Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, January 8, 2009


Page 11



13 Lawyers Become Original Wilcox Building Tenants




Thirteen lawyers in mid-1896 moved into the newly opened Wilcox Building at the southeast corner of Second and Spring Streets.

Four of those lawyers were profiled here over the course of 2008. They were Joseph Scott and Isidore Dockweiler, who became luminaries of the bar; J. Wiseman MacDonald, attorney for the Catholic Church; and Lynn Helm, a president of the Los Angeles Bar Assn.

Among the other nine moving into that building, where the MetNews now has its offices, was David P. Hatch. His purported exploits in the years ahead (if believed) were the most impressive. He wrote three books. That doesn’t strike you as particularly impressive? Well, he supposedly wrote them after he died. I’ll get into that in a few weeks.

Hatch was among three of the 13 who were addressed as “Judge.” He had sat on the Superior Court bench in Santa Barbara County before coming to Los Angeles. The former jurist and future communicator from the grave (or so it was contended) was a member of the law firm of Hatch, Miller & Brown.

Practicing down the hall from that law firm, on the third floor, were sole practitioners Scott, Dockweiler and MacDonald—who were to remain steadfast friends through the decades. Harmony was not to mark the relationship among Hatch and his partners, John M. Miller and Herbert Cutler Brown. The firm was dissolved in November, 1897.

Miller and Brown continued practicing together, but that alliance, too, ended. On Feb. 3, 1903, Hatch and Brown sued their former cohort in the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that he had cheated them out of a portion of a fee, in the form of stock. Some of the shares which should have gone to them, they averred, were diverted to Miller’s wife.

Miller, too, was referred to as “Judge.” In those days, however, that title was commonly conferred loosely, by practice, on attorneys who weren’t judges, and had never been, but were simply well thought of.  Joseph Scott was sometimes denominated, in later years, “Judge Scott.” (He never became a judge though a son of his, A.A. Scott, did, serving on the Los Angeles Superior Court.)

An Oct 7, 1903 article in the Los Angeles Times reporting on the trial of the action by Hatch and Brown against Miller contains this passage, reporting an examination of the defendant by attorney John D. Works (later a United States senator from California):

…Works asked: “Judge Miller, were you ever on the bench?”

“No,” said “Judge” Miller shortly.

“Then that title is merely honorary?”

“I don’t know about the honor” said Miller gruffly.

“Usually so considered, isn’t it?”

“It depends upon the conduct of the man who occupies the position,” was the retort.

As Mr. Works was once justice of the [California] Supreme Court [from 1888-1891], this attempted cheapening of the title sent the color to his face, and he made some quiet reply.

The judgment was in favor of Hatch and Brown.

Another “judge,” this one up on the fourth floor, was Lewis A. Groff. He had actually served as a jurist. Groff was elected as a Police Court judge in Lincoln, Neb. in 1872. In April 1887, he was appointed by the governor as a judge of the District Court in Omaha, Neb., and was elected to that post the following November. He resigned in 1889 to become commissioner of the General Land Office of the United States.

The Los Angeles Times strongly backed Groff for election to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1906, but he lost.

Groff had closed his law practice in the Wilcox Building in 1900 and had been serving since then as postmaster for Los Angeles.

Groff was among four lawyers in the Wilcox Building who went on to become legal educators. 

James Brown Scott—who went by “J.B.” Scott back then—was the first dean of the institution that is now known as the USC Gould School of Law. Groff was the first dean of that school after it became affiliated with USC, and on June 6, 1901 handed diplomas to the first graduating class. And by the way, the Wilcox Building was the home of the University of Southern California College of Law in the early 1900s (the building later being the site of Southwest University School of Law).

Clarke Batler Whittier practiced in Los Angeles for only a year. He went on to teach at Stanford, became a member of the first faculty of the University of Chicago Law School in 1902, then returned to Stanford in 1915, remaining there until his retirement in 1937.

Joseph Scott was the second dean of Loyola Law School, assuming the post in 1928.

Other lawyers opening offices in the building at the outset were Joseph F. Geary, William C. Petchner, and Groff’s partner, Francis P. Lefroy.

Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company

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