Thursday, September 3, 2009
Judge Hatch Defends Dismissal of 1884 Murder Charge
BY DAVID PATTERSON HATCH
As transcribed by Roger M. Grace
(The writer, who died in 1912, is the author of three books which he authored posthumously.)
Suspicion surrounded my motives, invectives were thrust at me, in the wake of my dismissal of a criminal action against one Alexander P. More, accused of shooting dead a Chinaman—or so persons of Chinese heritage were described at the time—in 1884.
Mr. More was the owner of Santa Rosa Island, located 26 miles off the coast of the City of Santa Barbara, where I sat as a judge of the Superior Court for the County of Santa Barbara. The incident occurred during the springtime, which was shearing time. When the gentleman of Chinese heritage, in the employ of Mr. More as a cook, applied for leave to go to the mainland for personal reasons, permission was, in light of the highly busy season, denied, according to accounts. Twenty witnesses recited that when the Chinese gentleman, in defiance of Mr. More’s decision, undertook to board a schooner headed for the mainland, Mr. More responded to the insolence by firing a shot at the servant, the penetration of the projectile proving fatal.
I was not oblivious to the callousness of the act, if, indeed, the allegations in the information were true. Nonetheless, courts of no society may, consistent with common and proper notions of restraint and order, undertake to punish acts, no matter how vile, which are committed beyond their jurisdiction.
Clinging to the immutable truth of that proposition, and at the sacrifice of my personal reputation—indeed, there were calls for my impeachment—I dismissed the information, confident that jurisdiction had not lain in my court.
If there had, verily, occurred a murder, that murder took place not in the County of Santa Barbara, but on the high seas, for the victim was felled on a wharf at Santa Rosa Island, more than 300 feet outside the low water mark. There was much a popular desire that I permit the prosecution to proceed, but I could not have done so consistent with the jurisdictional impotence of my court.
I acted pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure §1385 which said: “The Court may, either upon its own motion or upon application of the District Attorney, order an action or indictment to be dismissed.”
The district attorney of our County of Santa Barbara was incensed, and appealed to the California Supreme Court which, in 1887, held that my order was non-appealable.
I lament the antipathy aroused by my judicial action, and the unfaithfulness to truth of recitals of facts in newspapers, contemporaneously with the events and later. I point, as an example, to the rendition in the San Francisco Chronicle on Feb. 9, 1887. It alleged that at the time I ruled in the matter, my attention was being devoted to arranging a partnership in the practice of law in Los Angeles. The newspaper alleged, to wit:
“One night a steamer came into Santa Barbara from San Pedro, and a carriage was driven up to the courthouse. Judge Hatch was in the carriage. The officers of the court were hastily summoned and the charge of murder against Alex More was dismissed.”
Ominous and irregular as this might appear, the omitted and salient fact is that I was occupied in Los Angeles, at the request of the judges there, to preside over a paternity action against a well known local figure, and it was at great inconvenience to myself to return to Santa Barbara to attend to the necessary matter.
Favorable public response to my reminiscences of last week has been most gratifying. I do note, however, that I have been reproached by a learned judge of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles and by an attorney-at-law who assists the Honorable members of the California Court of Appeal. These gentlemen drew to my attention, in the form of “e-mails”—a means of communication as miraculous to me as automatic writing might appear to you—to an error. I referred in my brief monograph to its publication on the “antepenultimate” page of this periodical when, it fact, it appeared on the penultimate page.
I had been misinformed as to the page on which my contribution would be published. I am indebted to the editors for not, in fact, publishing my communiqué on the antepenultimate page inasmuch as that is where “comics,” as I believe they are called, are displayed.
I was able to cause my present scribe to transmit words dictated by me to my correspondents. Upon receipt of my e-mail, the jurist who had written to me thereupon sent a reply imparting that my communication to him constituted “the first-ever use of cyber-channeling.” He proclaimed as worthy of note his receipt of “an e-mail today from a Santa Barbara judge who died of kidney disease in Los Angeles in 1912.”
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