Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 9, 2009


Page 11



Republican Groff Appears on Democratic Ticket for Judge




In 1906, the notion was gaining support that local office-holders should not be selected on a partisan political basis. Lewis A. Groff was a Republican, and also a reformer. (As a member of a committee of freeholders, he helped draft an ill-starred proposed city charter that included the powers of initiative and referendum.)

So it was that Groff, a former Nebraska judge, ran in 1906 for a Los Angeles Superior Court judgeship on the Independent County Ticket. That ticket was finalized on Sept. 19 at a convention of the “Committee of One Hundred” which was held behind closed doors.

There were six Superior Court contests on the ballot that year. One was for a “short term.” (Charles Monroe was appointed in 1905 to a vacancy created by Judge Matthew T. Allen’s resignation to take a post on the new Court of Appeals; Monroe was obliged to face voters in 1906 and, if elected to that seat, would succeed to the two years that remained in Allen’s term.)

There were five contests for full six-year terms. Under a long-abandoned system that has an appeal to it, all candidates for the Superior Court ran against all other candidates. That year there were 13. Each voter could pick five candidates, and the top five vote-getters  each attained office.

The independents nominated five men—but two of them, Walter Bordwell and James Rives, were among the five nominated by the Republicans a month earlier. Bordwell was already serving as a Superior Court judge, by appointment, and Rives was a former Los Angeles County district attorney.

The Socialists also nominated five men. That adds up to the 13 who ran.

As to the flagging Democratic Party: it, too, made nominations. It merely adopted the nominees of the Independents, most of those nominees being Republicans.

The irony for Groff was that he was a Republican who was shunning his party connection in order to promote non-partisanship in local contests by running on the Independent Ticket; was being supported by the Democratic Party with which he felt no kinship; and was pitted against five nominees of his own party.

In light of his ties to the Los Angeles Times, Groff was strongly endorsed by that ardently Republican newspaper, as well as by the staunchly Democratic daily, the Los Angeles Herald.

An Oct. 6, 1906 Times editorial says:

“The Independents could not have selected a worthier nominee for the Superior Court than Judge Lewis A. Groff….Groff is an ideal man for the bench and will receive the support of thousands of Republicans who cannot bring themselves to give their votes (for instance) to such a weak and unfit candidate as [Frederick W.] Houser for a high place in the judiciary.”

An Aug. 12 political-analysis piece—published at a time apparently prior to knowledge that Groff would be a candidate—says of Houser:

“Poor timber. Leading members of the Bar Association say he has not the qualifications for a place on the bench.”

It did not mention which leading members of that group “say” that. (Houser rose to become a Court of Appeals associate justice, then presiding justice, and made it to the state Supreme Court.)

The Times had in the past criticized Houser, an assemblyman, for introducing an “absurd” proposed constitutional amendment in 1903 to bar judicial service by anyone who had reached age 70. In 1904, it endorsed him for a second term, but only because it recommended the entire Republican county slate. A Nov. 6, 1904 Times run-down on the election, to be held in two days, says:

“In the Seventy-fourth Assembly District Milton Carlson is making a fight against Frederick W. Houser, the Republican nominee. In this district is included most of the Soldiers’ Home and the members of that home have not forgotten that it was Houser who, before the convention was held, remarked ‘To hell with the old soldier vote, I’ll win without them.’ ”

It was the Times that, a month before, had bared Houser’s alleged statement supposedly made during a private conversation. The newspaper obtained affidavits from the two other parties to the conversation that Houser had said: “If I have to declare myself for [U.S.] Senator [Thomas R.] Bard [R-Calif.] in order to get the support of the Soldier’s Home—the Soldier’s Home can go to hell. I don’t need them and can get along without them.”

(The Times’s alteration of the quote was, of course, unethical—as is such 2009 conduct by Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal.)

Despite obvious displeasure with Houser, the Times conceivably would have endorsed him in 1906 were it not that somebody on the Republican ticket would have to be sidestepped in order to endorse Groff—someone whose career publisher Harrison Gray Otis had demonstrated a desire to advance.


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