Summation of Max D. Steuer for the Defense in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Trial

The Court: It is now about quarter of ten.  The understanding was that you should have two hours.

Mr. Steuer: Yes, sir.

The Court: In other words until a quarter to twelve.  You may open up summation.

Mr. Steuer: With Your Honor's permission may it please you Gentlemen of the Jury:

There has been sworn as I calculate 155 witnesses on this trail.  There were sworn 103 on behalf of the People.  Of the 103 that were sworn on behalf of the people there were 51 matters that arose subsequent to the time of this fire.  There were 52 who testified with relation to some matters that have in some way preponderance here under the indictment.

There were sworn on behalf of the defense 52 witnesses.  Of the 52, 50 testified directly with relation to the matters covered by the indictment; and two only, one Horowitz a locksmith, and the other was a man who gathered debris every morning under a contract.  The other 50 who were sworn on behalf of the defense all testified primarily with relation to the door that has been referred to as the Washington Place door in this case.

Now it must be obvious to you, therefore, gentlemen at once that where there are 140 odd witnesses to be reviewed that it cannot be done in two hours.  I am going to content myself therefore as speedily and as far as I possibly can to call your attention to the testimony on behalf of the defense after I shall have in a very few words, outlined to you what I deem is the charge against these defendants:

They are accused as you will recall, of the crime of manslaughter in its first and in its second degree; and as I understand the claim of the Prosecution it is that this manslaughter was committed in two ways:

First, that the business of the defendants was conducted in such a culpable negligent matter as to amount to criminal negligence, and that that criminal negligence was the direct cause of the death of Margaret Schwartz.  You will bear in mind it does not make any difference how negligent the defendants might have been; if that negligence did not bring about the death of Margaret Schwartz, that is the end of the chapter in this case.

Next, the People claim second: That there was a law passed by the Legislation of the State of New York, and to clarify that and to take no chance about it, I am going to read it from the People's memorandum.  That section of the law reads as follows, it is section 80 of the Labor Law:

"All doors leading in or to any such factory shall be so constructed as to open outwardly where practicable, and shall not be locked, bolted or fastened during working hours."
Now the second subdivision of this law, that has application to this case is what I have read and starts with the words:  "All doors leading in or to any such factory shall be so constructed as to open outwardly when practicable and shall not be locked."  That means as I read it "all doors because it starts with "all doors."  "All doors shall not be locked, bolted or fastened during working hours."

 Now I do not understand that it has been claimed by anybody that the doors have been bolted, locked and or fastened during working hours….

It became extraordinarily mete and proper it seems to me when there was a law which appointed a Commissioner of Labor and which required him upon his taking office, the duty to the State which he held, to appoint inspectors to go to this building to see if this factory loft was being properly conducted, to call him.  It would seem to me that would have been the People's duty to call him to show that for the years that there has been a Commissioner of Labor--a period of ten years, --and I want you to bear in mind that the Commissioner of Labor swore before you that no notice is given to the people whose factories are about to be inspected, for if that notice was given them that would defeat the very object of the law.  And you must remember that these reports made by the inspectors are a matter of record of the State.  These reports are made to the Commissioner of Labor and the report books form a part of the records of the State as to whether or not these lofts are being conducted in conformity with the law, and those men who inspected those premises reported for the year 1910, and no reports previous to those of 1910 have been brought before you Gentlemen, and you can rely on it Gentlemen of the Jury that had there ever been a report in any of the reports that are in the custody of the State that these doors had been locked during working hours, that that report would have been produced before you and you would have seen it in evidence.

Here you have the authorized officer of the law, the man charged with the duty of seeing to it that these doors are kept as required by that law being as I say present, and called before you and swears that the inspectors who made their various inspections in those lofts always found that those doors were kept unlocked.  You will see the force of that, bearing in mind that every witness that was called by the People testified that in all the years, year in and year out, day in and day out, those doors,--or rather the Washington Place doors, --were kept continuously locked.

Now then, I pass to the witnesses in the case.  The next witness we called after the Commissioner of Labor, Gentlemen of the Jury, was this girl May--I forget the middle name--Leventine.

