Thursday, February 28, 2008
President Wilson Considers Helm, Old School Chum, for Judgeship
By ROGER M. GRACE
Los Angeles attorney Lynn Helm appeared to be virtually assured of appointment to the bench after Congress in 1914 created a second seat on the U.S. District Court for Southern California.
Aside from his judicial experience as bankruptcy referee since 1901, Helm was a school chum of the appointing power, President Woodrow Wilson. Both were members of the 1879 graduating class at Princeton.
Helm, a Democrat, was an early political backer of Wilson. A May 13, 1911 United Press dispatch from Los Angeles tells of Wilson, then governor of New Jersey, being in Los Angeles in connection with his anticipated bid for the presidency. He was to be Helm’s guest for dinner that night.
A photo of Wilson walking with Helm appears in that morning’s issue of the Times on the front page of the section.
Datelined Sea Girt, New Jersey, an Aug. 13, 1912 wire service story tells of Helm dropping in to see Wilson—at that point the Democratic nominee for president—to fill him in on how the campaign was going in California.
An April 13, 1913 article in the Times says that there “was a well-defined impression about the Federal Building yesterday, far and above the line of gossip,” that if a bill by U.S. Sen. John D. Works, R-Calif., to add a second judgeship for the Southern portion of California became law, the likely appointee would be Helm.
The article continues:
“The campaign of Lynn Helm has been in progress for some time along quiet lines, and several candidates have been mentioned only to fall out of the race when it was discovered that Helm was a classmate of the President, and that he was being urged by many of the closest local friends of the President. Helm seems to have an ‘edge’ on the job that nobody now seems inclined to dispute. Indeed, so far has the matter gone that it is believed nothing will prevent his nomination for the high judicial post, in case the bill passes, and prospects are said to assure that result.”
Helm’s supposedly near-certain nomination quickly became a maybe. A June 8, 1913 “Political Watchtower” column in the Times mentions that Helm’s friendship with the president could help…or perhaps hurt—the inference being that the chief executive might want to avoid the appearance of cronyism. Others mentioned as possible nominees were Milton K. Young (who would become the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 1930), Mattison B. Jones (who was to unsuccessfully seek the Democratic and Prohibitionist nominations for governor in 1922), Fred W. Morrison, and Geaner Williams (who had been a member of the Executive Committee of William Randolph Hearst’s short-lived Independence Party).
None of them was appointed. As the Oakland Tribune recounts it in its Aug. 12, 1914 edition, Helm, Young and Jones were the contenders for the new post which Congress had recently created when, suddenly, “up rose Superior Judge [Benjamin] Bledsoe” of San Bernardino, who went after the post “with a rush.” The editorial notes:
“Bledsoe did not content himself with making a campaign from his home town, or any other portion of the southern end of California, but, on the contrary, went direct to Washington to see the President, and is on the official calendar with a personal chat with the Executive, who, it is related, has expressed a desire to see him and talk it over.
“This information has discouraged the other three and it is understood there will be a withdrawal on the part of each….”
Bledsoe landed the job. He resigned in 1925 to run as a Prohibitionist candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, lost, and returned to law practice.
U.S. District Judge Olin Wellborn—who had hired Helm as bankruptcy referee and pushed for his appointment to the district’s second judgeship—retired in 1915…but the vacancy was filled not by Helm, but by Oscar A. Trippet, the 1911 president of the Los Angeles Bar Assn. Helm resigned later that year as referee.
He became a member, then president, of the Los Angeles school board, and died in 1921 at the age of 64. Two of his Princeton classmates were pallbearers; Wellborn and Works were among the honorary pallbearers, along with prominent members of the judiciary and the bar.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company
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