The Bench: Shoofly Pye

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Prathia Laura Ann Hall was in bad trouble. It was not just her modest misdemeanor — violating Georgia's antitrespass law during a motel sit-in. The 23-year-old Negro girl faced a far more formidable fate in the person of Judge Durwood T. Pye of Fulton County (Atlanta) Superior Court. Pye, the South's toughest judge in civil rights cases, set bail at a fantastic $4,500.

Unable to raise it, Prathia Hall spent two weeks in jail awaiting a trial in which she could expect the absolute maximum: six months in jail, twelve months in the county work camp, and a $1,000 fine. Hipped on Race. To her amazement, and Pye's ire, Defendant Hall escaped. Armed with a writ of habeas corpus, U.S. marshals whisked her out of her cell and freed her on $1,000 bond. "The United States Government has taken said defendant away," roared Judge Pye. "The court is physically unable to proceed with the trial." The court also was unable to try 58 other civil rights defendants who flew the coop by federal court orders. Last week, Pye scheduled trials for 42 more trespass defendants, but with little expectation that they would remain in his jurisdiction.

This remarkable struggle has few precedents in U.S. legal history. And it stems largely from the character of Judge Durwood Pye, a scholarly white-supremacist. Graduating at the top of his class at Atlanta Law School, he became a formidable lawyer before becoming a judge in 1956. A stickler for detail, he has ground out opinions of more than 600 pages, once fined Atlanta newspapers $20,000 for contempt for describing a defendant's past, banned news cameras and tape recorders not only in his courtroom, but also on "adjacent sidewalks and public streets." At 54, Pye is tetchy as a loaded derringer; he is wont to hector witnesses and explode at any moment over what he calls "mongrelization of the races." Trying to be fair to Pye, another Atlanta judge sums up: "He's a fine, decent, honest, hard-working man, except that he happens to be hipped on the subject of race."

Last summer Pye launched a one-man crusade against sit-ins. Thundering that Georgia's antitrespass law had been "flouted, defied and violated," he ordered indictments prepared in 101 civil rights trespass cases, some dating back to 1961. Pye set bail as high as $20,000; where defendants had already been released on bonds of $300 or $500, he upped the ante to $3,000 or more, explaining that he "acted on my own motion." Then he began meting out ferocious sentences. His most famed was six months in jail and a year at hard labor for Connecticut College Student Mardon Walker, an 18-year-old white girl who had taken part last winter in a nonviolent sit-in at an Atlanta restaurant. Even the Atlanta Constitution, which opposed the demonstrations, snapped that the punishment was "disturbingly disproportionate."

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