Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 7, 2008


Page 15



Helm Heads Statewide Bar Group, Rails Against Creating Recalls




Lynn Helm, on Dec. 7, 1910, was elected the second president of the California Bar Assn., a statewide voluntary group that functioned up until the establishment in 1927 of the “integrated” or “unified” State Bar of California—that is, the organization to which every lawyer has to belong. Helm played a role in establishing the California Bar Assn. (a good thing) but used his platform as president to oppose the creation in California of the recall (that opposition being, in retrospect, ill-founded).

It was during Helm’s presidency of the Los Angeles Bar Assn. in 1909 that the California Bar Assn. came into being. Had there not been a strong presence from Los Angeles at the organizational meeting, it follows that the club would not have emerged as a statewide one, but would have stood as a third failed attempt of San Franciscans to form one.

Helm personally led a 12-member delegation from Los Angeles, and was a keynote speaker.

In his address in San Francisco on Nov. 9, 1909, Helm proposed reforms not considered in recent times, including (according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily Journal):

Virtually no pleadings in civil actions in justice courts (minor actions of the sort heard today in small claims courts)…just a complaint setting forth “the nature and the particulars of the demand” and no answer except to set forth “a special defense, such as infancy.”

The option of appealing a Superior Court judgment without filing a brief. Helm suggested: “It should be possible when the case is called in the Appellate Court for counsel to for the appellant to simply explain the case to the judges and state of what he complains in the way in which the trial was conducted below, or what he alleges the error is in the ruling of the judge or the verdict of the jury.”

No prospect of remand upon reversal of a judgment—just entry of judgment as the appellate justices saw fit.

Relegation of all demurrers and other pre-trial motions to subordinate judicial officers “leaving the entire time of the judge for the trial of causes.”

Speaking in Omaha, the bar chief on Dec. 29, 1910, told the Nebraska Bar Assn. (as carried in the Los Angeles Times):

“Of the recall,…much may be said; if it had been inserted in our fundamental law, even the great Washington, in the time of the French Revolution, would have been removed from office under the stress of public clamor, and the immortal Lincoln would have been swept from office upon the prayer of twenty millions of people as represented by Horace Greeley. It is now proposed to extend the recall even to the judges upon the bench—then in whom will vest the judgment of the courts? Who will be the final arbiter of the affairs of men?”

Helm went on to say:

“We might as well think of changing the complexion of the Supreme Court to make their decisions conform to public clamor. Why not at once abolish all distinction between the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the government, and do away forever with that greatest bulwark of a free people—an independent judiciary?

“An independent judiciary has been guaranteed by the will of the sovereign people as expressed in their several constitutions. If this guaranty should not be kept effective, I cannot conceive of any other result than anarchy.”

At a state constitutional amendment election on Oct. 10, 1911, voters decided to enfranchise women, created the initiative and referendum, and to vest in voters the power to recall public officials, including judges. Although this latter power has existed ever since, I’m pleased to announce that we are not living, as Helm supposed we would be, in a state of anarchy.

At the next California Bar Assn. convention, Helm continued his assault on the recall, as it applied to judges. As reported Nov. 11 by the Oakland Tribune:

“The recall of the judiciary by popular vote is characterized as a ‘social poison’ and a menace to the ‘stability, of the State’ in the annual address made today by President Lynn Helm of Los Angeles at the opening of the second annual convention of the California Bar Association.

“So menacing will the new privilege become, declares the Bar Association’s president, that the people, will repent the acceptance of it.”

Gov. Hiram Johnson, who spearheaded the reform movement, addressed the convention the next day, lashing back at Helm.

The Associated Press’ dispatch says:

“The Governor was warmly applauded, and at the close of his address R. S. Gray of San Francisco read a resolution, which was adopted, pledging the support of the Bar Association to the Governor.”

Last week, I wrote of the long-ago observances of John Marshall Day on Feb. 4 and the Los Angeles Bar Assn. conducting elections of officers on that day in Department 6 of the Los Angeles Superior Court. I’m told that Commissioner Steff Padilla, who now presides in that department, on Monday made announcement in court that it was John Marshall Day.

Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company

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