Bronston v. United States
409 U.S. 352 (1973)

BURGER, C.J.: ... Petitioner is the sole owner of Samuel Bronston Productions, Inc., a company that between 1958 and 1964, produced motion pictures in various European locations. For these enterprises, Bronston Productions opened bank accounts in a number of foreign countries; in 1962, for example, it had 37 accounts in five countries. As president of Bronston Productions, petitioner supervised transactions involving the foreign bank accounts.

In June 1964, Bronston Productions petitioned for an arrangement with creditors under Chapter XI of the Bankruptcy Act, 11 U.S.C. 701 et seq. On June 10, 1966, a referee in bankruptcy held a 21(a) hearing to determine, for the benefit of creditors, the extent and location of the company's assets....

[A]t that bankruptcy hearing, ... the following colloquy with a lawyer for a creditor of Bronston Productions [took place]:

Q: Do you have any bank accounts in Swiss banks, Mr. Bronston?

A: No, sir.

Q: Have you ever?

A: The company had an account there for about six months, in Zurich.

Q: Have you any nominees who have bank accounts in Swiss banks?

A: No, sir.

Q: Have you ever?

A: No, sir.

It is undisputed that for a period of nearly five years, between October 1959 and June 1964, petitioner had a personal bank account at the International Credit Bank in Geneva, Switzerland, into which he made deposits and upon which he drew checks totaling more than $180,000. It is likewise undisputed that petitioner's answers were literally truthful. (a) Petitioner did not at the time of questioning have a Swiss bank account. (b) Bronston Productions, Inc., did have the account in Zurich described by petitioner. (c) Neither at the time of questioning nor before did petitioner have nominees who had Swiss accounts.

(1) If you represented Bronston in the bankruptcy proceeding and were aware of the personal Swiss bank account, what would your professional obligations be upon hearing Bronston's testimony? In advance of the hearing, how would you counsel Bronston to answer questions similar to the ones actually asked? If you counseled Bronston to answer as he did, knowing it would mislead Bronston's creditors, would you be risking violation of 18 U.S.C. 1503 (the federal obstruction of justice statute), below? If you did not counsel Bronston as to how he should answer questions to avoid disclosing what was not strictly asked for, would you risk violating your ethical and professional responsibilities as outlined in the ABA Considerations and Standards, below?

(2) What error did the creditor's lawyer make in his interrogation?

(3) Has Bronston violated 18 U.S.C. 1621, the federal perjury statute?

Whoever, having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true, is guilty of perjury, and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.


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