Fifty years later, Goldmark trial still resonates

Politician won libel suit for being labeled communist

— Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Goldmark libel trial, one of Okanogan County’s biggest civil trials and one that renewed many people’s faith in the American jury system.

The 11-week trial drew national attention, a parade of high-profile witnesses – from politicians to Hollywood actors – and a decision in favor of a local politician falsely branded a communist.

“It was a big deal at that time,” said Joanne Thomas, whose late husband, Jim Thomas, and father, Joseph Wicks, were defense attorneys in the case.

“In those days, communism was a deadly word,” veteran Chronicle columnist Elizabeth Widel said. “People are not as hysterical about it now.”

In 1962, John Goldmark was a three-term Democratic state representative from Okanogan County and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who was running for re-election.

He also was the target of printed and recorded accusations that he was a communist sympathizer. He belonged to the American Civil Liberties Union, which was described in a Tonasket Tribune article as an organization “closely affiliated” with the communist movement in the U.S.

His wife, Sally Goldmark, was accused of being a communist. Although she belonged to the Communist Party briefly during the 1930s and 1940s, she left it after the couple’s marriage in 1942.

The party was legal at the time.

Later, during the height of McCarthyism, she was interviewed first by the FBI and then by the House Un-American Activities Committee. She provided answers that satisfied the agencies and the Goldmarks considered the matter closed, William Dwyer wrote in his 1984 book about the trial, “The Goldmark Case.”

Dwyer was one of the Goldmarks’ attorneys and later became a federal court judge.

The accusations came just before the 1962 primary, which John Goldmark lost.

The Goldmarks sued for libel. The trial began Nov. 4, 1963, and continued through the holidays and into January.

Defendants were Tribune Publisher Ashley Holden Sr. and his wife; former Republican legislator and anti-communist crusader Albert F. Canwell and wife, for a printed version of “An Interview with Al Canwell;” John Birch Society state coordinator Don Caron and wife, for helping to distribute “An Interview with Al Canwell,” and orchardist Loris Gillespie and wife, for his actions while chairing an American Legion meeting in Okanogan at which Canwell spoke.

The Goldmarks sought $225,000. When the verdict came in, on Jan. 22, 1964, they were awarded $40,000.

In the intervening months, the two sides had battled almost daily in the Okanogan County Courthouse before visiting King County Judge Theodore S. Turner.

“The whole period was such an ugly situation,” Thomas said, adding the community was divided.

Thomas remembers some people in the community felt the Goldmarks were “very suspect” because they came from the East Coast, “were very brilliant people” and yet moved to a remote ranch on the Colville Indian Reservation.

“Why would they come here?” was what some asked, she said. “This was the McCarthy era. They were prime people to be suspected.”

“He was suspect just on the basis of his being an Easterner,” Oroville resident Wilbur G. “Web” Hallauer said in “Wilbur G. Hallauer, An Oral History,” published by the Washington State Oral History Program of the Office of the Secretary of State.

Hallauer, who still lives in Oroville, was a state senator at the time of the trial and later was secretary of the state Department of Ecology.

He could not be reached for additional comment.

Thomas said she knew of the couple prior to the trial, but didn’t know them. She remembers a priest (Father Emmet Buckley) in Tonasket was involved in instigating a lot of negative thinking in the valley, and that there were a lot of anti-communist meetings.

Widel said attitudes varied, even in The Chronicle office, with some people convinced the Goldmarks were right and others siding with the defendants.

She said one woman insisted the Goldmarks were in the wrong – until one of her favorite actors, Sterling Hayden, was called to testify for the Goldmarks.

Among others called to testify were Hallauer; Republican politician Slade Gorton; and a who’s who of Okanogan County residents, including Nick Cain and Bill Barnes, who later became Public Utility District commissioners; county Sheriff Russel Will, later a county commissioner; farm equipment dealer Jack Hamilton; veterinarian Dr. Hugh Maycumber and radio station owner Dean Nichols.

The Goldmarks’ elder son, Charles, then a 19-year-old college student, also testified.

Omak resident Herb Siltman, one of the 12 jurors and two alternates, said he didn’t like being on the jury, which was sequestered.

