Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Page 7



Fredericks, Woolwine, Darrow, Rogers, Ford...What Became of Them?




Thirty-Fourth in a Series


JOHN D. FREDERICKS’s failure to gain a conviction of famed lawyer Clarence Darrow for bribery was a pivotal point in his political career. Nationwide attention was focused on the trial. Had Fredericks succeeded, his chances of attaining higher office, perhaps much higher office, would clearly have been enhanced.

Darrow had been charged with commissioning a bribe offer to a prospective juror, George N. Lockwood, in the trial of James B. McNamara, the chief culprit in the Oct. 1, 1910 dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times Building, killing 21. That trial was aborted by the guilty plea of the defendant, as well as his brother, Joseph J. McNamara, who was slated to be separately tried.

The 1912 trial of Darrow, beginning in May, lasted three months. His adroit, emotion-packed plea to the jury—which Fredericks was unable to counteract with his own closing argument—was instrumental in bringing about the acquittal…if not the chief reason for it.

The prospect of a second prosecution loomed. Darrow had also been charged with the bribery of an empanelled juror in the McNamara case, Robert Bain. But was there a point to proceeding?

Darrow had just been tried for allegedly assigning a private detective, Bert Franklin, to bribe Lockwood, and Franklin was the key prosecution witness. Franklin  would likewise be a key witness at a second trial of Darrow, if it were to take place; it was he who admittedly gave Bain bribe money.

Bain had also testified at the first trial.

If Darrow could counter the testimony of Lockwood and Bain once, was it not reasonably probable he could do so again? The district attorney gambled that he could, and the case went to trial in November. Would Fredericks prevail in a re-match? No.

Again, there was a failure to convict. Fredericks did better, however, than at the first trial, garnering eight votes for conviction.

Alfred Cohn and Joe Chisholm, in their 1934 book, “Take The Witness!”, attribute the votes for conviction to the withdrawal, early in the trial, of Earl Rogers as chief defense lawyer (whether for reasons of ill-health—the official version—or based a dispute with Darrow over finances, as rumored). The authors say:

“Without Rogers to restrain him, Darrow did what he had wanted to do in the first trial. He attempted to condone the wholesale destruction of the Times employees as a social crime rather than a horrible murder. This plea in his argument to the jury caused several members, according to their story, to hold out for conviction.”

A retrial was scheduled, but averted. Fredericks and Darrow made a deal: the charges would be dropped if the lawyer agreed to leave Los Angeles and never come back. Darrow retreated to his home in Chicago and, true to his word, never returned here.

Was Darrow guilty?

Historian W.W. Robinson says in “Bombs and Bribery,” published in 1969:

“…I can say today that I have been unable to find a lawyer or anyone else directly connected with, or an observer of, the McNamara and Darrow trials who believed in Darrow’s innocence. Darrow’s sympathetic biographer, Irving Stone, wrote that even Earl Rogers thought his client guilty. Rogers’ young assistant and protégé, Jerry Giesler, who would win fame later as a criminal lawyer, privately admitted to belief in Darrow’s guilt. This last statement comes from [former Police Court] Judge James H. Pope, a former Times reporter who covered the trials. To Pope, Darrow was an unscrupulous mercenary. [Former Los Angeles Superior Court] Judge Fletcher Bowron [who had been a four-term mayor of Los Angeles], another former reporter who covered the trials for the Los Angeles Record and later for the Examiner) told me on September 28, 1963 that he believed Darrow was unquestionably guilty of bribery. He agreed with Judge Pope’s appraisal. Hugh Baillie, who represented the United Press at the McNamara trial..., stated flatly in his autobiographic High Tension published in 1959 by Harper and Brothers, his belief in Darrow’s guilt—based on the evidence, on Darrow’s attitudes and appearance during the trials, and on the basis of private conversations with him. Oscar Lawler, who played a vital part in the McNamara case and who was a lawyer of distinction and of brilliant memory, was of similar mind. With him I had many talks. To Gene Blake of the Los Angeles Times, in an interview published January 19, 1959, he described Darrow as a ‘shrewd but a thoroughly unscrupulous scamp. He has been stuffed with straw and canonized by these do-gooders. LeCompte Davis was the real lawyer in the case.’

