Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, January 15, 2009


Page 11



J.B. Scott: a Contrast to Fellow Tenant Joe Scott




It’s a sure bet that correspondence intended for “J.B.” Scott and that meant for Joseph Scott got mixed up after the two lawyers—not related—both moved into the newly opened Wilcox Building in 1896.

The saga of Joseph Scott—dubbed “Mr. Los Angeles”—was recounted here in recent weeks. J.B. (James Brown) Scott of Room 447, unlike Joseph Scott whose office was in Room 350, did not come to be a longtime leading figure in this city; in fact, he left here in 1899. He was a legal practitioner in Los Angeles for only five years, with time taken out to serve in the Spanish American War.

He did leave his mark on Los Angeles, however, having served as the first dean of what became the USC law school.

The two Scotts surely knew each other. Aside from them having offices in the same building, the bar in the City of Los Angeles was quite small then, being comprised of only about 400 lawyers. However, except for both being Republicans, the two don’t appear to have had shared interests or been members of the same organizations—at least,  they weren’t members at the same time.

For example, J.B. Scott was in 1896 a founding member of the Sunset Club—formed for the purpose of staging “a monthly gathering of gentlemen who have ideas above money-getting, and who wish to talk over things of common human interest in a friendly way.” J.B. Scott resigned when he left the state in 1899; Joe Scott joined it in 1908.

They were contrasting individuals. J.B. Scott became a sedate lecturer in law; Joseph Scott became known as a fiery orator.

The Scott to whom this column turns its attention—J.B.—was born in Ontario, Canada, on June 3, 1866. Both his parents haled from Scotland; they were wed in New York 1853.

Scott received an undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1880, and a master’s degree from that institution the following year. In connection with a fellowship at Harvard, he was schooled in international law abroad, receiving a doctorate in law from the University of Heidelberg in 1894.

The blue-eyed scholar was only 5-foot seven inches in height. At the risk of triteness: he became a giant in the field of international law.

An article appearing in the Los Angeles Times on April 30, 1898, bears this headline:



Attorneys Engage in Wordy War-

fare Before Justice Morrison

The article tells how Scott nearly came to blows with opposing counsel. A reader of it at the time would surely not have imagined that the bellicose Scott (32 at the time) would become an arbitrator of international disputes, a delegate to the 1907 Hague Peace Conference and the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, and longtime secretary of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The report says:

[H]ostilities were almost precipitated yesterday  morning [Police Court] Justice [D.C.] Morrison’s court. Attorney M. B. Conkling and J. B. Scott were opposing counsel in a civil suit, and the former took advantage of a technicality to have a summons to vacate a house for non-payment of rent set aside. This stirred the ire of Mr. Scott, and he inquired of Mr. Conkling what further steps he intended to take.

Mr. Conkling, with smiling cheerfulness, replied that he did not think it devolved upon him to divulge his plans to the other side, when Mr. Scott wrathfully remarked: “Then you intend to further assist your client to rob mine?”

“I am not the keeper of my client’s conscience, ands if he robs you I cannot help it. I am merely looking out for his interest,” meekly responded Mr. Conkling.

“Then you’re a shyster,” remarked Mr. Scott.

“And you’re a liar,” promptly responded Mr. Conkling, and the legal luminaries glowered at one another with blood in their eyes,

“You dare not step outside,” challenged Mr. Scott, edging closer to his opponent.

The judge finally demanded order and a bailiff positioned himself between the two lawyers.

Scott was at the time dean of the Los Angeles Law School, the only law school in the state other than San Francisco’s Hastings College of Law.

Morrison had been instrumental in promoting membership in an association of persons studying law in attorneys’ offices with the objective of passing the oral bar exam before the state Supreme Court. That association, as next week’s column will discuss, expanded into the law school.

Marvin W. Conkling, Scott’s adversary in the Police Court case, had been hired as a deputy by the new district attorney, Henry C. Dillon, in December, 1892. At that time, the DA had a chief deputy, an assistant DA, and three deputies. In 1920, Conkling was elected a Superior Court judge in Imperial County, and later served as  San Diego city attorney.

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