From 1971, Supreme Court Justice Douglas's Thoughts on DPD's Raid of Burns's Dallas Notes

That copy of Dallas Notes you see above was loaned to me yesterday by one Mike Rhyner, who, as it turns out, was a contributor to the late Stoney Burns's Buddy magazine way back when. Its pages are brittle; it falls apart when you just look at it. Contained within, on Page 3, is a story headlined: "Lee Park 5 Trial Postponed," referring to Rudy Murley, Wayne Easter, Mike Maloney, Jaime Glazier and, of course, Stoney Burns, all "accused of various anti-police activities stemming from the April 12 Lee Park Massacre and Skinny Dip Festival." Says the unsigned story, which fills a full page of the yellowed tabloid, their trial has been delayed "because of a massive judicial fuck-up."

The rest of the issue is filled with stories about the war in Vietnam, Angela Davis's arrest and the bombing of a Houston public radio station's transmission tower. There are headlines that read, simply, "Pinkos," "The Wonderful World of Pigs" and "Draft." Houston native Gilbert Shelton's Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers is on one page; ads for a Jefferson Airplane concert at TCU and the second Bloodrock record fill another. Ads for rolling papers and pot plants dot almost every page.

Dallas police and prosecutors tried, time and again, to put Burns's underground paper out of business. They said it was "obscene." Which is why Burns took cops and the district attorney to court: He asked "there be no arrest of plaintiff, nor seizure of his property on grounds of obscenity without a prior judicial determination of the obscene character of the material in question." Shortly after the issue you see here went to press, the case reached the United States Supreme Court, which couldn't be bothered, save for one lone dissenting voice.

Only Associate Justice William O. Douglas, who Time would later call "The Court's Uncompromising Libertarian," took Stoney's side. This, in part, is what he wrote in February 1971:

The two raids in this case were search-and-destroy missions in the Vietnamese sense of the phrase. In each case the police came at night. The first search warrant authorized a search and seizure of 'obscene articles and materials, to wit: pictures, photographs, drawings and obscene literature' concealed at a given address. The seizures included: two tons of a newspaper (Dallas Notes), one photograph enlarger, two portable typewriters, two electric typewriters, one camera, 'numerous obscene photographs,' and $5.43 in money.1 The second warrant was issued 16 days later, in response to a claim that marihuana was concealed on the premises. It authorized the officers 'to search for and seize the said narcotic drug and dangerous drug in accordance with the law in such cases provided.' Not finding any marihuana on the premises, the sergeant asked instructions from his lieutenant. He was told to seize pornographic literature and any equipment used to make it. He 'didn't know what to seize and what not to seize so (he) just took everything.' 'Everything' included a Polaroid camera, a Kodak Brownie, a Flocon camera, a Kodak lamp, a floating fixture lamp, a three-drawer desk containing printers' supplies, a drafting square, a drafting table, two drawing boards, a mailing tube, two telephones, a stapler, five cardboard boxes containing documents, one electric typewriter, and one typewriter desk. A poster of Mao Tsetung, credit cards, costume jewelry, cans of spices, a brown sweater, and a statute of a man and woman in an embrace were also seized. Thus the newspaper Dallas Notes, a bi-monthly, was effectively put out of business.

It would be difficult to find in our books a more lawless search-and-destroy raid, unless it be the one in Kremen v. United States, 353 U.S. 346, 77 S.Ct. 828, 1 L.Ed.2d 876. If this search-and-destroy technique can be employed against this Dallas newspaper, then it can be done to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the Yakima Herald-Republic, the Sacramento Bee, and all the rest of our newspapers.

Stoney Burns -- born Brent Stein -- will be buried tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at the Shearith Israel Cemetery on Dolphin Road, where I have no doubt my grandparents will welcome him generously.

Update: My father, turns out, was old friends with Brent Stein from their days together at Hillcrest, where the man who'd become known as Stoney Burns was a couple of grades ahead of Big Hersch. Dad says he saw Stoney not long ago, said he "looked great." Saturday night my dad sent me a scan of the '62 Hillcrest yearbook.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky