98, and Still Fighting McCarthy-Era Conviction


MANHATTAN (CN) - Government attorneys on Monday appeared to resist a 98-year-old woman's attempt to clear her McCarthy-era conviction for obstructing justice in a hearing on a sensational atomic espionage case.
     More than 60 years after her criminal case made headlines, Miriam Moskowitz ambled into a federal courtroom with a dark wooden cane and wearing loose gray clothing.
     Decades ago, she told reporters, spectators were "waiting on tenterhooks for sensational revelations" when she sat at the defense table in a Foley Square courthouse battling accusations of impeding a probe into the spy ring of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
     The United States executed the Rosenbergs after their convictions for revealing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, in a judgment that remains controversial.
     Moskowitz says she got pulled into the case after accepting a secretarial job from Abraham Brothman who, unbeknownst to her, was passing information to a number of Soviet spy rings.
     Brothman's associate Harry Gold eventually turned government informant and delivered testimony that sent Moskowitz to prison for two years and left her with a $10,000 fine.
     She recounted her trial and published new evidence that she insists exonerates her in the book "Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice."
     "Then, it was electrifying," she recalled on Monday. "It is comparatively sober today."
     Moskowitz received a mostly friendly reception for her civil case, as her attorney Guy Edden with New York-based Baker Botts ushered her to the plaintiff's chair. Edden had to practically shout his conversations with his hard of hearing client, and he yelled into her ear that he would introduce her to the judge.
     After he rose to the bench, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein remarked that they had already met downstairs over a cup of coffee.
     "I wasn't wearing my robes at the time," he said.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Allen indicated that the government would not drag out the case by seeking new evidence, but that it would file a brief with a competing interpretation of the old transcripts.
     The parties will submit competing legal arguments in October, then met again in court for arguments on Election Day, Nov. 4.
     That hearing will feature live transcripts so that Moskowitz will be able to understand what the lawyers are saying.
     At a makeshift press conference outside the courtroom Monday, Moskowitz said the case has a personal and historical importance.
     "First of all, it would mean an historical acknowledgment that the period itself was so bad for the country," she said. "Then, it would be my own personal vindication."
     Speaking of the need for an "official vindication" that "goes into the record and the history books," she added: "It will make people think very seriously about sensational congressmen looking to advance their own careers by creating hysteria, and it will I think tell the American people that you really need to be careful. You really need to participate one way or another in the government."