The federal trial that will decide whether the Langbord family or the government owns 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles began July 7 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
The potential jurors filed into the courtroom at 1:50 p.m. and Judge Legrome D. Davis questioned the jurors about their jobs, their ability to be impartial, and their association with coin collecting, history and accounting. Of the 19 people questioned, 10 were chosen — eight women and two men.
Judge Davis informed the jury that the press would be covering the trial and told jurors they were not to discuss the case with anyone or consult outside media sources on the case. He also informed the jury that because the events happened long ago, that there would not be a lot of direct evidence, so the jury would be dealing with circumstantial evidence.
The prosecution began its opening argument by stating that the 10 1933 double eagles were stolen from the Mint in the 1930s, and that the government is the rightful owner of the coins. The prosecution referred to Israel Switt’s prior 1934 arrest for carrying gold and said that Switt had been traced to prior 1933 double eagles that had been confiscated, concluding its argument by stressing that the coins need to be return to the rightful owners — the people of the United States.
Switt is the father and grandfather of the three individuals who filed suit against the government over ownership of the coins.
The defense followed with its opening argument, starting with a story about John Hancock and how the British wrongfully seized one of his ships, making the point that the United States differs from Britain in that the U.S. government cannot seize property unless it can prove that it is entitled to it; that power and size alone does not make the taking of property by the government lawful; and that the government must prove that the 10 coins were stolen in the 1930s.
Barry Berke, the attorney for Joan Switt Langbord and her two sons, compared the government’s key points to a three-legged stool with three weak legs. Those legs are:
(1) When Franklin Roosevelt declared that gold had to be turned in that no more gold coins went out from the Mint.
(2) That Mint personnel during the period followed appropriate procedures.
(3) That Mint records are reliable, accurate and complete.
Berke concluded by telling the members of the jury that they are a safeguard against the government’s taking of citizens’ property.
The coins were allegedly discovered in 2003 by Joan Langbord, the daughter of Philadelphia coin dealer Israel Switt. The coins were transferred to the U.S. Mint for authentication in September 2004 and the Langbords sued the government for the return of the coins in December 2006. ■