans, like Dymond, must have known this. Because the truth is that Garrison handled many cases as an assistant. And of a wide variety: burglary, lottery operations, prostitution, homicide and fraud. (pgs. 44-45) And since another lawyer Dymond was allied closely with at the time of the Shaw trial – Milton Brener – actually worked with Garrison in the DA's office at the time, it strains credulity to say that Dymond was unaware of this. This is now exposed as another deliberate lie by Shaw's defenders.

Mellen also describes just how bad the New Orleans Police Department was in the fifties. The force was being paid off in a protection scheme regularly every Friday. Gervais, who worked on the force at the time, actually stole the envelope twice. (p. 47) He was actually suspended for this "offense" for sixty days. He eventually resigned his position and became a bar owner. As we shall see, the people providing the funds were the owners and operators of the B girl clip joints that Garrison was going to bust up in the next decade. As the book notes, this would hurt his JFK investigation in two ways. First, because he had deprived them of a source of ill-gotten gain, the police would generally not support him. Which is one reason why Garrison went elsewhere for field investigators. Second, many of those people who lost money due to his vice campaign were not eager to help Garrison identify Clay Bertrand as Clay Shaw. Even though they knew they were one and the same.

Mellen also sketches in the background of Aaron Kohn. Kohn was forced to leave the FBI when the Bureau raided a bordello he was frequenting at the time. (p. 49) He then moved to Chicago where he became chief investigator for the city's anti-crime committee. He was thrown out of Chicago when accusations of his bribing of police officers arose. (ibid) Kohn now made New Orleans his last stop. To gain favor with Mayor Morrison he lied about his record in the FBI. He said he was an assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and had helped organize the Bureau's National Academy. Hoover called thee claims "poppycock" when he heard of them. Kohn actually worked in the fingerprint department. (p. 49) But to garner more media attention Kohn lied further and said he did important work on both the Ma Barker and John Dillinger cases. (ibid) In reality, he made an error on the latter case and was reprimanded for it.

But no one called him on his exaggerated, phony history and so he built the Metropolitan Crime Commission into his own little local FBI. He recruited a network of informants, which included Gervais. (p. 50) Mayor Morrison backed Kohn for one reason: self-preservation. New Orleans was so plagued by police corruption, prostitution and bribery, that the state government had threatened to come in and clean up the town. Kohn was Morrison's fig leaf. (p. 48) But Kohn was a cheap grandstander even way back then. For example, when he could not get the grand jury to indict someone, he – with a straight face – accused a juror of frequenting a bordello. I turned out he was painting the place. Kohn was sent to jail for contempt for ten days because of this. (p. 52)

One of the people new on the scene who also worked with Kohn briefly was none other than Guy Banister. Banister was also in touch with the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (p. 51). This was a rightwing Senate version of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Bitter JFK enemy Thomas Dodd would eventually helm the SISS. And it would use New Orleans intelligence asset Ed Butler to testify about Lee Oswald in the wake of the JFK murder. As Ed Haslam reveals in his book on Mary Sherman, Butler ended up with many of Guy Banister's storied files. So this rightwing, New Orleans intelligence network – which would eventually employ Oswald – was being built and manned almost a decade earlier.

After three years in the office, Garrison had made first assistant by 1958. Around this time, he also unsuccessfully ran for the office of City Assessor. (p. 59) Also at this time, Garrison did something chivalrous that would foreshadow the risk he took on the JFK case. Garrison had made first assistant under DA Malcolm O'Hara. When O'Hara ran for reelection in 1958 and won, there were charges of voter fraud. As first assistant, Garrison supervised the investigation of the charges for the grand jury. He promised to leave "no stone unturned". (p. 61) Incredibly, he kept his promise. Why is it incredible? Because it cost him his job. His inquiry caused the election to be overturned and Richard Dowling was declared the new winner. In these days of Katherine Harris, this kind of heroism seems almost nostalgic.

