Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, June 11, 2009


Page 11



Groff’s Graduates: Members of Septet Take Divergent Paths




Last Saturday marked 108 years since USC conferred its first law degrees. Lewis A. Groff, dean of the semi-autonomous Los Angeles Law School, which had hooked up with USC, proudly presented to those assembled at the university’s graduation ceremonies the seven recipients of a bachelor of laws degree.

They were Homer G. Ames, Garvin W. Craig, Benjamin S. Hunter, Albert M. Norton,  Francis M. Parker, Johnson W. Summerfield, and Fred H. Thompson.

As I mentioned last week, Craig went on to become a member of the District Court of Appeals, resigning from that office while in jail after being convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Thompson spent time in the federal penitentiary for receiving stolen goods. They were the black sheep among the initial graduates.

There was one who was, arguably, a light gray “sheep,” or “ram.” Hunter entered the race for city attorney in Santa Monica in March, 1903, although it appears he did not meet the city’s residency requirement. Up until a month before, he was registered to vote in the City of Los Angeles, his home being at 726 Bonnie Brae (just west of downtown). The clerk refused to list Hunter on the ballot; the lawyer obtained a writ of mandate  commanding the clerk to do so; he did; Hunter lost.

Hunter was, by the way, a law partner of his classmate “Johnny” Summerfield.

Summerfield was among three members of the first graduating class who went on to become a Superior Court judge. He was elected in Los Angeles County on Nov. 2, 1920. As a justice of the peace for eight years, he had married people; as a Superior Court judge, he was in charge of divorces.

His name and that of two colleagues on the bench appeared in a 1926 newspaper ad in a list of endorsers of Coso Volcanic Iron Water, being sold at the Owl Drug Store at Sixth Street and Broadway.

Craig, too, served on the Los Angeles Superior Court, before ascending to the appellate bench. Ames sat on the upper trial bench in Orange County.

Ames, on Nov. 22, 1901, met with nine other lawyers in the courtroom in Santa Ana and formed the Orange County Bar Assn. He served as a deputy district attorney in Orange County from 1903-06, became a referee in bankruptcy in 1908, and city attorney of Anaheim in 1911.

An announcement by Gov. Friend Richardson of the appointment of Ames to the bench, on May 14, 1926, notes that in a plebiscite of attorneys in the county, Ames had attained 60 percent of the vote while the balance was divided among four other prospective appointees.

A Feb. 19, 1931 Associated Press dispatch from Santa Ana tells of Ames finding the Orange County Grand Jury in contempt for making a public statement as to evidence it had received.

Norton gained a law license, but up until later years, shied away from practice and directed his attention primarily to business and politics.

The Democratic County Central Committee hired him as its secretary (executive director in current lingo) in 1902. Norton gained public attention in connection with a flap over his having hired four brass bands to parade the Satur­day before the 1908 general election in celebration of William Jennings Bryan’s forthcoming presidential triumph. Bryan, as you know, lost. Norton advised the party go ahead and pay the bill for the bands, but the unexpected response was no; he had ordered the bands, without authorization, so he could pay them. The bands sued for payment and obtained judgment against Norton on Aug. 21, 1909.

Norton became chairman of the Democratic County Central Committee and vice chairman of the party’s state committee.

The lawyer was from a pioneering family. His grandfather Myron Norton had been elected on Sept. 7, 1853 as the second judge of the Los Angeles County Court, predecessor of the Los Angeles Superior Court. His grandmother, Bertha Greenbaum, is said to have been the first Jewish woman to reside in the City of Los Angeles.

Parker became secretary and treasurer of the law school after George L. Sanders became dean in September, 1901. The institution was reincorporated as the Los Angeles College of Law, with Parker being one of the incorporators.

Groff, who became dean in September, 1900, did not continue on in that capacity because of the demands of his full-time job as postmaster of Los Angeles.

Nowadays it’s a bit difficult to imagine a dean of a law school relinquishing such a position in favor of devoting time to Postal Service duties. But back then, all of the professors at the USC law school donated their time, and the postmaster’s job was a paying one.

Next week, I’ll discuss Postmaster Groff. But before leaving the discussion of the law school that became the USC Gould School of Law, I must confess that certain statements made about that school in connection with the dean of the progenitor institution, James B. Scott, were wrong. I’ll spotlight the errors in an upcoming series of “Perspectives” columns on early legal education in California.


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