Hofstadter Committee

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The Hofstadter Committee, also known as the Seabury investigations, was a joint legislative committee formed by the New York State Legislature to probe into corruption in New York City, especially the magistrate's courts and police department in 1931. It led to major changes in the method of arrest, bail and litigation of suspects in New York City.

The commission was chaired by State Senator Samuel H. Hofstadter. The actual investigation was conducted by Ex-Judge of the Court of Appeals Samuel Seabury who was appointed legal counsel to the committee. They heard testimony from a thousand citizens, policemen, judges, lawyers and defendants about unjust treatment before the law. Prompted by allegations of corruption in police and court systems.

The Seabury investigation into the Magistrate’s Courts exposed the conspiracy of judges, attorneys, police and bail bondsmen to extort money from defendants facing trial.

The Magistrate’s Court of the City of New York was the Court in which those people charged with certain crimes first encountered the justice system. Throughout the autumn of 1930, the Seabury Commission heard more than 1,000 witnesses — judges, lawyers, police officers and former defendants — describe a pattern of false arrests, fraudulent bail bonds, and imprisonment.

Many people — often women, always working class — who were charged with crimes in the Magistrate’s Court were totally innocent of wrongdoing, “framed” in police parlance, by lying police officers and police-paid “witnesses.” The victims usually knew no lawyers and could not afford private counsel. Victims were made to understand that conviction and a prison sentence were a foregone conclusion unless money was paid through certain attorneys to court personnel, police and others.

The conspiracy had been highly effective, innocent people either parted with their life’s savings or faced prison sentences, the women often on spurious convictions for prostitution. It was discovered, during the investigation, that 51 young women had been illegally confined in the women’s prison at Bedford.

As a result of the investigation, formal charges of corruption were brought against many involved in the scheme. The Appellate Division ordered the dismissal of corrupt judges. Later, when Mayor Jimmy Walker reneged on his agreement to pay the commissioner’s cost, a writ of mandamus was brought before the Appellate Division, which ordered the mayor to pay. The Seabury Commission’s work resulted in a massive shake-up of the lower court system, and the resignation of Jimmy Walker.

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