Since he forced himself out of the DA's office, Garrison now went into private practice. He specialized in personal injury, and he did many cases for free. Even though he was not close to being well off. (p. 65) In 1960, Garrison lost another race. This time for a judgeship. After this, he eventually migrated into the City Attorney's office. (p. 69)

From his vantage point in the City Attorney's office, Garrison had a close view of Dowling's operation. He didn't like it. Dowling sold off cases. In fact, David Ferrie bought one for five hundred bucks. (p. 71) Garrison and two friends decided to run for DA to clean up the office. Whoever lost pledged to support the winner in the run off. (p. 73) In a televised debate in January of 1962, Garrison did well and won the endorsement of the New Orleans Times Picayune. (p. 76) Garrison lost the primary to Dowling by a mere two thousand votes. And this positioned him very well for the run off. His old pal Gervais helped him out. He furnished letters showing that Dowling had been accepting contributions from strip club owners as part of a shakedown racket. (p. 81) In March, Garrison defeated Dowling by 7,000 votes. He had fulfilled his ambition of a decade earlier. He was now the DA of New Orleans.

III

Once in office, Garrison lived up to his word and began making reforms. He allowed no police beatings of African-Americans. Refusing to enter into an alliance with the Bishop, he prosecuted priests for soliciting sex and child abuse. He vigorously pursued illegal lottery operations. (p. 98) He brought the first female into the office, a woman named Louise Korns. And he went after Dowling for selling off cases. (p. 100)

But Garrison also made mistakes. After hiring Lou Ivon and Roy Comstock as investigators, he then hired Gervais as an investigator. He also tried to have friendly relations with the grandstanding Aaron Kohn. (p. 99)

Although a biography of Garrison until 1967, the book reveals some interesting information about the Kennedy case. Eugene Davis, a denizen of the Quarter and known as a homosexual pimp, referred more than one person to Dean Andrews for legal services. Andrews once said that Oswald's buddies hung out at the Gaslight Lounge. Another source, Hardy Davis, stated that Oswald hung out with a homosexual clique. (pgs. 107-108) This is all perfectly consistent with Dean Andrews' original story of Bertrand/Shaw sending Oswald to see Andrews with the "gay Mexicanos". (There is even a hint in Andrews' Warren Commission testimony that Bertrand/Shaw accompanied Oswald on a visit to his office. WC Vol. 11, p. 334) Another interesting aspect revealed here is that Burton Klein was a former law partner of Dymond. (p. 99) Since, as Richard Helms has stated and Bill Davy has proven, Dymond and Shaw's lawyers were getting help form the CIA, this explains how Klein came to represent people like Gordon Novel and Sergio Arcacha Smith. Although, as shown above, Dymond would never admit that fact.

One of the highlights of the book is the detailed description of Garrison's relentless campaign to clean up Bourbon Street. Garrison was determined to stop the practices in the bars of suckering a tourist – spelled prospective "John" – into buying an expensive bottle of booze with the promise of sex to come. This racket was profitable since the split was 2/3 for the house and 1/3 for the "B" girl. Further, when drinking by the glass, the girls' drinks were always diluted. In fact, at times, when the John was drunk enough, the girl's drink was replaced with water. (p. 112) And make no mistake, the girls were told to lead the poor dunce on by telling him that she would meet him afterwards. Which they did not. (p. 113) Up until Garrison, the whole racket was condoned by the police. But beyond that, some corrupt cops took a split of the action. (p. 114)

In May of 1962, Garrison began his clean-up campaign. He said that he was going to end the racket at all costs. He did not trust the cops so he hired his own undercover agents like Joe Oster. Once the undercover agent busted someone, Garrison took the case to civil court where he could get harsher penalties. At the campaign's pinnacle, Garrison shuttered nine clubs in two days. Seven clubs were shut down permanently. (p. 116) Garrison garnered a large amount of publicity at this time both locally and nationally. So much so that the mayor and city council had to endorse what he was doing. Even though the merchant class in the French Quarter was being killed by Garrison's merciless campaign.

