Thursday, October 8, 2009
Luckless Baldwin—a Just Verdict
From the Los Angeles Times
(The headline above is that which appears atop a Feb. 20, 1886 editorial in the Los Angeles Times commenting on the outcome of the action by a young woman, Louise Perkins, against an aging womanizer, Elias “Lucky” Baldwin, for breach of a promise to marry her. The bulk of the editorial is reprinted below. Following a 17-day trial, the jury quickly returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $75,000— believed to have been the highest award of damages in the history of the state. That sum has the purchasing power of $1.8 million in terms of 2008 dollars. Evidence adduced by the defense had shown that the tycoon purchased perjured testimony in an effort to show that Perkins was legally disabled from bringing the action because she had not been a virgin at the time of the alleged promise. The judge who presided over the case was David Patterson Hatch, who 10 years later became one of the original tenants of the Wilcox Building, and is the tenant currently being spotlighted here.)
The now famous Perkins-Baldwin breach-of-promise suit, which has occupied the attention of the Superior Court, Department Two (presided over temporarily by Judge D. P. Hatch, of Santa Barbara,) for the last seventeen days, is at last ended. It was a remarkable case, and has attracted universal attention. Almost the entire populace have followed the evidence closely throughout, and almost without exception the sympathies of the people have been with the young plaintiff. The unanimous verdict rendered by the jury of twelve honest and nonpurchasable citizens meets with strong popular approval. The jury found for Miss Perkins in the sum of $75,000, and the popular verdict is, “Served him right!”
A vast mass of testimony was introduced on both sides. Nearly seventy witnesses in all were examined. Some of them, on the side of the defense, were sorry specimens to be called “reputable citizens” and “credible witnesses.” The use of Baldwin’s money on some of the witnesses is more than suspected. There will be a chance for some prosecutions for perjury….
[O]n the side of the plaintiff were two lawyers who, in winning their case, have won fame and honor for themselves. [Former Los Angeles County District Attorney and future U.S. Sen.] Stephen M. White and his associate, W. T. Williams, conducted the prosecution of Miss Perkins’s just cause with marked skill, conspicuous ability, and tremendous earnestness; and it is earnestness that tells upon an audience or a jury. Mr. White’s manipulation of the witnesses, in both the direct and cross-examinations, was very effective and thorough; and when he came to his argument, no lawyer could have made a more powerful or effective one. He rose to masterful heights and entered the domain of true eloquence at various points in his grand oration to the jury. Williams too, who preceded his confrére, made a strong speech, tearing to pieces, with fierce and fiery denunciation, the lame stories of Baldwin’s quibbling and quaking witnesses.
The Judge on the bench carried himself with commendable uprightness and impartiality. He held the court, the case, the lawyers, the audience and the witnesses level, and at the close delivered to the jury a clear, able and impartial charge, which assisted them in materially in arriving at a conclusion.
“Lucky” Baldwin is lucky no more; and we predict that his descent has now fully commenced; he is on the down grade, where his other debaucheries and other crookednesses have placed him at last. This grey-headed and lecherous wrecker of girlish virtue—this “lustful Turk” and social outlaw—this rich and lustful rioter in sexual sin, has at last received a check in his bold, bad career. The law has sternly called him to account for a violated promise of marriage to a confiding girl whom he is proven to have enticed from the path of virtue; and the law has commanded him to make amends to the deceived girl for the broken promise by the payment to her of seventy-five thousand dollars. The sum is small enough; the verdict is none too heavy.
Baldwin, badly advised, will appeal, and the fight will be continued in a higher tribunal. But we cannot doubt its final outcome. He cannot escape.
Aiming to evade responsibility, he is reported to have already commenced putting his property outside of his hands. Whether or not this be altogether true, we are at this writing unable to assert with positiveness; but if it be true, it will not avail this hoary-headed wrongdoer. Such transfer of property, at such a time and under such circumstances, would be a fraud in its face. It would not “stick.”
We congratulate the community that such a verdict as has been rendered in this case is possible in Los Angeles. It signifies the qualities of justice and good morals among our people.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company