Metropolitan News-Enterprise

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

 

Page 7

 

PERSPECTIVES (Column)

County Bar Seeks Legislative Ouster of Appeals Court Justice

 

By ROGER M. GRACE

 

The Los Angeles County Bar Assn. is today a placid organization compared to what it was in its hell-raising days in the first part of the 20th Century—a time when it publicly sought actions against sitting judges, including the recall of Superior Court judges and a legislative ouster of a member of the Court of Appeal.

In 1932, as previously recounted here, it openly campaigned for the recall of three Los Angeles Superior Court judges, succeeding in its mission. The judges had been appointing receivers and getting kickbacks.

Here follows a description of the County Bar’s effort to have the Legislature oust a convicted appeals court judge and some other actions.

   Gavin W. Craig was a justice of the Court of Appeal in Los Angeles from 1931-36. In October of 1934, again in December of that year, and yet again in March of 1935, indictments were handed up by the federal grand jury against the state jurist.

Craig was convicted May 8, 1935, along with City Hall powermonger Joseph Weinblatt, on one count of conspiring to obstruct justice. Craig’s offense took the form of his plotting with confederates, starting in 1931, to obtain $50,000 from a man charged with mail fraud in exchange for the charges being dropped against him through bribery of federal officials.

There was testimony that Craig had managed the last campaign of U.S. Sen. Samuel M. Shortridge, was engaged in raising funds for the solon’s 1932 campaign, and was, under the scheme, to use his influence with the senator to cause the mail fraud charges to evaporate. (Shortridge—whose niece was attorney Clara Shortridge Foltz after whom the Criminal Courts Building is named—was not reelected.)

The County Bar found unacceptable that Craig, while appealing his conviction, remained a justice of the Court of Appeal, drawing a $10,000-a-year salary. It went after him with zeal.

On the heels of Craig’s conviction, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution saying, in part:

“Whatever may be the result of his appeal it is obvious to this Board that his usefulness as a justice of [the Court of Appeal] has been destroyed, and that his continuance as a member thereof subjects the judiciary as a whole to question, and impedes the court of which he is a member in the performance of its functions….”

The trustees urged that Craig “in the public interest, immediately resign.”

The jurist responded that to resign would be perceived as an admission of guilt.

On May 25, 1935, the United Press reported:

“In a quo warranto action filed in Superior court, Attorney General U.S. Webb today sought to compel Appellate Justice Gavin W. Craig, recently convicted of conspiracy, to resign from office.

“At the same time, a special committee of the state assembly heard Frank Belcher of the board of trustees of the Los Angeles Bar association accuse the justice of having been ‘notoriously engaged in political activities in a manner unfitting a person in his judicial position....

“In today’s accusation before the assembly committee, Belcher accused Craig of ‘borrowing money from attorneys practicing in his court, and of violating eight canons of the code of ethics adopted by the American Bar association.’

“The court action instituted by Webb asked that Craig be restrained pending his appeal from the conspiracy conviction, from ‘in any manner, in any way, or at any time acting or functioning as associate justice of the district court of appeal.’ ”

An article in the June, 1935 Los Angeles Bar Bulletin elaborated:

“It was also stated by Mr. Belcher that Judge Craig has been named defendant in, numerous civil actions during recent months because of alleged indebtedness resulting from business transactions, and has been examined as a judgment debtor. Belcher further stated that on a number of occasions Judge Craig has communicated with judges of the Superior Courts regarding pending litigation which might eventually be before him on appeal....”

The legislative hearing was conducted in response to a letter from County Bar President Joe Crider Jr. to the president of the state Senate and the speaker of the Assembly urging action by the two houses to oust Craig from office, according to the Bar Bulletin. At that time, Art. VI, §10 of the state Constitution authorized removal of judicial officers by a concurrent two-thirds resolution of both houses.

Belcher went on to become president of the County Bar in 1938 and president of the State Bar in 1942-43, and was recipient of LACBA’s Shattuck-Price Award in 1970. He died in 1979. Belcher was the father of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Nancy Watson, who died last year.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb 10, 1936 upheld Craig’s conviction.

He nonetheless remained a member of the Court of Appeal. Ruling on the quo warranto action on July 12, 1935, Lake Superior Court Benjamin C. Jones, assigned to sit on the Los Angeles Superior Court, had declared Craig’s office to be vacant based on a statute providing that conviction of a felony disqualified a person from remaining in public office. However, that decision was stayed while Craig appealed it.

The California Supreme Court reversed on Oct. 30, 1936 on the ground that Craig had not been removed from office under any of the three provisions in the state Constitution: recall, impeachment, or a joint resolution of the Legislature. By providing for those means of removing specified officials including justices of the District Courts of Appeals, the high court said, “the people intended to and have designated the only means by which such officers may be ousted for misdemeanor in office.”

On Nov. 14, 1936, United Press dispatched this report from Los Angeles:

“Trustees of the Los Angeles Bar Association, in a resolution today demanding that the Legislature remove Appellate Justice Gavin W. Craig, declared it is a ‘scandal to the bar of California’ that Craig will be entitled to draw $10,000 a year salary ‘even while he is in jail.’

“The resolution will be placed before the Legislature in January.

“Craig, facing one year in jail for conspiracy to obstruct justice..., was ousted from office by the Superior Court, but the State Supreme Court nullified the ruling.

“The bar resolution asserted that ‘public interest and proper administration of justice’ necessitate Craig’s removal.”

Two days later, Craig began serving his one-year sentence in Ventura County Jail.

