Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 18, 2010


Page 11



John M. Miller Clashes With Former Law Partners




John M. Miller had only recently moved to Los Angeles when he entered into law practice in 1896 with David Patterson Hatch and Herbert Cutler Brown. The law firm of Hatch, Miller & Brown would soon dissolve; so would the successor firm of Miller & Brown; and a subsequent, fleeting partnership with Frank G. Bryant would end in an acrimonious parting of ways.

Hatch and Brown wound up suing Miller for pocketing partnership assets, and Bryant, facing disbarment in connection with a questionable real estate transaction, sought to implicate Miller.

Miller did not again enter into a law partnership.

It was Hatch—the former Santa Barbara Superior Court judge who was the subject of recent columns—who called a quick end to the alliance. The Nov. 14, 1897, issue of the Los Angeles Times contains a notice of the dissolution of the firm. “Miller & Brown” was then formed.

The June 29, 1901, edition of the Los Angeles Times reports:

“About the middle of April, Miller & Brown had a split-up. The junior partner, Herbert C. Brown, took the initiative in that break, and the two lawyers parted company not the best of friends. In fact, it is rumored that Mr. Brown’s dissatisfaction was so great that he may yet seek redress in the courts.”

That recitation appears in a news story on the disintegration of Miller’s new momentary law partnership, Miller & Bryant.

Bryant was a young man who had read law in the office of Miller & Brown. (According to “History of the Bench and Bar in Southern California,” published in 1909, he “[r]eceived his education by reading and home study, never having attended school.”)

He was admitted to practice in all of the courts of the state by the California Supreme Court on Oct. 10, 1899, and became an associate in the firm. When Miller and Brown went their separate ways, each wanted to link up with Bryant. On June 1, 1901, he went into partnership with Miller, whose inducements were greater.

The June 29 article says that around June 19, Bryant, according to his recitation, “suddenly found himself confronted with statements alleged to have emanated from Miller tantamount to charging him with stealing.”

The article continues:

“Bryant resented the insinuation, and there was a stormy scene, which ended in Bryant telling Miller that they would part company. Suiting the action to the word, he left Miller’s office, handing the key to one of the proprietors of the building as he went out, and taking a receipt therefor, so that it cannot be charged that he thereafter revisited Miller’s rooms.”

At the heart of the dispute was Bryant’s representation of one Lizzie M. Mills in selling for her a parcel of real property for $4,000. Under a written agreement, he was to receive anything above $3,000. Mills got her dander up when she came to learn that the transaction was recorded with a purchase price of $7,000. That was a false figure, inserted at the insistence of the buyer to create an illusion of the property being worth more than it was.

Mills sued Bryant; a settlement was quickly reached; the action was dismissed Dec. 23, 1901.

But that did not end the controversy.

The Grievance Committee of the Los Angeles Bar Assn. took notice of these words in the Times’ article:

“[F]riends of Bryant allege that Miller, after demanding a division of the profits and being cognizant of the deal all the while, tried to put Bryant in the hole by saying things reflecting on his integrity.”

The committee issued a report paraphrasing the Times article and proclaiming that, after meeting with Miller and Bryant and their respective attorneys, it had concluded that Miller “is entitled to be fully exonerated from any participation in the said transaction, and from any reflection upon his integrity and professional conduct and standing contained in any newspaper article.”

There is stated in the report that a separate assessment would be forthcoming as to any culpability on the part of Bryant.

The newspaper was upset over the report because it attributed to it the allegation against Miller rather than the unidentified “friends” of Bryant to whom the newspaper had attributed the charge of complicity.

In an Aug. 22 news report, it grumbles:

“After the committee has reported upon Mr. Bryant, it may be necessary for somebody to report on the committee for having with apparent deliberation garbled an alleged quote from The Times. The omitted words are the milk in the cocoanut. The quarrel was between Mr. Bryant and Mr. Miller, and not between The Times and Mr. Miller. ”

The Times and Miller had, indeed, been in conflict in recent months, when Miller was chief of the rival Evening Express…but the committee did, in fact, erroneously attribute to the Times an allegation it had not personally hurled.

There will be more here about Miller’s discord with former partners.


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