Thursday, August 7, 2008
Attorney Joseph Scott Draws Ire of Los Angeles Times
By ROGER M. GRACE
Attorney Joseph Scott was in league with the devil. Or so it would have seemed from coverage of him in the Los Angeles Times in the aftermath of Scott’s participation in 1911 on the team, headed by Clarence Darrow, which defended the McNamara Brothers, two of the perpetrators of the Oct. 1, 1910 bombing of the Times Building.
On April 12, 1911, before Scott entered the case, his address delivered the previous evening before the Los Angeles Bar Assn. was hailed by the newspapers as “eloquent.” (Scott expressed opposition to vesting in the public the power to recall judges.) After Scott was retained on May 26, for a rumored $100,000, portrayals of him were uniformly negative.
This was in contrast to accolades appearing in the Herald, which had dubbed Scott “Mr. Los Angeles”—a nickname that stuck.
And the assaults were in contrast to favorable coverage of Scott in the Times, itself, in later decades. Its issue of March 26, 1958, two days after Scott died at the age of 90, contains an editorial declaring:
“In the death of Joseph Scott this community has lost an able citizen, a fine lawyer, and a man who devoted his life to his city, his church and his family.”
The Times’ late publisher Harrison Gray Otis, who carried on a vendetta against Scott in the early part of the century, would little have imagined his newspaper ever offering such a tribute.
Here are some of the swipes taken at Scott in Otis’ journal:
•June 28, 1911: A news story begins: “Joseph Scott, a member of the legal staff engaged to defend the McNamaras, under indictment for dynamiting the Times Building, nearly precipitated a brawl yesterday afternoon in the corridor leading to the grand jury chamber, when he applied to Dr. C. H. Lowell, a practicing physician, an insulting term and threatened to beat an operative of the Burns National Detective Agency, for riding on one of the courthouse elevators.”
•Dec. 10, 1911: A column derides Scott, president of the Los Angeles City Board of Education, for a speech before the Women’s City Club in which he “thundered forth such scholarly phrases as ‘Us folks know’ and ‘It was like as if I had...’ ”
•Jan. 23, 1912: The word “swindlers” is applied to the McNamaras’ defense lawyers in an editorial. James McNamara on Dec. 1 switched his plea to guilty in connection with the dynamiting of the Times Building and John McNamara admitted dynamiting another site. The editorial proclaims that the defense lawyers “do not deny, they do not dare to deny, that, after they knew of the guilt of the McNamaras, they sent out circular after circular to the union laborers of the country, begging for contributions to aid in the defense of persecuted dynamiters whom they solemnly declared were innocent of any crime.” It scores the lawyers for not revealing their plan to divert some of the funds to the bribing of jurors.
•Jan. 30, 1912: An editorial headed “DARROW AND OTHERS” points to the “indictment of Attorney Clarence Darrow, chief counsel (associated with Job Harriman, Joe Scott et al) of the confessed dynamiters, for alleged complicity in the attempt to bribe two possible jurors in the McNamara case.” The reference to Harriman and Scott was gratuitous; they weren’t implicated.
•Aug. 18, 1912: An editorial recites that $220,000 had been exacted from union members for the defense of John and James McNamara—money it implies should have been handed out to striking workers as benefits. Of the $220,000, the editorial says, $170,000 went to Darrow “without any details as to what Darrow did with the $170,000.” It queries: “How much of it did [defense lawyer] Job Harriman get? How much of it did Joseph Scott get? You union labor men who pay the piper ought to be told what tunes the piper plays.…”
The editorial goes on to say:
“When to the folly of the striker is added dishonest repudiation of his solemn agreement, and the brutality of hounding unfortunate men and women out of house and home, or destroying their lives by dynamite, because they stand up for their liberty to work for their livelihood, the striker is more than a fool—he is a criminal, no matter what Darrow, Harriman, Scott & Co. may say to the contrary. In this connection the disgrace to Los Angeles is that Joseph Scott, of this dynamite-murderer defense trio, is still a member of the Board of Education.”
July 20, 1914: An editorial appears headed “WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?” charges $238,000 raised from workers was “practically, all absorbed by Clarence Darrow, Joseph Scott and Job Harriman for their personal benefit.”
The Times would continue to place Scott in unfavorable light...and eventually, the lawyer had enough, and brought suit for libel.
I’ll get to that next week.
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