Now May Leventine has a law suit against Harris and Blanck.  May Leventine has never been in the place of Harris and Blanck since the time of this fire.  May Leventine was called upon as she testified by three people in employ at that time of Harris and Blanck.  She had told not only to them, but to the newspapers the manner in which she made her escape and what had happened in this fire.  We called upon her; when I was called in the case there was no Counsel for the defendants, on behalf of Harris and Blanck -- she was called in and asked questions.  Then she was called by the District Attorney and the stenographer took down the statement exactly the way in which she said that she got out of the building at the time of the fire and what she knew of the conditions there prevailing prior to that time.  She declined to make any statement to us.  She got a call from the District Attorney's office as I say.  She immediately went down to the District Attorney's office.  At the District Attorney's office she signed a statement.  I asked the District Attorney to let me see that statement.  Up to the present time I have never seen that statement.  Up to the present time you have not been permitted to know what was in that statement.  But May Leventine told you from the witness stand that she was working there and knowing the place--because it is impossible I will show you if I get a chance to refer to it, that the witnesses called by the Prosecution all sat in places where it would have been absolutely impossible for them to see this door--and May Leventine sat of the ninth floor at the first row of machines from the Washington Place door facing that door.  And she told you that on the occasion of the fire she ran to the Washington Place elevators; that she didn't know there was fire; that she had heard a tremendous noise; that she thought the elevator dropped; that she ran to the elevator to see; that she knocked upon the elevator door and that the elevator man did not come up; that thereupon she went to the Washington Place door, -- and she was not a witness for us.  Bear in mind that she has still got a law suit, for if May Leventine swore that the door at that time was open that would be the end of May Leventine's law suit, so she does not stop there.  May Leventine says that at that time the key was in the Washington Place door.  She turned the key.  She went out into the hall. She looked down and saw the smoke, and she turned back and shut the door.

Who impeached May Leventine?  They did not bring the stenographer of the District Attorney's office to say that she had ever said anything different.  On the contrary, they bring yesterday a gentleman by the name of Franko,--the other man that they brought here, his testimony was all stricken out so I will pay no heed to that.  They bring Franko who lost a daughter in the fire.  And what did he say?  May Leventine was first recalled and she testified to what she had said at the office of the Consul, the Italian Consul.  Now the Italian Consul lost no daughter in that fire.  The Italian Consul must be a man of some intelligence.  The Italian Consul has lost no relative as Mr. Franko has that is very near and dear to him.  Why did not they bring the Italian Consul here to testify to that, to what May Leventine said.  They don't bring him here.  He would have no possible motive for telling only what he heard.  But they brought Mr. Franko who says what?  That May Leventine did not tell him she had gone out through that door.  Perhaps she didn't remember to tell him that.  It is not a question of what she didn’t tell him.  What was the fact?  She told him that the facts were that she went over the banisters and saw the smoke and turned back; and then then went down by the Washington Street elevator; not in the car.  When she got to that elevator the crowd was so great that she could not get in and it was the last time the car went down she believed so she got hold of the cable, and on that cable slid all the way down bruising and burning her hands and for weeks was confined to her bed.

I ask you Gentlemen of the Jury, bearing all those circumstances surrounding her in mind, and all of these injuries which she sustained, and still having pending a law suit against these people, what is the motive of May Leventine in coming here and telling you as she did that the key was in the door; and that she herself turned that key and that she went out into the hallway:
 Now the next two witnesses we called or rather the next witness that we called was a girl by the name of Annie Mittleman.  It would of course be asking you gentlemen too much to remember each one of these various witnesses but I wish you could remember them.  Annie Mittleman told you that her sister had a table on the first row of machines from the Washington Place side, which is in the same row of machines that May Leventine worked at.  That she worked at the row of tables that was four or five from the Washington Place side.  The she came over to her sister's table after the power had been shut off.  That while they were there and one of the girls had gone to get the clothes from the dressing room, at that time the noise occurred; and then they went to the Washington Place elevator and the elevator man did not come up.  At that time May Leventine came along and inquired what it was and they said they could not tell.  That May Leventine said that we will go to the Washington Place elevator door--that is the place that May Leventine testified she went, and she says that then she went to Washington Place door; and Annie Mittleman said that she does not remember which of these two girls turned the key but that the door was opened and that she went out with May Leventine, and she looked down over the banisters and that the door was open and she saw the flame and she saw the smoke and she saw the girls going down stairs, and fearing that she could not get down safely she turned back through the open door and told her sister who was standing there also that there was a fire; and that they went then and stood in front of the Washington Place elevator door until the elevator came up and stopped on the ninth floor and took them down to safety.

Now it may be said of Annie Mittleman is working for these people and possibly that is her motive.  Well, Gentleman of the Jury, if that is her motive and that is a sufficient motive, what about all these other people who have got these law suits?  Don't you think that they also have their motive?  Is it really to be said in this case now that this is one case where a witness is still in the employ of the defendants and for that reason she must be a perjurer?

Annie Mittleman was sent for by the District Attorney.  Annie Mittleman went down to the District Attorney's office and made a statement immediately after this fire.  It was only a short time after the fire when there was not anything at that time pending against these defendants, --there was not any indictment then; nobody apprehended any such thing as an indictment; and Annie Mittleman went down and made a statement to Mr. Bostwick.  I ask you Gentlemen of the Jury have they called any stenographer to contradict her statement?