Jurors were put up in dormitory fashion in the courthouse and ate meals downtown, he recalled. He doesn’t remember getting time off for Christmas.

“We were cooped up there,” said Siltman, now 85.

He worked at the Biles-Coleman mill, but had no problems being away from the job for so long because it was for jury service.

Siltman declined to talk about the jury’s deliberations or details of the trial.

While Wicks, a former Superior Court judge, and Thomas, a future Superior Court judge, were among the attorneys on the defense team, the Goldmarks’ legal team included longtime Okanogan attorney Rhesa Mansfield and Dwyer.

All are now deceased.

“Jim always said afterward that he was on the wrong side,” Joanne Thomas said.

And, although they were on opposite sides during the trial, Mansfield and Thomas later went into law practice together.

Three reporters were assigned to cover the trial full time — John E. Andrist of The Chronicle, Dick Larson of the Wenatchee Daily World and Jack Fischer of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Other reporters came and went, including Lawrence Davies of the New York Times.

All three of the regulars’ coverage appeared in other publications, from the New York Times to The Associated Press, United Press International and several TV stations.

The Chronicle’s weekly coverage included day-by-day stories from the trial, photographs, background pieces on various participants and sidebars on certain aspects of the proceedings. Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom then, so at one point Omak artist Carol Orr was enlisted to provide a sketch of the courtroom and trial participants.

The original drawing now hangs in The Chronicle’s office.

Widel said even though The Chronicle provided extensive coverage of the trial, it also took great care with those stories. Then-publisher Bruce A. Wilson had an attorney review each story on the trial prior to publication.

Three weeks into the trial, President Kennedy was shot.

Reporters covering the trial confirmed the shooting with outside news sources, then announced the news to those in the courthouse. They also informed the judge, who in turn told the jury.

As the news was announced, “jurors sat stunned — several looked frightened — as they learned from Judge Turner for the first time that the president had been shot and was critically wounded,” The Chronicle reported. Court was adjourned for the day.

The defense later incorporated the assassination into its case, Dwyer wrote.

“The threat from within, I think, was demonstrated on last November 22nd in Dallas, Texas, when a self-admitted Marxist fired a shot that killed the president of the United States,” witness Donald Jackson, a California congressman, said in response to a defense attorney’s question about his opinion of the seriousness of the communist threat.

After 43 days, the jury’s 10-2 verdict came in the early morning hours of Jan. 22, 1964, and was reported nationwide, including in Time magazine and The Washington Post.

At the time, the $40,000 award was the largest libel verdict in Washington history, except for a Seattle award that had been reduced to $7,500 on review, Dwyer wrote.

The victory was not one for the Goldmarks alone, “but for good sense, fairness and fundamental decency. The whole country will be its beneficiary,” the Washington Post said in an editorial afterward. “The jury listened, learned, deliberated and rendered a just and thoughtful verdict — a vindication not alone for the Goldmarks but for the jury system and democracy as well.”

Hallauer said years later that his conclusion about the trial was that it “had to be done. I think that the overwhelming propaganda that had been engaged in about lack of patriotism and this sort of thing had to be met head-on to maintain the possibility of any political liberalism or personal liberty in this area.

“They were conducting a scare campaign to make people get back in line, no dissent. The things that were done in the name of patriotism were really terrible here.”

Despite the court victory, the Goldmarks never saw the money.

In December 1964, the defendants were granted a new trial, but few days later, the judge nullified the verdict in light of the March 1964 New York Times vs. Sullivan case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a public official could not collect damages for criticism of his official actions unless there was proof of malice.

Although the evidence established that John Goldmark was not a communist and that the defendants had made false charges to injure him politically, there was no proof of malice, the judge said.

Goldmark never held public office again. A few years later, the couple moved to Seattle, where he practiced law.

Widel remembers the Goldmarks as fine and respected people about whom very vicious things were said.

A few years after the trial, Sally Goldmark sponsored the carved doors that still serve as the entrance to the Omak Public Library.

“After all that, she endowed the doors for the library,” Widel said.

John Goldmark died in 1979 and his wife died in 1985.

Their son is state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. He did not respond to Chronicle requests for an interview.

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