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MATSON v. MARGIOTTI (05/27/52)

May 27, 1952


Appeal, No. 6, March T., 1952, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, April T., 1951, No. 319, in case of Marjorie Hanson Matson v. Charles J. Margiotti. Judgment affirmed.


Marjorie Hanson Matson, appellant, in propria persona.

Robert L. Kunzig, Deputy Attorney General, with him Robert E. Woodside, Attorney General and Margiotti & Casey, for appellee.

Before Drew, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell and Chidsey, JJ.

Author: Bell

[ 371 Pa. Page 189]


Plaintiff filed a complaint in libel, the basis of her action being a letter written by Charles J. Margiotti as Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to William S. Rahauser, District Attorney of

[ 371 Pa. Page 190]

Allegheny County. This letter was written upon the official stationery of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, the heading on said letter being, "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Office of the Attorney General, Harrisburg." The letter follows:

"January 5, 1951.

"William S. Rahauser, Esquire, District Attorney of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Dear Bill:

As a result of an investigation conducted by the Pennsylvania State Police, I have ascertained the following facts with regard to Majory Hanson Matson, an assistant district attorney on your staff:

1. While Mrs. Matson was a student at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, she had the reputation among her fellow-students of having Communistic tendencies. I am reliably informed that she attended school at the Young Communist League and that she was one of the principal demonstrators against General MacArthur when he came to Pittsburgh to deliver the commencement address at the University of Pittsburgh in 1932.

2. I am informed that Mrs. Matson is on the Executive Board of American-Soviet Friendship and was one of the organizers of the Progressive Citizens Party, which is now the Progressive Party, and which as you may recall was the organization which undertook to force the Board of Public Education of the City of Pittsburgh to permit it to use a high school auditorium for its meeting. This matter was litigated in the United States District Court in Pittsburgh, and in its opinion the Court stated that the Progressive Party was a Communist Organization.*fn1

[ 371 Pa. Page 1913]

. There is no doubt that Mrs. Matson undertook to act as Counsel for Bernard Salis in the County Court on an appeal from a conviction of Salis for violation of a McKeesport ordinance forbidding the passing out of literature without a permit. The literature which Salis was distributing was signed by the Communist Party of Western Pennsylvania. Mrs. Matson was requested to withdraw from the case by you. She claims she was representing the American Civil Liberties Union in appearing on behalf of Salis.

4. I am also informed that Mrs. Matson sat in the courtroom with counsel, who was defending Nathan Alberts in the Highland Park Riot Case. Alberts is Secretary of the Pittsburgh Branch of the Communist Party and was convicted of inciting to riot; and recently his conviction was sustained by the Superior Court. My information is that Judge MONTGOMERY spoke to you with reference to this conduct of Mrs. Matson and she was then requested to leave the courtroom.

5. In the Post Cazette of August 6, 1948, the following appears:

'The Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a letter to President Truman, has protested prosecution of 12 leading Communists "for holding beliefs and opinions rather than committing over acts." "Even in a period of near-hysteria, which this admittedly is, no restrictions should be placed upon the competition of ideas in the market-place of public opinion," Mrs. Marjorie Hanson Matson wrote the President. Mrs. Matson, local ACLU representative and an assistant district attorney, was careful to point out that her organization bars Communists, Bundists and other supporters of dictatorships from serving in its high offices.'

[ 371 Pa. Page 1926]

. Mrs. Matson has been associated with the following activities:

American-Soviet Friendship

Executive Board Progressive Citizens Party

Women's Organizer Principal Speaker in Grant Street Rally

Duquesne Light Strike

Closely associated with Bryngold Havde & Dr. Marion Hathaway.

We have other information with regards to Mrs. Matson's communistic activities.

Some of these matters have already been brought to your attention. As Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania I am writing this letter to demand that Mrs. Matson be dismissed from her position as Assistant District Attorney in Allegheny County, as it appears obvious that her Communistic associations render her unfit to hold this position. Her future retention obstructs justice and becomes dangerous to the security of our people in Pennsylvania.

I am making this demand on the basis of information furnished me by the Pennsylvania State Police.

Sincerely yours, (signed) Charles J. Margiotti, Attorney General."

The complaint averred that the statements were false and were made by the defendant wickedly and maliciously; and that the libelous communication was released to the ...

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