As noted above, this crusade had two future negative effects on Garrison's Kennedy inquiry. The weird stories, circa 1968, about Garrison being gay and a cross-dresser originated over the resentment about the punitive damages Garrison had inflicted on the Quarter. (p. 117) And secondly, witnesses who knew Shaw was Bertrand would not come forward out of spite for what the DA had done. Professional web propagandist John McAdams likes to note an early report by Lou Ivon to Garrison saying that he had developed no leads yet as to who Clay Bertrand really was. Any idiot – except McAdams – can read Garrison's book and note that Ivon realized that having Garrison personally in on the search would back bar owners off from helping them identify Bertrand. (On the Trail of the Assassins, p. 84) But once Ivon convinced Garrison he was a detriment, they did get an ID of Bertrand as Shaw. (ibid p. 85) In fact, as Bill Davy notes in his wonderful book on Garrison, even the FBI knew that Bertrand was Shaw's alias. (Let Justice Be Done, p. 76) And when the HSCA re-investigated New Orleans, Detective L. J. Delsa discovered that Shaw's use of that alias was common knowledge. (Ibid, p. 293) What Garrison obviously underplayed in his book was that it was his early vice campaign that caused the reluctance of many to come forward with what was well known. And in fact, Mellen talked to two witnesses – Rickey Planche and Barbara Bennett – who were explicit on this point. Namely that they knew Shaw was Bertrand and they would not tell Garrison because of the economic damage he inflicted on the French Quarter. (p. 117)

IV

As the reader can see, Garrison was not just waiting for the compromised police to bring cases to him. If he did that, the vice campaign in the Quarter would have never happened. He was actually doing his own investigations, creating his own cases. He did this out of a fines and fees fund attained by the courts. When Garrison took office, the total amount entailed was about a thousand dollars. In just a few months, Garrison's aggressive prosecutions had increased it to $40, 000. Some of the other things Garrison used the money for were to improve the equipment the local coroner had and to buy cars for his investigative staff. He also did things like refloor the waiting room of the DA's office to replace the drab trappings Dowling had maintained. The local Criminal Court judges had to sign off on the expenditures.

Here developed a multi-faceted problem. Most of the judges favored having the police do investigations. (p. 125) Also, many were taken aback by Garrison's new and bold approach. (ibid) Third, Garrison was not sensitive to the switch. Therefore many of his requests were very sketchy in nature, not fully informing the judges of what he was up to. (p. 127) Fourth, some people on the staff – like Gervais – did not keep vouchers or records of payments to informers. And this created an accounting problem. So in 1962, the judges decided to retaliate. First, they froze the fund, and second they dismissed a case against three Bourbon Street clubs. (p. 128)

Garrison chose not to negotiate. He decided to engage the judges in open warfare. In October Garrison began a barrage against the Court. First he attacked them for taking too many days off. This allowed his docket to back up. He accused one judge, Bernard Cocke of taking Fridays off – which he did. (ibid) He then took out a personal loan to continue his clean up of the French Quarter.

A peace conference was arranged. It failed. (p. 129) Garrison now escalated the rhetoric by wondering out loud if there was any connection between the bar owners and the judges. There was. Two of Garrison's assistants had drinks with one of the judges, Judge Haggerty. (This is the justice who would preside over the trial of Clay Shaw.) Haggerty introduced the pair to Francis Giordano. Giordano, a Carlos Marcello associate, complained to them that when Dowling confiscated illegal gaming machines, he then returned them. But Garrison didn't, why not? (ibid)

On November 8th, the court charged Garrison with criminal defamation. They also changed the rules governing the investigative fund. Whereas before only one judge could sign off, now it took five of eight signatures to secure a withdrawal. They asked Garrison to apologize and withdraw his charge of criminal influence. (p. 130) Garrison refused. The case went to trial. Garrison's lawyer asked for a jury trial. The judge refused. The fix was in. After the case was argued, Judge Ponder asked Garrison again to recant the racketeering charge. Garrison, who saw the case as strictly one of free speech, would not. Garrison lost the case. He said he would appeal. And now the case attracted national publicity. Almost all of it favorable. But Garrison lost again in the state appeals court. (p. 137) In April of 1964, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The month before the court had decided the New York Times v. Sullivan case in favor of free speech. This greatly aided Garrison. The court, in an opinion written by Justice Brennan, sided with Garrison's right to criticize public officials openly. Garrison always cherished this decision. And he spoke about it at more than one public event.