“Even Paul Jordan Smith, author, critic, and lecturer, now an Angeleno but a former Chicago friend of Darrow, recalled the occasion of his personal disillusionment, in an interview with me on May 31, 1969. As a young idealist, he was one of those Chicagoans who joined in a welcoming reception for Darrow when he returned from his bribery trials. Paul Jordan Smith had always admired Darrow for his friendliness and his ability to remember friends and their problems. When he murmured earnestly to Darrow ‘we all knew you could not be guilty of bribery,’ Darrow replied: ‘When you’re up against a bunch of crooks you will have to play their game. Why shouldn’t I?’ ”

One person who observed the first trial and apparently perceived Darrow to have been innocent was the judge, George Hutton. He commented from the bench following the verdict:

“Now that the case is ended I consider it entirely proper for me to congratulate Mr. Darrow upon his acquittal. I know that millions of hallelujahs will go up through the length and breadth of this land.”

The judge was among those who embraced Darrow in the courtroom after adjournment of the proceedings.

What became of the cast of characters in Fredericks’s 1910 contest for reelection, the McNamara trial, and the trial of Darrow?

Fredericks was the Republican nominee for governor in 1914. The incumbent,  Hiram Johnson of the Progressive Party, was seeking a second term. An Oakland Tribune editorial of Nov. 25 predicts: “John D. Fredericks will be elected governor of California by 200,000 or more majority over Hiram Johnson.” Such was not to be; Johnson garnered 460,495 votes and Fredericks bagged 271,990. He served as president of the local Chamber of Commerce in 1922. Fredericks was then chosen in a May 1, 1923 special election to fill out the unexpired term of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives who died in office, and was elected the following year to a full term which ran from March 4, 1925-March 3, 1927. He did not stand for reelection. Fredericks died Aug. 26, 1945 of a heart attack while in Good Samaritan Hospital.

Thomas Lee Woolwine, who lost to Fredericks in 1910 in his bid for the post of district attorney, won the 1914 contest for the office. That contest, unlike the one in 1910, was one without fireworks. It was novel in three aspects: it was the first time women were voting; the office was now a non-partisan one; and the term of office, lengthened as of 1894 from two years to four years, was now two years, again...but for that election, only. Under the county charter of 1912, whoever was elected DA in 1914 would serve for two years, but starting in 1916, the terms would be four years, again. In other words, contests for district attorneys would be held in years of presidential elections, rather than gubernatorial elections. The object was to permit a district attorney to run for attorney general or governor and retain the county post, in case of a loss. Woolwine was reelected in 1916 and 1920, was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor in 1922, and resigned as district attorney for health reasons in 1923. He died of liver disease July 8, 1925. Future columns will discuss his administration.

A.C. Harper, the corrupt mayor whom Fredericks failed to prosecute, had resigned from office in 1909 under threats from Los Angeles Evening Express owner Edwin T. Earl that if he didn’t, revelations about him would appear in print. “Harper remained on in Los Angeles, as careless as ever, filing for bankruptcy in May 1912,” Kevin Starr writes in his 1985 book, “Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era.” Earl died on Christmas Day in 1948 while visiting his daughter in Palmdale.

Edward Kern, a corrupt police chief whom Fredericks failed to prosecute, had become a member of the Board of Public Works, resigning from that post at the same time Harper made his exit. “Shortly after,” Starr says, “Chief Kern entered the State Hospital for Inebriates. A year later he committed suicide in a hotel room in Texas.”

Earl, who had made a fortune in fruit packing and shipping (and is said to have invented the refrigerated railroad car), continued as publisher of the Express, which he had purchased in 1900. On July 4, 1911, he began also publishing the morning Tribune, which folded on July 4, 1918. Earl died Jan. 2, 1919.

William D. Stephens—who was appointed mayor by the City Council to replace Harper—served only nine days, being replaced by George Alexander who prevailed in what was intended as a recall election. That was not his only moment in the sun. He became a member of Congress, lieutenant governor, and governor. Stephens succumbed April 24, 1944, while in a Santa Fe hospital.

James B. McNamara died of cancer in San Quentin Prison on March 8, 1941, after more than 30 years of incarceration.

