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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, April 11, 1991. Interview L-0064-8. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The defense of Wilbur Hobby, former president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO

Here, Pollitt describes the case of Wilbur Hobby, who was indicted and convicted of fraud for misuse of a government grant from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). Hobby had attained funds from CETA as the president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO during the early 1980s. Pollitt describes how the funds were used, emphasizing Hobby's innocence despite allegations of fraud. Pollitt took Hobby's case when it was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but lost despite recognition of the validity of his argument. His recollection of the case demonstrates the complexities of relationships between the federal government and labor organizations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, April 11, 1991. Interview L-0064-8. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Before then was maybe Wilbur Hobby. Wilbur is a long time friend and he was the President of the North Carolina Civil Liberties Union. There was a Federal program giving job training and people would apply for grants from the Department of Labor and it was administered through the states. You'd go the State Department of Labor and ask for the Federal money and, "Here's what you're going to do with it," and "Here's your budget". If you're approved, you get it. So, there weren't many people, private people, applying for this type of money. So the AFL-CIO set up a corporation to do this sort of thing. They became fairly active and they hired somebody from Watts who had done the Watts when Watts got lots of money to redo Watts out in California. This guy had been head of it and so they hired him to come and he became an adjunct professor of sociology at N.C. Central. He was in charge of the AFL program, but Wilbur was the titular head and would sign everything. They had a program to train some people how to use computers, thirty-five people how to use computers. They were to be from Durham County and Graham County and somewhere else and they had to be under a certain income. You had a budget and there was so much for bus allowance and there was also so much to rent computers. So, the got the grant and it was a hundred and thirty thousand and they trained the thirty-five people and they all got jobs except one. They did it for a hundred thousand and turned back thirty. But the budget they had was for people to get on the bus at Durham and go to Raleigh where the training was. Nobody showed up the first day and nobody showed up the second day. So they took the bus money and bought a van. They went and picked everybody up at their house to get them to go to school and learn this stuff. Then the computer broke down that they were using because they have all these unskilled people using it. There was the repair bill which was fifty dollars an hour for showing up and then so much. So they found out they could buy the computers. When you buy them you get a service contract which is cheaper than renting them. So they did that. Wilbur was indicted. When the whole program was over they had the old van left over and they had the computers left over. So they indict Wilbur for fraud in that instead of using the bus money for buses, they used it to buy a van and instead of using the rent money for the computers, they bought the computers.
But it didn't end up costing anything?
They saved money and they gave it back. But they indicted them and they were convicted. Wilbur was convicted. I didn't try the case. What's his name did. He teaches. Rudolph. Rudolph did. It was a lengthy trail and he did a good job. When the trial was over and he lost he said, "Well, I'm exhausted. I'm burned out." He and his wife went to Florida for a vacation. Well, a guy named Shelley Blum in Charlotte thought he'd take the appeal and he did take the appeal to the Fourth Circuit and lost. Then he was exhausted. They'd each been paid. I'd been the co-chairman of the defense to raise the money for Wilbur and we paid them and it was a sizeable legal fee. And then they were all through and so I thought, "Well, hell, I'll take it on and go to the Supreme Court."
Did they have any money left then?
No, there was no money left at this point. That's one reason why I take cases, when there's no money and nobody else will do it. But the only issue left after all this was whether the foreman of the Grand Jury that indicted Wilbur was a white male and the foreman is appointed by the judge. In the eastern district of North Carolina, the Federal judges had appointed white males since the mind of the man So that was the only issue I had because all of the others had been dropped. So I lost in the Supreme Court, but I won. I won in the sense that the Court agreed that you shouldn't do this.
Shouldn't have a white…
No, you can't systematically appoint only white males and they said so in the opinion. But I lost in the sense that the remedy for a hundred years when there's a defect in the jury system is to set aside the indictment and start all over again. But the Chief Justice, Berger, wrote the opinion and said that there was no need to take such Draconian measures. Our opinion will send a message and that's all you need. So I lost six to three and Wilbur went to jail for four years in Lexington. So that was my Wilbur Hobby case.