But Haggerty never forgot either. When Garrison's case against Shaw came up on the docket, he maneuvered to have it assigned to his court. (p. 143)

After this victory, Garrison battled with the police and their reluctance to fully aid his campaign. In a brief respite, the DA and the police jointly agreed to raid two clubs operated by Carlos Marcello and his brother. The one Garrison raided was actually across the county line in Jefferson Parish. (p. 151) He did this to goad the Jefferson DA into action. He even attacked the state Attorney General for being lax on the county. William Davy buried this myth about Garrison avoiding Marcello in his vice crusade. But here it gets even more dirt thrown on it.

In 1964, Garrison backed a dark horse for governor of the state. A man named John McKeithen. There were nine candidates running that year. McKeithen was considered in the bottom half of the field. Garrison took out a full-page ad in the Times-Picayune backing McKeithen. To everyone's shock, except Garrison's, McKeithen won. (p. 155) Garrison now had an ally in the state house. Everyone knew that now, if Garrison wanted to be Lt. Governor or Attorney General, the office was his. He never asked. According to a 1995 interview I did with assistant Bill Alford, he actually turned down the Lt. Governor offer when it came. At the time, he was too busy investigating the Kennedy case. So much for the idea that Garrison was using his JFK inquiry to promote his career.

By 1964, Garrison had racked up a pretty impressive record. In addition to the French Quarter campaign and his victory over the judges, he had managed to make every assistant a full time position, no moonlighting in private practice. Courts were now open every Friday. There was stricter foreclosure on bail bonds. He requested more money for the Legal Aid Bureau. Any time an assistant or investigator was contacted by an attorney other than the lawyer of record, Garrison had to be contacted. (p. 158)

His reforms produced results. In Dowling's final year in office, he had tried 70 cases and lost 42. In about eighteen months, Garrison had tried 101 cases and won 86. (p. 159) A remarkable turnaround in such a short time.

V

We now come to the James Dombrowski case. Dombrowski ended up being a pawn on a large chessboard with which the dying remnants of southern racism tried to effect one last power play as they saw the end nearing. The idea was to smear integrationists as Communists in order to delay and hamstring their efforts. Jack Rogers and James Pfister of the Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee (LUAC), along with Senator James Eastland and also J. Edgar Hoover, backed this strategy.

Dombrowski was not a communist, but a communist sympathizer. And he did back the effort to integrate the south. But since he was not an actual Communist, the technique of tying him into the International Communist Conspiracy emanating from Moscow was not going to work . So the LUAC worked to get a state law passed entitled the "Subversive Activities and Communist Control Law". ( p. 162) And it was under this pretense that the state police arrested Dombrowski, along with his colleagues Ben Smith and Bruce Walzer.

As the book notes, the law was not evenly applied. If it was, then Lee Oswald could have been arrested under the same act. But the point was that Oswald did not play up integration as a cause. And the whole idea was to paint the civil rights movement with a red brush. Now state Attorney General Jack Gremillion knew that Garrison, a staunch first amendment backer, would not want to be part of any such effort. This is why the state police executed the raids, and why Garrison's office was not alerted to them in advance. (p. 165) In fact, speaking of the arrests, Garrison went on the radio and said, "There is always a danger, particularly in fighting communism, that we may end up imitating communism." (ibid)

The LUAC delivered the evidence secured from the raid to Sen. Eastland of Mississippi. Even though Dombrowski's civil rights organization was located in New Orleans. Garrison's office did as little as possible to help as the case went through the both state and federal court. For instance, Garrison said that the actual warrants were made out improperly. (p. 166) But clearly, Gremillion wanted Garrison's office to take over the prosecution since Dombrowski's organization was located in New Orleans. But the charges were ridiculous. One was participation in the management of a subversive organization. Yet Dombrowski's organization was not on the USA's list of Communist front groups. Which of course, cancelled the second charge. Which was being a member of a Communist front organization. The third was operating within state lines for five days without registering with the Department of Public Safety. (p. 164) It was all a sham. The law was clearly unconstitutional. Local Criminal Courts Judge Bernard Cocke ordered all three men released on grounds of insufficient evidence. Afterwards, Garrison made clear he had gone through with the formality of a hearing only because there was no evidence to present. And he also added, he was very concerned about the arrests of the individuals, believing the LUAC was out of line. (p. 165) He later added, even if Dombrowski was a Communist, he could not be part of a conspiracy since he was the only one in the city. (ibid)

