Barry Berke, attorney for the Langbord family,
continued his cross examination of the government’s numismatic witness
David Enders Tripp on July 13, until Judge Legrome D. Davis ended the
day early, reminding both sides to stay focused in a trial that he
described as spinning increasingly “out of control.”
Five visiting Ukrainian judges, various
baseball references and the abrupt end made the fifth day of the trial
involving the 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles claimed by
both by Langbord family and the government one that teetered a fine
line between interesting and excruciating.
Joan Langbord was not in court as she was on
July 12, but her sons, Roy and David, were there, watching as Berke
batted the government to regain possession of 10 1933 double eagles
that were allegedly found in a family safe deposit box in 2003.
The jurors were called into the courtroom at
9:30 a.m., a delayed start caused by a juror’s late train. Judge Davis
announced that five visiting judges from the Ukraine would be
attending the trial to observe, as they had read coverage of the trial
in the media, and as Judge Davis said, “Wild horses couldn’t keep them away.”
Is this case about eggs?
At times even Judge Davis — who perhaps knows
the documents better than anyone — couldn’t follow Berke’s logic flow
in his cross examination of Tripp. Davis suggested that if it takes
Berke 10 minutes to explain the connection to the trial judge, such
complexities would likely be lost on the jury.
For example, Berke questioned Tripp about a
statement in the 2002 catalog he helped prepare for the sale of the
alleged Farouk 1933 double eagle at Sotheby’s. The entry stated that a
dozen eggs in 1933 cost 25 cents. At one point, Tripp had said that
one could use a 100:1 ratio to determine purchasing value of $20
double eagles in 1933, or that a gold $20 coin in 1933 would be worth
$2,000 today. Berke reasoned that this would make the relative value
of eggs $25 in 1933, to which Judge Davis interjected “is this case
At the end of the early day, Judge Davis said
that while he didn’t doubt Berke’s ability to “keep us here for a few
more years,” he said that Berke needed to “narrow the strike zone” to
keep the case from “spinning out of control.”
Berke began his second day of cross
examination by revisiting Tuesday’s topics, specifically the Mint’s
cashier’s records and the lack of an explicit requirement that would
require the cashier to keep track of coin dates, referencing Tripp’s
Oct. 8, 2008, deposition to find perceived inconsistencies. Berke
asked Tripp if it was his professional assumption, and Tripp stated
that it was his professional opinion, continuing the language nuances
that characterized Tuesday’s dialogue.
Much of the questioning that followed was
aimed at showing the Mint’s sloppy record keeping around 1933. A look
at the Secret Service investigations of 1937 that found
inconsistencies with cashier reports and daily gold records followed.
Tripp noted that the Secret Service report
looked at transactions in the year 1928, which was an unusually busy
year, so busy that the single output of double eagles in one day was
equal to the entire production of 1933 double eagles. Tripp added that
it is simpler to make errors when one is overworked, utilizing common
sense that at times seemed missing from the Wednesday’s questions and answers.
The 1937 report called the Mint’s
recordkeeping of the period “careless and slip shot” and added that
the Mint seemed to have no systematic accounting system. The report
added that the “unsatisfactory” method of keeping Mint and vault
records was “a serious handicap” to the investigation, and that it may
be expected that future evaluations of Philadelphia Mint records of
the period would suffer because of the poor records.
Tripp’s book, Illegal Tender, was
next introduced as defense exhibit 300, with Berke telling Tripp,
“You’ll be happy to know we had to buy a number of copies of this book
for our case.” Judge Davis added that the book now belongs to the
people of the United States, as it had been marked into evidence. At
one point Berke had a convenient Freudian slip, calling the book
narrative fiction, which Tripp corrected as narrative nonfiction, in
that he weaved the events into a story in Illegal Tender to
make it understandable.
Question by question, answer by answer
The next line of questions was based on
Tripp’s assumption that Mint employees followed all procedures at the
time. One of these procedures — a certificate of correctness — may
have been either a separate form or a signature on an existing form.
When Berke mentioned possible inconsistencies in Tripp’s testimony and
the Oct. 8, 2008, deposition, the jury was reminded that the
deposition was 533 pages long.
At a break, Judge Davis attempted to direct
Berke’s questioning, telling the attorneys while the jury was out,
that if the attorneys attempt to tell a jury millions of things, “they
might remember two,” before adding, “as important as it is to you, its
meaning could get lost if it’s in too many facts.” Judge Davis
reminded the attorneys about the mass of evidence, and that the “high
volume of materials” demands an approach “question by question, answer
by answer.” He said that while he does not usually impose time limits,
he was rethinking the policy in the current trial.
Upon the jury’s return to the courtroom, Tripp
spoke of the intimidating nature of the deposition, clarifying his
thoughts on the “certificate of correctness” issue, while Berke
continued questioning about policies that may or may not have been
followed at the Mint in and around 1933.
An Aug. 3, 2009, Coin World article
by Roger W. Burdette — the numismatic expert for the Langbord family —
was referenced to show that contemporary records could be wrong and
that the Mint’s cashier did not always follow the stated procedures.
Judge Davis said that this would be addressed when Burdette testifies
for the Langbords.
Comparison to 1933 $10 eagles
Berke questioned Tripp about the relationship
of 1933 double eagles to 1933 Indian Head gold $10 eagles, to which
the government objected, as the coins are not the subject of this
litigation. Despite Mint records showing that only four 1933 Indian
Head gold $10 eagles left the Mint legally, there are estimates that
as many as 35 are available today. Yet the the $10 eagles are not the
subject to confiscation, unlike the 1933 double eagles.
Tripp countered that the 1933 $10 eagles
differ from the 1933 $20 double eagles in that no 1933 double eagles
left the Mint through legitimate means, while “once the barn door is
open” through legal distribution of 1933 $10 eagles, it became
impossible to differentiate legitimate versus illegitimate coins.
Berke used this example as further proof that the Mint records of 1933
didn’t accurately show what was happening at the time.
The questioning after the lunch break was much
more fragmented. Topics covered included denied requests by
organizations to obtain 1933 double eagles, the Farouk export permit,
other members of the Switt family who may have had gold connections
with the Philadelphia Mint and the 1944 Secret Service investigation.
An early end
By 2:30 p.m., after one particularly obscure
line of questioning involving a collection of coins in 1936 that
tested the boundaries of relevance, Judge Davis called a break and
told Berke that even he did not follow the logic; “if you lost me,
you’ve lost the jury.” Judge Davis reminded the attorneys that their
job is not to have the jury reinvestigate the Secret Service
investigations, and warned Berke that he is giving more opportunities
for the government to bring up unfavorable things on the redirect of Tripp.
Judge Davis closed by reminding the attorneys
to present a clean story, saying that no investigation proceeds A to B
to C to D, allowing wide latitude, but warning that the scope needs to
be narrowed, “otherwise we’ll be here when the Yankees win the World Series.”
As Wednesday’s session ended, Berke had not
finished his cross examination of Tripp. It is expected to continue
today, to be followed by the government’s redirect examination of