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UNITED STATES v. BERGSON

January 29, 1954

UNITED STATES
v.
BERGSON



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN

The defendant is being prosecuted under Title 18, U.S.C., Paragraph 284. That paragraph reads as follows:

'Whoever, having been employed in any agency of the United States, including commissioned officers assigned to duty in such agency, within two years after the time when such employment or service has ceased, prosecutes or acts as counsel, attorney, or agent for prosecuting, any claims against the United States involving any subject matter directly connected with which such person was so employed or performed duty, shall be fined not more than $ 10,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. June 25, 1948, c. 645, 62 Stat. 698, amended May 24, 1949, c. 139, § 7, 63 Stat. 90.'

 The indictment consists of 2 Counts. The charges in the indictment are that on two occasions, both within two years after the time defendant's employment in the Department of Justice had ceased defendant had violated the above statute in that on both occasions he 'acted as counsel' for certain named companies 'for prosecuting a claim against the United States involving a subject matter directly connected with which' the defendant 'had been employed and performed duty while employed in the Department of Justice,' as aforesaid.

 In the First Count the following allegation is set forth:

 'That is to say that said Herbert A. Bergson, at the time and place aforesaid pursuant to an established procedure of the Department of Justice, acting as counsel for The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company and The Carborundum Company, by oral and written representations and arguments, sought to obtain from the said Department of Justice on behalf of The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company and The Carborundum Company the issuance by said Department of an antitrust merger clearance letter which would state in substance that should the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company acquire the assets of The Carborundum Company the Department of Justice would not take any action pursuant to the established procedures of the antitrust laws to test the legality of the acquisition if it were consummated in the manner outlined to the Department of Justice by the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company and The Carborundum Company.'

 In the Second Count the following allegation is set forth:

 The Motion of judgment for Acquittal by defendant filed pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C.A., involves two main grounds -- 1) that the conduct charged against defendant and the evidence in support of that charge do not involve claims against the United States or the prosecution of claims against the United States, and 2) that the conduct charged and the evidence in support thereof was not conduct involving a subject matter directly connected with the defendant's former government employment.

 The questions posed in this motion are:

 1. What is the meaning of the term 'claims against the United States' as used in Title 18 U.S.C. § 284.

 2. What is meant by the term 'any subject matter directly connected with which such person (that is a person who had ceased employment in any agency of the Government within 2 years) was so employed or performed duty' as used in said Title 18 U.S.C. § 284.

 3. Does or does not the evidence establish that the defendant acted as counsel for the prosecution of claims against the United States in violation of the foregoing statutory provision?

 It is hornbook in connection with this motion that the evidence and all implications thereof are to be construed most strongly against movant. The general rule likewise applies that penal statutes are to be construed strictly.

 It is the province of the Court, and the duty and responsibility of the Court to construe this Statute and in doing so it is further the province, duty and responsibility of the Court to determine the meanings of the words used in the Statute. That duty does not involve the task of determining such meanings as an abstract matter. The Court is not called upon to conduct an experiment or solve a problem in clinical linguistics or semantical metaphysics. We are dealing with a concrete law which states things which a person is prohibited, under penalty of punishment from doing. The Court's duty is to determine word meanings realistically; to determine the meaning of the words, not as words standing alone, but the meaning of words as used in the Statute which the Court is called upon to interpret and construe in order that the Court may in turn so interpret and construe the meaning of the Statute. This is not only the law. It is as well plain common sense -- and in saying this the Court does not by any means wish to be understood to suggest that there is any difference or distinction between what is the law and what is common sense. In any event the construction of statutes is not a contest, a game to be played. Especially is this true as to Criminal Statutes, upon the determination of the meaning of which depends what acts are prohibited to be done by living persons. Both the public, that is society at large -- those potentially chargeable with a violation of law, and those actually charged therewith are vitally interested in the question as to just what the law, the statute, means.

 The general rule or criterion which the Court should apply in determining the meaning of a statute are set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court in the case of United States v. American Trucking Associations, 310 U.S. 534, 60 S. Ct. 1059, 1063, 84 L. Ed. 1345. The Court speaking through Justice Reed stated:

 'In the interpretation of statutes, the function of the courts is easily stated. It is to construe the language so as to give effect to the intent of Congress. There is no invariable rule for the discovery of that intention. To take a few words from their context and with them thus isolated to attempt to determine their meaning, certainly would not contribute greatly to the discovery of the purpose of the draftsmen of a statute, particularly in a law drawn to meet many needs of a major occupation.

 'There is, of course, no more persuasive evidence of the purpose of a statute than the words by which the legislature undertook to give expression to its wishes. Often these words are sufficient in and of themselves to determine the purpose of the legislation. In such cases we have followed their plain meaning. When that meaning has led to absurd or futile results, however, this Court has looked beyond the words to the purpose of the act. Frequently, however, even when the plain meaning did not produce absurd results but merely an unreasonable one 'plainly at variance with the policy of the legislation as a whole' this Court has followed that purpose, rather than the literal words. When aid to construction of the meaning of words, as used in the statute, is available, there certainly can be no 'rule of law' which forbids its use, however clear the words may appear on 'superficial examination.' The interpretation of the meaning of statutes, as applied to justiciable controversies, is exclusively a judicial function. This duty requires one body of public servants, the judges, to construe the meaning of what another body, the legislators, has said. Obviously there is danger that the court's conclusion as to legislative purpose will be unconsciously influenced by the judges' own views or by factors not considered by the enacting body. A lively appreciation of the danger is the best assurance of escape from its threat but hardly justifies an acceptance of a literal interpretation dogma which withholds from the courts available information for reaching a correct conclusion. Emphasis should be laid, too, upon the necessity for appraisal of the purposes as a whole of Congress in analyzing the meaning of clauses or sections of general acts. A few words of general connotation appearing in the text of statutes should not be given a wide meaning, contrary to a settled policy, 'excepting as a different purpose is plainly shown."

 Passing the salient statement of the Court that in the interpretation of Statutes there is no more persuasive evidence of the purpose of the Statute than the words by which the legislature undertook to give expression to its wishes, as well as that in which the Court states that often these words are sufficient in and of themselves to determine the purpose of the legislation, this Court goes on to comply with the Supreme Court's injunction, upon which the opinion states emphasis should be laid, to the appraising the purposes as a whole of Congress, or in other words, to look to legislative intent. ...


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