On Dec. 3, 1936, he was quoted by UP as saying:

“While legally entitled to draw my salary, I have never had the slightest intention of receiving it for any period that I am in jail and unable to perform the duties of my office.”

He had, however, been receiving that salary for well over a year since clearing his possessions from the Court of Appeal on July 17, 1935. I suspect he would have continued to do so had it not been for the County Bar keeping the heat on.

The California Supreme Court proceeded to vacate on its own motion its controversial Oct. 30, 1936 decision maintaining Craig in office. On Sept. 29, 1937, it declared the issue moot based on Craig’s resignation from office. The decision came 13 days after Craig was released from jail, with two months’ credit for good behavior.

On Sept. 1, 1938, the California Supreme Court disbarred the former appellate jurist. The State Bar was represented by Belcher and three other attorneys including Philbrick McCoy, a future Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

Francis J. Heney was a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. In 1937, the County Bar thought it was time for him to retire. He was 78.

During the 1930s, the association publicly called for resignations by Craig, by the three judges who gave out appointments in exchange for merchandise and loans, and by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harry Sewell, who came to court one day drunk. By contrast, Heney was approached privately.

W.W. Robinson recounted in his book “Lawyers of Los Angeles”:

“The bad record of court attendance by Superior Court Judge Francis J. Heney caused a committee from the Association to wait upon him and ask for his resignation. (Judge Heney’s death later in the year brought forth a long and laudatory resolution upon the man who had had such a distinguished career.)”

His career included prosecuting Abe Ruef, a San Francisco political boss, for bribery in 1907-08. President Theodore Roosevelt released Heney from his commitments as an attorney in Washington so he could handle that case and otherwise participate in a crackdown on corruption in the City-County of San Francisco. Lawyers representing Ruef included Shortridge, the future U.S. senator.

Heney in 1908 was shot in the head at close range in the courtroom by a man who had been a prospective juror in the case and was infuriated over having been revealed during voir dire to be an ex-convict. Surgeons were able to save Haney’s life, but he was temporarily incapacitated. Replacing him as prosecutor was Hiram Johnson, a future governor of California (1911-17) and five-time U.S. senator, who secured a conviction.

Heney also had political ambitions. He had served as attorney general of Arizona from 1893-94. In 1914, he was the candidate for U.S. senator from California on the ticket of the Progressive Party, founded by Johnson.

Four years later, Heney, who had switched to the Democratic Party, sought that party’s nomination for governor. He came in second to San Francisco Mayor James Rolph Jr., a Republican. Under the cross-filing statute in effect, a candidate of one party could only gain the nomination of another party if that candidate had attained the nomination of his or her own party. Rolph hadn’t. Heney sought, by writ petition, to have the Supreme Court declare him Democratic Party’s nominee. The California Supreme Court held that because Rolph did not qualify, “the result necessarily is that as to the office of Governor there was no nomination made by the Democratic party at the primary election.”

Rolph was elected as governor in 1930, took office in 1931, and that year appointed Heney to the Los Angeles Superior Court. Spurning the County Bar’s request that he resign, Heney served until his death on Oct. 31, 1937.

George Dockweiler and Ida May Adams were judges who had a sideline: performing marriage ceremonies for a fee. They generally conducted business on company time, and in their courtrooms.

It was the County Bar that blew the whistle on them in 1958.

Dockweiler was a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court. He won election in 1936, with the County Bar’s backing, over an incumbent. And the association again endorsed him in 1966, over Industrial Accident Referee Robert W. Herrick, notwithstanding the concerns it had voiced over his running a marriage mill.

Adams was a judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court, a zany character who kept on running for the Superior Court, losing each time.

Los Angeles Municipal Court Presiding Judge Byron J. Walters on May 15, 1958 told a joint Judiciary Committee on the Administration of Justice that “the situation is debasing and degrading, as far as the judiciary is concerned.” He characterized courtroom wedding services as a “racket.”

Walters testified that he had to remove Adams from a busy criminal department and reassign her to a civil courtroom because her activity in performing marriage ceremonies was interfering with her work.

The presiding judge credited the County Bar with having raised the issue by formally complaining about the practice.

The committee’s chair, Sen. Edwin Regan (later a justice of the Third District Court of Appeal), estimated that the two judges each received in excess of $10,000 a year from performing marriage ceremonies. Dockweiler, he said, had performed 1,126 ceremonies in a seven-month period, at a fee of $5.85 each, while Adams in that period officiated 614 times, charging $10 on each occasion.

A courthouse elevator operator testified that Dockweiler would give him a gratuity for sending couples to him to be married. The judge branded that as “untrue.”

In light of the brouhaha, Dockweiler later announced he would no longer conduct marriage ceremonies, declaring:

“Couples will have to run around and find someone else to do it. I felt I was performing a public service, but it has been misinterpreted.

“I won’t even marry my own relatives.”

Adams’ reaction was a contrast to Dockweiler’s. She made a formal demand on the Board of Supervisors to reopen the courthouse on Saturdays so she could perform weddings in her courtroom, citing a Government Code section that mandated that judges be provided with necessary facilities.

The upshot was the enactment in 1959 of Penal Code §94.5 which makes it a misdemeanor for a judicial officer to charge a fee for performing a marriage ceremony except “on Saturday, Sunday, or a legal holiday.” Also enacted that year was Government Code §69507 providing: The presiding judge of each superior court may designate a judge of the court to be available on days other than a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday to perform a marriage without fee.” (A separate section applied to municipal courts.)

 

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