Thursday, May 31, 2007
Jevne Takes Stance Against Business License Fees
By ROGER M. GRACE
Hans Jevne was a law-abiding citizen, a “pillar of the community.” Yet, his company was convicted of engaging in a price-fixing conspiracy, and the conviction was affirmed by the California Supreme Court in 1918.
Before I get to that case in a “Perspectives” column on District Attorney Thomas Lee Woolwine, I’ll tell you of some earlier scrapes Jevne had with the law.
Jevne was united with others in the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. in opposition to business license taxes. The group was founded in 1893 as the Merchants’ Assn., with Jevne as its treasurer, for the very purpose of opposing such taxes—which it did with some success, at first.
In the view of Jevne and his pro-capitalism compatriots, it was an inherent right of a citizen to engage in commerce, and such right should not be denigrated to status of a mere privilege by government exacting payment of a fee as a prerequisite to doing business.
•1901: T.W. Noble, an agent for H. Jevne Co., was arrested in Pasadena on Aug. 31 for soliciting orders without a city permit. Under an ordinance, businesses lacking a store in Pasadena had to pay a license fee—$25 for three months, $40 for six months, or $75 for a year—from which “home town” merchants were exempt.
In a written public statement, Jevne said:
“Even if the grocers of Pasadena chuckle over their success in passing this ordinance—how do the people of Pasadena at large like it? How would the many citizens of Pasadena doing business in Los Angeles like us to retaliate?
“The largest building contract going on in Los Angeles is in the hands of a Pasadena contractor. A Pasadena plumber has furnished some of the largest jobs in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles. The laundries and pure water peddlers of Pasadena are doing a large business in Los Angeles. The city is open to grocers as well, if they choose to come—lawyers and doctors likewise.”
Jevne went on to assert:
“License for any other purpose than police surveillance, sanitary and other regulations has time and again been declared unconstitutional by the courts. It cannot be used for revenue.”
The grocer added that “as a citizen of California,” he claimed “a right to sell goods anywhere in the State.”
Although he had advice from a lawyer to fight, and his own conviction was that the fee was unfair and discriminatory, Jevne on Sept. 3 paid a $5 fine and took out a $25 license.
•1903: On April 28, Jevne spoke before the Los Angeles Police Commission, assuming sort of a “Hi, guys, what’s new?” attitude.
“I called this morning,” he said, “just to find out where I stood. I have not paid the new wholesale liquor-license tax and I do not intend to until a judicial decision is rendered on the validity of the ordinance. But I can always be found if the city authorities want me.”
One of the police commissioners reacted to Jevne’s remarks by saying the unexpected:
“As for that matter, I haven’t paid that office-building tax, and I don’t intend to. The police can arrest me if they want to, but I won’t pay—.”
These were times when generally law-abiding citizens were openly defying new types of legislation which they regarded as representing the government stepping on their toes.
Twenty-one liquor wholesalers refused to pay the $60 per month tax for either April or May. One of them was arrested on April 7, and his petition for a writ of habeas corpus was already before the California Supreme Court when Jevne stopped by to chat with the commissioners. With the validity of the Feb. 28, 1903 ordinance already under high court scrutiny, the initial inclination of city officials was to await the resolution of the case before proceeding against other wholesalers.
But there were second thoughts about that. On May 20, a representative of the H. Jevne Co. and the president of another firm were placed under arrest, and immediately released on their own recognizance. It was announced that 19 other arrests would be made. The idea was to prompt payment of the fees.
The notion that the ordinance was unlawful had seeming substance. A state Political Code provision spelled out that cities could require business licenses only for purposes of regulation. On Nov. 30, the high court declared, in a 4-2 opinion (with one justice disqualified) that the statute did not apply to chartered cities which, under the state Constitution, had autonomy over “municipal affairs,” with imposition of licensing fees to raise money being in that category.
Jevne and other balking wholesalers paid up the past due fees.
There will be more next week about contacts Jevne and his son, Jack, had with the local legal system.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company