'The Trial of the Chicago 7': Who was the real Richard Schultz? How film whitewashes government's 'pit bull'
Richard Schultz was in reality the government's pit bull and was convinced the defendants wanted to destroy the government
Aaron Sorkin's 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' — which is now streaming on Netflix — is arguably one of the best films of the year. Based on the historical Chicago conspiracy trial of 1969, Sorkin's film features the infamous trial of the seven defendants — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner — in addition to Bobby Seale, the eighth defendant for whom a mistrial was declared. The eight people has been charged under the Rap Brown Law aka the Anti-Riot Act with the intent to incite a riot during the protests in Chicago when the Democratic National Convention of 1968 was going on.
'The Trial of the Chicago 7' is brilliant except for that it features the usual Sorkinism where certain events and people are romanticized to the point of not agreeing with fiction. One instance of that was the creation of the undercover FBI agent Daphne O'Connor (Caitlin FitzGerald) perhaps in a misguided attempt to introduce more women to the story. In reality, there were three undercover police officers, all of them male, and none of them sympathetic towards the defendants.
Another instance is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal of the prosecutor, Richard Schultz, who was assisting lead prosecutor Tom Foran (J C MacKenzie). Both Schultz and Foran represented the US Attorney's office, with Schultz being a bright, ambitious young lawyer. However, in the film, Foran — Schultz's boss — is relegated to the background as Schultz takes on all the arguments and the statements. At certain points, we are also shown Schultz being more levelheaded than his fellow prosecutor and Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella).
He is shown to be looking uncomfortable when Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is brought to the courtroom bound and gagged under Judge Hoffman's orders and later recommending Seale's case be declared a mistrial. In reality, the suggestion came from the US Attorney's office. In another instance, Gordon-Levitt's Schultz is shown to be standing in respect for fallen US troops when Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) recites the names of nearly 5,000 soldiers who had died in Vietnam since the trial started — this final scene is again a fabrication of Sorkin's mind for cinematic purposes.
In reality, however, Richard Schultz was convinced that the defendants traveled to Chicago with the intent to destroy the government. According to late journalist, J Anthony Lukas's trial account, 'The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities', Schultz was the government's pit bull as opposed to the composed professional that Tom Foran was. Lukas described how Schultz's "thick lips would twist into a snarl and he would leap toward the lectern denouncing the defendants or their attorneys for some unspeakable new crime".
Prior to signing on as Assistant US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois (a job he left shortly after the Chicago Seven Trial) in 1964, Schultz had attended DePaul Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review. He later turned to private practice and worked in the firm of Foran & Schultz, which was founded by Tom Foran. In 2000, following Foran's death, he joined Schwartz Cooper Greenberger & Krauss. His clients included Bally's, Coca Cola, and the Chicago Transit Authority.
'The Trial of the Chicago 7' is now streaming on Netflix.