Thursday, October 23, 2008
Scott Takes on Paternity Suit Against Charlie Chaplin
By ROGER M. GRACE
Attorney Joseph Scott in 1944, at the age of 77, stepped into a case that was on the verge of dismissal, and brought victory to his client. That client was Carol Ann Berry, an infant, and the defendant was one Charles Spencer Chaplin, better known as Charlie Chaplin. The action was one to establish paternity.
Chaplin was not, in fact, the father. Blood tests results, as interpreted by three doctors, proved that. But at the time, such tests did not conclusively establish nonpaternity.
The mother was a would-be actress, Joan Berry. It might be that she had no idea who the actual father was. But given his wealth, Chaplin was the man she wanted to be affixed with responsibility for making support payments. Causing him further grief, she claimed to have been taken across state lines by him for immoral purposes, and Chaplin was being prosecuted under the Mann Act.
Robert S. Wolfe, a supervising attorney and mediator for Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, tells of Scott entering the paternity case in his article published in March, 2003 edition of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.’s magazine:
“After actor Charlie Chaplin was named in a paternity suit, both sides struck a deal—if the blood tests were negative, the lawsuit would be dropped, but Chaplin would still pay the child’s expenses. The blood test was performed, and the doctors were unanimous: Chaplin was not the father. So the mother did what litigants who hear bad news often do—she changed lawyers. Her new attorney was famed trial lawyer Joseph Scott.”
Scott, in emerging as Berry’s new counsel, said in a press release:
“After careful consideration and reflection, and examination of the documents involved, I have slowly and deliberately, but positively, come to the conclusion that this unfortunate baby as yet has not had her day in court, which the Constitution of these United States guarantee to her.
“A careful perusal of the document, the so-called ‘stipulation,’ shows great mechanical skill on the part of the trained lawyers interested in Mr. Chaplin’s welfare.
“On the face of the document, if any two doctors should decide against the child, she is out on the street, whereas, if any three doctors decide in favor of the child, Mr. Chaplin is not in any way bound by what they may unanimously determine to be the fact if it is against him.
“They cannot delegate to these three doctors the solemn responsibility of the court.
“After all, the mother is not the real party in interest in this litigation—it is this innocent child.”
Chaplin’s attorney made a motion for dismissal, based on the stipulation. Hearing it was Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stanley Mosk. He took the motion under submission, and on March 8, rejected it.
“[T]here is no sound reason to deny, and every sound reason to accept blood tests as a scientific advance of importance,” the future high court jurist wrote.
But, he said, until the Legislature ordains to the contrary, “courts must decline to accept any specific paternity test as conclusive, to the exclusion of other evidence.”
The judge went on to say:
“To the adult parties to the action, this or any court owes only the obligation of impartiality and objectivity. But to the infant, unable to maintain its own rights under the law, the court owes the additional duty of protection.
“That duty clearly extends to a scrutiny of a stipulation between the adult defendant and the minor’s guardian ad litem....[I]n the case of a minor, the court, the court in the exercise of that duty, and the ordinary discretion of the court, may determine the stipulation not controlling upon the minor.”
Mosk said he was convinced “that the ends of justice will best be served by a full and fair trial of the issues.”
A federal jury on April 4 acquitted Chaplin on Mann Act charges. Scott was quoted in the Times the next morning as saying:
“Any verdict wouldn’t have made any difference one way or the other in the baby’s case. If anything, this trial helped our case because, in the trial, Chaplin admitted relations with her. I certainly am not worried about our case.”
The District Court of Appeals declined to grant a writ ordering dismissal of the action, and the California Supreme Court on May 16 denied a petition for a hearing.
The high court’s action came one day after federal prosecutors dropped charges that Chaplin had conspired with a Beverly Hills judge, the city’s chief of police, and others to deny Berry her civil rights through her arrest on a phony vagrancy charge and railroading her into leaving town.
Trial of the paternity action began Dec. 14, 1944. That trial, and its outcome, will be the subject of next week’s column.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company
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