The next witness whom we called was Samuel Bernstein.  Now as to the witness Bernstein, Gentlemen of the Jury, I want to call your particular attention to his testimony.  Bernstein as he testified was the Superintendent.  Bernstein's duties put him on both the eighth and the ninth floors and everybody testified to that, all of the other witnesses, even the People's witnesses, testified that he was the manager and was on both of those floors.  He testified that he had constantly to go from the eighth to the ninth floor and from the ninth floor to the eighth floor; and that he had to do that is undisputed in this case.  Bernstein told you that as he must naturally be all over both of those lofts, he could not have been the superintendent and manager without being.

Now he told you he could not begin to tell you the number of times every day that he went from the ninth to the eighth floor and from the eighth to the ninth floors: and he told you that it was by the Greene Street side and by the Washington Place side indiscriminately dependent upon where he was.  Did Bernstein lie? Bernstein lost a brother in that fire gentlemen of the Jury and he lost other relatives.  He is related to these two men by marriage.  Their wives are cousins and he is their uncle.  I ask you gentlemen of the jury if for their wives would he come here and lie and say that that door on the Washington Place side was locked always or unlocked always; when he has claimed that by reason of that fact that that door was locked his brother was killed?

You know Jacob Bernstein his brother is the man who is supposed to have jumped around like a wildcat.  Jacob Bernstein is the man supposed to have been seen dying in front of that door.  Do you think there is any motive in the world that would have induced Samuel Bernstein to come here and testify before you, that every day including the day of the fire, he went up and down those steps innumerable times, and that the door was always open?  You remember Bernstein's description of the fire itself.  Is there any question that that moment was a solemn one with Bernstein?

Mr. Bernstein showed a little temper on cross-examination, exhibited a little temper and Mr. Bostwick did too.  This is what occurred:  He was asked whether he didn't come down before the Grand Jury; and the insinuation was that when he got there, that he came there for the purpose on influencing witnesses; and his answer to that was no, that he was trapped to come down.  He said he was served with a subpoena, and he pointed out the man in this room who served him with the subpoena; and then he said while he was there a girls came over and he did have a little conversation with her but that conversation had nothing to do with the case; and Mr. Whitman came in and got angry at him and ordered him out and said he would punch him in the jaw and that is not all that Mr. Whitman said, you remember how that that question was bellowed at him by Mr. Bostwick--yes bellowed is the word--why you know he said yes that he would fire him out of the building and he would do worse, he more than threatened to punch him in the jaw.  Whitman is in this building.  Has he been produced to deny what Bernstein said?  The young man whom he pointed out as having served the subpoena up there before the Grand Jury was in this room day after day.  Has he been called to deny what Bernstein says:  Is there a doubt in the world but all these men were subpoenaed to come time and time again to the District Attorney's office, and after to the District Attorney's office to the Cornoner's Jury and after the Coroner's Jury to the Grand Jury.  Now gentlemen of the Jury with every motive for hating these people unto death, this man Bernstein comes here and tells you that that door was always unlocked and that he used it even after the help was discharged in the evening.  What are you going to say to the evidence and to the proof when you are considering whether or not that they approved beyond a reasonable doubt that that door was locked?

The next witness that we called was a girl by the name of Gussie Rapp.  Gussie Rapp told you she was forelady on the ninth floor, of the first two table by the Washington Place door.  She said during the day time, time and again she had to go to the eighth floor to get materials.  That was not contradicted.  Gussie Rapp told you she used the Washington Place stairs, she used the Washington Place elevator, and she used the Greene Street stairs; and that the Washington Place door was always unlocked and that the key was in the door.  I want to withdraw that statement, what she did say was she said that the door was always locked--no that was not it.  She said this: That there may have been, she has no positive recollection of it, that there may have been a time when that door was locked when she came to it, but if it was she simply had to turn the key and pass through.  This was her testimony.  But a great majority of the times she knew positively that she had passed through that door and used no key.  Now gentlemen of the Jury, I called the defendant Harris to the stand next.  Of course the defendant Harris has got every motive in the world for lying to you.  This means everything to him.  It means that the past years of his life have all been for naught, if you say that he is guilty of this crime.  It means incarceration for him anywhere from ten to twenty years, in the discretion of the Court.  It means that his wife and his children are disgraced forevermore.  It means the loss of that for which he has labored all his life.  It means that when from a shop himself he worked and worked and worked and finally became an employer or labor and that same high degree of character that is obtained by his type of man, it means that all of that is to be brushed away by the occurrence of the 25th of March, 1911.