John J. McNamara, who had been paroled May 10, 1921, suffered a fatal heart attack on May 7, 1941, in Butte, Montana.

Darrow was emotionally battered and financially broke when he returned to Chicago…and with his reputation tattered, clients did not flock to him. But he did rebound, regaining status and advancing, attaining the unquestioned status as the nation’s leading trial lawyer. In 1924, he was hired to defend Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard A. Loeb, two University of Chicago students from wealthy families who murdered a 14-year-old boy to prove that, by virtue of their superior intelligence, they could get by with it. Darrow had them plead guilty and, in a 12-hour speech, put forth reasons why the judge should spare Leopold and Loeb from the death penalty. He succeeded. The following year, Darrow defended John Scopes, charged with violating a Tennessee statute against teaching the theory of evolution in a public school. He lost the case—actually, telling jurors that he couldn’t present a defense based on the court’s rulings and they had to vote to convict—but garnered massive publicity. Darrow died in Chicago on March 13, 1938.

W. Joseph Ford, the assistant district attorney who joined with Fredericks in prosecuting Darrow, ran for district attorney in 1914 and, upon his loss to Woolwine, shifted roles and became a criminal defense attorney.  It was perhaps fitting that Ford, who delivered a summation to the Darrow jury in a pedagogical fashion, wound up in academia. In 1920, he became the first dean of Loyola University School of Law. He died Jan. 6, 1932, of heart disease. Among the pallbearers at his funeral was Joseph Scott, one of the attorneys for the McNamaras. (Ford’s son, John Joseph Ford, was to serve as a Court of Appeal presiding justice in Los Angeles.)

Rogers handled the defense in 77 murder trials, losing only three times. The legendary lawyer ascended high, but plunged to depths. In the book “Take the Witness!”, his incapacitation by alcoholism is detailed. “Barely fifty years had he lived, yet he was a broken old man by the spring of 1919,” the book says. At one point, his family sought to have him involuntarily committed to a state hospital and, as authors Cohn and Chisholm tell it: “Notified that a warrant had been issued for him to appear before the psychopathic court, Earl was so enraged that he armed himself, and when a deputy sheriff sought to arrest him, he plunged the revolver into the officer’s abdomen and pulled the trigger. The deputy saved his life and Rogers from a felon’s cell by thrusting his thumb under the hammer as it fell.” Through courtroom theatrics, Rogers defeated that bid to get him committed, but a subsequent petition shortly afterward succeeded. He later voluntarily underwent treatment in a sanitarium. Rogers appeared cured, until he was “picked up in a Chinatown gutter, paralyzed drunk.” The book reveals: “In a moment of relative sobriety Earl had confided to his daughter [author Adela Rogers St. Johns] that his task now was to drink himself to death as rapidly as possible.” At about noon on Feb. 23, 1922, a law clerk found Rogers’s dead body in the room he was renting in a lodging-house.

Horace Appel was also on Darrow’s defense team. Cohn and Chisholm relate that he and Rogers renewed their acquaintanceship while both were confined to a state hospital in Norwalk. Their book says: “Appel, son of a Jewish father and Mexican mother, had been a prominent member of the California bar for years. He had been sent to Norwalk as incurably insane. His aberration was in the nature of delusions of grandeur; he believed himself to be one of the world’s wealthiest men. [¶] ‘Every morning,’ related Earl, ‘Horace used to bring me a check for a million dollars. The real reason that I left there was because I found out that his bank account was slightly overdrawn.’”

Hutton, elected to his post in 1906, sought a second six-year term. There were 27 contenders for the Superior Court in the Sept. 3, 1912 primary election; under the system then in place, the 10 top vote-getters would vie in the general election for five seats. Hutton drew 21,205 votes, coming in fourth, and securing a place on the November ballot. However, he faced blistering attacks based on his comment at the conclusion of the Darrow trial, with speculation being voiced that his motive was to pander to the labor and socialists’ vote. The Times’s edition of Sept. 24 reports that he had withdrawn from the race the preceding afternoon, with the news article commenting: “It is well.” The Santa Monica City Council on Sept. 2, 1913, appointed Hutton as city attorney. Hutton died at his home in Santa Monica on April 16, 1934.


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