Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, April 9, 2009


Page 11



Groff Teams With Lefroy in Brief Partnership




By 1893, Lewis A. Groff, a former Nebraska judge and ex-U.S. land commissioner, formed a law partnership in Los Angeles with Francis P. Lefroy. Born in Cornwall, England, in 1857, Lefroy was admitted to law practice in Great Britain in 1881, and lived for a time in Australia.

The partners’ first office was in the Bryson-Bonebrake Block at the northwest corner of Second and Spring streets. A classified ad in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 9, 1893, says: “Special attention to cases under U.S. land laws.”

They remained for only a year in the Bryson-Bonebrake Block, erected in 1888 on the site of the city’s first schoolhouse. (In 1948, the Bryson Building, as it came to be known, was demolished to make room for the Mirror Building, now part of the Times Building.)

A Feb. 1, 1894 item in the Times says: “Groff & Lefroy, attorneys, removed to Bradbury Building.”

That structure, at the southeast corner of Third Street and Broadway, was completed in late December, 1893. Groff & Lefroy’s office in Room 445 of the Bradbury Building, opened in 1893, is now part of the space leased by Urban Partners LLC, a real estate planning and investment concern.

The announcement of the opening of the new office appeared in the Times through Feb. 15 in the “City Briefs” column, a string of paid-for items resembling news blurbs. On Feb. 16, this item appeared in its stead:

“If George Gibson, aged 64 years, Englishman who came to this coast in 1871 (or his representatives,) will communicate with us, he will hear of something to his advantage. Groff & Lefroy, lawyers, Bradbury building, Los Angeles.”

Such an ad had appeared in classified sections of various Pacific Coast newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, for a period of about a year. An enterprising reporter at the Times decided that the content of the ad would make a news story, and met with Groff and Lefroy. An Aug. 11 article relates that the lawyers were reluctant to give out full information because they “do not wish to give opportunity for fraudulent claims by making public too much of the information at their command.”

It was disclosed, however, that nearly $23,000—now worth an amount approaching $600,000—would go to Gibson if he were to come forth. It was not even known if he were alive. He had left England in 1847, come to the west coast in 1871, wandering among the Pacific states, and writing home seldom.

“The lawyers say that they have had applications from Gibsons innumerable, and from not a few other persons who claim that their mother’s second cousins once removed married Gibsons, and request immediate information as to the nature of the good fortune awaiting them,” the article says.

It mentions that if Gibson did not present himself in the next four months, the bequest would be forfeited. And apparently it was; there was no follow-up story.

Groff & Lefroy lost a case for a client in the state Supreme Court on Oct. 29, 1895. The harshness of the result is noteworthy.

A suit had been filed in the Justice Court of Los Angeles Township against the defendants, who demurred. The day the demurrer was filed, the justice set the matter for hearing on the following day, and somehow got notice to the defendants. They did not show up for court, and the justice overruled the demurrer and, given that they did not immediately answer, entered a judgment against them.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Walter Van Dyke granted a writ of review, but the Supreme Court reversed, saying:

“There is no provision of the Code which requires the justice to allow the defendant any time within which to answer the complaint in case his demurrer shall be overruled, or to give to him any notice that his demurrer has been overruled; but, by the terms of the sections above referred to, the justice is authorized to proceed forthwith with the cause, and, if no issue of fact has been presented for trial, to render judgment in favor of the plaintiff.”

The lawyers moved their office, once again. A July 3, 1896 notice in the Times reports that they had “removed to No. 432 and 434 Wilcox Building.” They were among the original tenants here.

Whether exhausted from unpacking or relegating that task to others, Groff went off on vacation. The Los Angeles Express’s issue of July 1 reports: “Judge and Mrs. Groff go to Catalina today for a stay of some weeks.”

Lefroy died Nov. 16, 1896, and Groff became guardian of the estate of the two minor children.

The area in the building in which the firm had its offices no longer exists. The second through fifth floors were removed in the aftermath of the 1971 Sylmar earthquake.

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