As the case made its way upward on appeal, Garrison followed the same strategy: to evade, circumvent, and contribute as little to the prosecution as he could. For instance, he demanded that Eastland, in Mississippi, deliver all the documents seized from the Dombrowski office. Which he knew Eastland would not do. But eventually, in January of 1964, Garrison's office had the three men indicted. The men did not hold it against Garrison, understanding it was all the Attorney General's show. But the judge ruled the warrants were illegal and therefore the evidence seized was inadmissible. (p. 167) The case proceeded to the US Supreme Court with Garrison as the defendant. His office wrote an apologetic brief showing how the case was not handled through their office, but putting up a fig leaf defense of state's rights. The Supreme Court ruled against the DA and used his own previous case against the local judges as a precedent. The lawyer for Dombrowski was Milton Brener, obviously no fan of Garrison. But even he admitted that Garrison's office participated by rote, doing the "absolute minimum." (p. 169) Jerry Shinley is a rather responsible critic of Garrison, as opposed to the virulent chemical imbalance inherent in say Patricia Lambert or the John McAdams appendage Dave Reitzes. (An interent troll who Rex Bradford actually links to.) Shinley uses this case to criticize Garrison. To me it's a judgment call, and a relative one at that. If Garrison had not participated, Gremillion would have probably stepped in. And things would have been worse. So Garrison did what he could to lose a case he wanted no part of.

Relieved of a case he wanted no part of, Garrison now went after the legal establishment over the sale of paroles in Louisiana. Garrison had found an informant named John Scardino who told him about how two of his criminal friends had purchased paroles for $3,500. Garrison demanded an open hearing on the issue. The state Parole Board went to court to stop the hearing. They failed. But they then tried to ban the press. (p. 171) Once the hearing was on, Garrison's first question to a Parole Board member was "When did you start taking bribes?" Scardino testified and Scardino's friend who purchased a parole answered a few questions before pleading the Fifth Amendment. (p. 172) The local press praised the DA. Thirteen lawyers resigned the Criminal Courts Bar Association upon hearing Garrison's evidence. One prominent lawyer said that Garrison was now in a position to begin an exceptionally promising career. (p. 173)

Which he threw away once he entered the Kennedy case.

VI

As I wrote previously, William Davy essentially pulverized the phony accusations that Garrison was somehow tied in with the Mafia and was covering for Marcello in his pursuit of the CIA. Mellen reveals something here that is quite relevant to that ersatz charge. If this were to have any truth to it, then Garrison must have been interested in being paid off for creating a phony sideshow. But Mellen presents something that completely vitiates this entire pretense. After McKeithen was inaugurated, he was eager to show his thanks for what Garrison had done for him. So he offered Garrison a state bank charter. Which, of course, would have made Garrison a very rich man. Garrison turned it down! McKeithen couldn't believe it. (p. 173) But after he recovered, the governor awarded it to one of his other backers. Who promptly turned around and sold it for $750, 000. The equivalent of 2-3 million today. The governor then offered him a position as legal representative of a Savings and Loan. A desk job that would have made him a lot of money. Garrison turned that down also. McKeithen then offered him state business as part of a large law firm that would later make him managing partner when he retired. He turned that down also.

In light of all this, how could Garrison even think of taking illegal bribes from the Mafia, when he would not take much larger amounts legally, and in the open? With the obvious answer to that question, writers like John Davis have never looked more stupid. Or dishonest.

In 1965, Garrison was at the height of his power and popularity in New Orleans and in Louisiana. He issued a Report to the People. One of the achievements of his office that year was that it prosecuted 22 jury trials on capital offenses without one acquittal. Both Kohn and the Times-Picayune praised his work in that report. (p. 195) He actually thought of running for mayor. And in fact, with huge irony, the wealthy Stern family offered to back him. These were the owners of station WDSU who would later do all they could to save Clay Shaw.

