Thursday, March 27, 2008
MacDonald Tries to Flimflam, High Court Calls Him on It
By ROGER M. GRACE
One of J. Wiseman MacDonald’s clients, aside from the Catholic Church, was, ironically, a man who professed to be an atheist. Tom Sitton’s 1992 biography of the client—titled “John Randolph Haynes, California Progressive”—makes note of Haynes’ writings in the 1920s:
“ ‘The thought of there being a human, merciful and loving God became preposterous,’ he wrote at this time, ‘and to imagine that there is any entity outside the brain is illogical.’ Echoing Karl Marx, he states in an autobiographical note: ‘Religion is the opium of the people. It prevents them from seeing the wretchedness of the world and taking steps to prevent it.’ ”
A double irony is that the atheist Haynes, a wealthy medical doctor, established a foundation which, during his lifetime, made generous contributions to churches. Haynes displayed caution, however, in setting up this mechanism for parceling out moneys. As Sitton tells it:
“Before Haynes transferred his property to the foundation, he wanted to make sure that the trust was a legal, tax-exempt entity. To do this, he prodded John Collier [a close friend] to initiate a friendly suit against Francis H. Lindley [his nephew] and the other trustees to test the validity of the trust instrument.”
The device MacDonald used to vest Collier with supposed standing was the insertion of this paragraph in the trust instrument:
“In the event that this instrument does not create a valid, charitable trust, or, if it be finally adjudicated that any purpose set forth herein be invalid, the sum of $500 out of the corpus of the estate shall belong to, and be forthwith paid to, John Collier.”
Collier had no obligations under the trust.
Collier’s action was filed in Alameda Superior Court. The collusive nature of it was not at once apparent to the public. The Los Angeles Times’ Jan 20, 1927 edition contained this report:
“Establishment of a $60,000 trust fund by Dr. John R. Haynes, member of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, for the purpose of promoting public welfare became known yesterday.
“Dr. Haynes, who is also regent of the University of California, explained that the trust fund is to be known as the John Randolph and Dora Haynes foundation and that it will serve for the advancement of citizens along educational and sociological lines.
“Establishment of the foundation was disclosed through a suit filed in San Francisco yesterday in which John Collier of Mill Valley, head of the American Indian Defense Association, seeks to break the trust provisions. Dr. Haynes, when informed of the move, stated that it had not been his intention to give any publicity to the foundation at this time, but since the ‘facts have become known I guess it won’t affect my future plans….’ ”
MacDonald was joined in representing Collier by a local lawyer, Louis Bartlett. Alameda Superior Court Judge T. W. Harris ruled that the trust was valid.
But Haynes wanted to make sure. So, Collier appealed to the California Supreme Court, with MacDonald and Bartlett again representing him.
The high court easily saw through the procedural ploy. Justice John E. Richards’ March 26, 1928 opinion, for a unanimous court, says:
“The provision for the payment to him of the sum of $500 conditioned upon said trust or some portion thereof being invalid is nothing more not less than a thinly veiled attempt to engage the attention and compel the labors of the several courts of record of this state in order to effectuate a judicial determination of the validity or invalidity or said trust at once and in advance of any real contest or controversy between the parties in interest therein over its properties or provisions, and as such we hold it to be in plain violation of…general principle that courts should only be employed in the adjudication of actual as distinguished from moot questions and controversies when these are brought before them in the regular and orderly course of litigation by those parties only who are directly interested in their adjudication. We therefore unreservedly disapprove the insertion in documents or agreements of clauses of the character and intent of that above quoted, which have for their manifest purpose that of inviting and encouraging litigation in regard to matters with relation to which no real cause of action has arisen….”
One would reasonably suspect from that denunciation of counsel’s attempt to conjure up a phony controversy that a dismissal would have ensued. Surprise. The opinion declares that “there are certain questions of public interest which are involved,” and a decision is provided on the merits.
A discussion of the resolution of that case and a recounting of other litigation MacDonald handled for Haynes—a leading social reformer in Los Angeles in the early part of the 20th Century—will appear here next week.
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