Thursday, June 12, 2008
Dockweiler Is Special Prosecutor Along With Former Governor
By ROGER M. GRACE
Isidore B. Dockweiler did not often handle criminal cases. But in 1904, he was a special prosecutor in the sensational trial of Griffith J. Griffith—the entrepeneur who had given the City of Los Angeles the 3,015 acres of land comprising Griffith Park. Griffith was accused of assault with intent the commit murder.
Dockweiler was hired by the victim of that assault, Christina Griffith, the defendant’s wife. Having been the Democrats’ 1902 candidate for lieutenant governor, Dockweiler obviously enjoyed prominence—but prominence dwarfed by that of another lawyer whose services were engaged by the victim: Henry T. Gage, the immediate past governor of California, a Republican. Mary Griffith and her family also financed the services of W.I. Foley, who had been private secretary to Gage while he was governor—and would have been a Gage appointee to the California Supreme Court, except that he turned the job down. After the governor’s term ended in January, 1903…Gage having been denied renomination by his own party…Foley became his law partner.
Dockweiler, Gage and Foley shared the counsel table with the district attorney, John D. Fredericks. Gage did most of the questioning.
Both sides were represented by a “dream team.” Earl Rogers, a leading defense lawyer, headed the squad defending Griffith. He was assisted by John T. Jones and Luther G. Brown.
Historian W.W. Robinson, in his 1959 book “Lawyers of Los Angeles,” offers a description of lawyers in the case. He quotes merchant Harris Newmark’s “Sixty Years in Southern California: 1853-1913” as portraying Gage as “a handsome man of splendid physique-acquired perhaps when he started as a sheep-dealer” and “powerful and persuasive in oratory.”
Robinson relates a reference to Dockweiler’s “poetic haircut and classic countenance” in “Take the Witness,” a 1934 book by Alfred Cohn and Joe Chisholm.
That book, he notes, also alludes to Brown as being “garbed as if for a trip to the race track” and Jones as “impeccably furnished,” and observes that Fredericks’ features “were similar to those of Abraham Lincoln.”
The legal community of 1904, being miniscule compared with that of today, was closely knit. So was the political community. Those involved in the case had previous interplay.
Gage was well acquainted with two of the lawyers on the other side. In 1897, he and Jones were co-counsel at a preliminary hearing for a medical doctor accused of murder. His 19-year-old patient had died while he was performing an abortion on her, a criminal act. (The doctor, Calvin S. Hastings, was identified in a headline in the Times as “BUTCHER HASTINGS.”) The duo gained their client’s acquittal.
Brown was an ardent supporter of Gage’s renomination in 1902. He managed a Young Republican Men’s Club dinner in his honor—the price to attend that fundraiser being $1. These were the days when candidates were nominated at party conventions rather than at direct primaries. Brown ran (unsuccessfully) for election as a delegate to the state GOP convention, committed to Gage.
Rogers was a convention delegate in 1902, but the convention was that of the county Democratic Party. It was supposed that the temporary chairmanship of the upcoming state convention…which seemed to be valued more than the post of “permanent” chairman…would go to whomever the L.A. convention put up. Rogers was among those voting for Dockweiler over former District Attorney George Patton. (As it turned out, former Democratic Gov. James Budd pulled rank and insisted on the honor for himself, with Dockweiler nominating him. Dockweiler was elected permanent vice chairman.)
Gage and Fredericks, while in office, were both viewed as “yes, sir” men to the Southern Pacific Railroad, a major political force. Dockweiler was aligned with the less zealous segment of his party in opposing “SP” interests—with his victory over Patton, a hard-liner, being viewed as a win for the railroad company.
The judge was B.N. Smith, who had been elected to the bench in 1890, and was to serve until his death 18 years later. He sat in Department One, the “criminal court.”
On Sept. 26, 1901, Smith had upheld a City of Los Angeles ordinance outlawing speechmaking in a public park without first obtaining a permit from the Parks Commission. He ordered a Police Court judge who had sustained a demurrer to the complaint on First Amendment grounds to overrule the demurrer and try the defendant, H. Gaylord Wilshire...after whom Wilshire Boulevard is named. The “great principles of free speech have nothing to do with this case,” Smith declared, saying that the ordinance “is simply a regulation as to the use to which our parks shall be put.”
Rogers was one of five members of a Los Angeles Bar Assn. committee that drafted a resolution paying tribute to Smith following his death. A ceremony was held in a Superior Court courtroom.
This is the cast of characters. Next week, more about People v. Griffith.
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