Garrison did not run for mayor but for DA again. Although Garrison made even more reforms to the office, he still employed Gervais. But Gervais' reputation had become so bad that he had to resign before election day. Which he did, or Garrison may have lost. (p. 205) After this victory, Garrison revealed that his ambition was to eventually be a senator. (pgs 211-212) This, of course, was derailed by the Kennedy investigation.

At the beginning of his second term, Garrison was still blazing trails for a New Orleans DA. He started to prosecute the state legislature for bribery. (Actually this started right before his re-election.) He favored strong gun control laws, which put him up against the powerful National Rifle Association in their bastion of the south. He also wanted to cap usury rates at 16% for finance companies. (pg. 215)

The book makes a potent character point about Garrison at this time, which is right before he is to embark on his quest for President Kennedy's true killers. Although Garrison was a reform DA, and relatively bold and honest for New Orleans, he was actually a moderate overall. For instance, he was anti-ACLU. He once said that it had "drifted so far to the left that it is now almost out of sight." (p. 217) And he also favored the Cold War. In a speech he said that the US had to act against Communist aggression in places like Korea and Vietnam. (p. 208) This is an issue I discussed with Lyon Garrison, who is also an attorney, at one time. After studying Garrison's career I had come to the conclusion that in 1966 he was actually a moderate. It was the Kennedy case that radicalized him forever. Lyon agreed with me.

The book ends with the famous Linda Brigette case. Brigette, a local stripper, had been arrested for obscenity. This was a charge that, since Garrison was so much a believer in the First Amendment, he was hesitant to prosecute. So he requested a pardon for her 230 day sentence. Governor McKeithen granted it. Kohn used this case to go to war with Garrison. (p. 227) And this was the beginning of the false accusation of Garrison being in cahoots with Marcello. If you can believe it, it started over Brigette. The great Archives researcher Peter Vea once sent me his work on this case. In checking the timing – the case extended into late 1966 – Peter had come to the conclusion that Kohn's nutty brouhaha over a stripper was really motivated by his knowledge that Garrison had secretly reopened the Kennedy case. And knowing what the FBI knew about Oswald, he was protecting his old employer. Mellen partly confirms this by revealing that Kohn had found out about Garrison's inquiry through journalist David Chandler. Chandler was a friend of Garrison's who turned on him at the request of his part time employer Life Magazine. In fact, Kohn had issued a report on Oswald through the MCC within a week of the assassination. It presaged the Warren Commission in its conviction of Oswald. When an HSCA investigator asked him where he got all the information and the photos of Oswald, Kohn replied that he had his avenues. He was clearly suggesting the Bureau. (p. 234)

Right around this time period, when Garrison was launching his investigation of the JFK case, he crossed paths with the dismissed Gervais. Gervais had heard that Garrison was interviewing Jack Martin about David Ferrie. He warned his old Army buddy that this one would not be worth it. (p. 236) He told Garrison he was signing onto a suicide mission in which he would be telling the whole world the federal government was lying. Gervais was not one to sign up for, as he termed it, "kamikaze missions". As he said, "I have acquired this habit of breathing." But Garrison, who had gone after the Criminal Courts judges, the Parole Board, and the state legislature, was not about to back down. As he told Dutch television during his investigation, "Nothing else matters." And in fact, in giving up the Lt. Governorship, and his dream of running for the Senate, it didn't. And it stayed that way until his death.

With all the reservations I made at the beginning, this book brings you closer to the real Jim Garrison. Not the deliberately and grossly distorted caricature that the MSM made him out to be. The real Jim Garrison was nothing like that. It was all a cruel campaign over the politically charged Kennedy case. Which Garrison was willing to risk losing his promising future for. And he did.

It's hard not to like a guy like that.


Read James DiEugenio's review of Joan Mellen's 2005 book of Jim Garrison's JFK investigation, A Farewell to Justice.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:13
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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