So I say to you twelve men:  Harris has got every motive that a man can have for committing perjury.  But did he?  Did Harris impress you as a perjurer?  Did Harris talk to you like a perjurer?  Or did Harris go on the stand and tell you that he was a designer and a pattern maker and that he had to go, his duty took him any number of times as he said to you from the eight floor to the ninth floor and from the ninth floor to the eight floor; and that he had no time to wait for elevators.  If he wanted to get to the eight floor, why he walked down and if he was near the Washington Place stairs he went down those and if it was the Greene Street stairs he used the Greene Street stairs also.

Next I called Mr. Blanck.  Mr. Blanck had every motive that Harris has got, every one he has got.  Did Blanck commit perjury?  Blanck went down to the District Attorney's office, and the District Attorney absolutely square said to Blanck said "Go right ahead and ask me."

Gentlemen of the Jury, is that the act of a guilty man?  A guilty man refuses to answer.  The guilty man skulks.  The guilty man pulls down the blinds, but the innocent man he says "I want you to ask, I want you to open wide the flood gates of truth; search me as you can; search me as you will; I want to tell."  He wants to tell because that is the way innocence behaves.  And he did tell.  And he told then what he told now, that he went down to Washington Place stairs; that he did use the Greene Street stairs very often; the he used the Washington Place stairs; that those doors were never locked and that it was his duty to see to it that were not locked.

Now Gentlemen of the Jury, the only other branch of this case is the question of how they kept their factory.  Well now that is, the evidence is with relation to the situation of the tables, that the nearest tables one to the other was four feet eight inches.  I would like you to see the chairs and how they fit under those machines.  When a girl sat at one of those machines all that there is outside of the machine is the back of the chair, the rest of it is under these tables and that the putting in of these machines was directed by Mr. Harris and it was done through his knowledge of actual conditions and his discretion as to the layout.  The testimony in this case was that there was not a better run factory in New York and there never has been.  The defendants built this.  Harris himself is a mechanic and his is the man who laid out every stitch of it and because he has brown up from the beginning of the business he knows how it should to be to the best advantage and he laid it would the best way to be the best both for the operators, the employees and himself.  When draughts came in one side they put partitions up to ward it off.

Why Gentlemen of the Jury, there has been some pretence here that these partitions that were built were for the interests of the defendants.  You remember the testimony of the carpenter was that the partition on the Washington Place side was from six to eight feet from the elevator doors.  Wasn't that it Mr. Juror, sic of eight feet?  That was just taking that much space away from their use in this building.  What good did it do them, any?  They put it up because having had the complaints of the girls, they wanted to keep their employees and they did this for their benefit.

On the Greene Street side--this is really very interesting--on the Greene Street side the suggestion of the Prosecution is why the partition was put in.  Why?  Because that partition there, that was to enable a person to go out only one at a time; and it enabled them hereby to look at the pocket books.  Why that thing is ridiculous.  That man stood on the inside in the first place.  In the second place we could have ordered them all in time for that purpose if we had seen fit to.  Now that partition was there, simply put there for the convenience of the employees to help their health, and to repel draughts and to make the place comfortable and pleasant for them.  Now Gentlemen of the Jury I am not talking to you about this in any way or sense as a point of criticism....

THE COURT:  Mr. Steuer; you will have five minutes more.

MR. STEUER:  Well Gentlemen, you of course are expected to recall all of this evidence.  To my mind it is a human impossibility.  When it comes to one of these long trials, with every confidence in the Jury system there ought to be some better way than there is of preserving the testimony.  To  my mind I think it would be a splendid idea if the jury were furnished with transcripts of the testimony from day to day because then they might keep it green in their recollection; but whatever may be the deficiency of a human effort, I think as the testimony went along you gathered sufficient of it so that you may pass upon these two questions:

Beyond a reasonable doubt, did the People prove that Harris and Blanck killed Margaret Schwartz through negligent way they conducted their business?

Beyond a reasonable doubt did the People prove not only that that door was locked, because that is of no consequence, did they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Margaret Schwartz died because that door was locked?

Did they prove that that door was locked.  Did they prove anything against these defendants?

Gentlemen of the Jury, 1911 is drawing to a close.  1911 was a bitter year for these two men.  Thirty years ago these men in a shop not equipped with electric lights, and electric power, with stairs made of wood and which we climbed together, I labored in one of those shops.  The progress that has been made in that is wonderful.  I admire the confidence that has been reposed in me by them to present this case to you.  Never, never in all my life, and never again in the balance of it I hope will there be such a responsibility resting on me.  I took their case; since the day there indicted I have slept with it and I have pondered with it and labored with it.  I do hope, I really hope that I have brought to you the conviction of their innocence.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Trial Homepage