Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, April 21, 2011


Page 11



McLachlan Teams With Politicos In Law Practice




James McLachlan was a politician. He served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (as well as one term—from 1890-92—as DA of Los Angeles County). But if the congressman had been asked what his occupation was, he no doubt would have responded “lawyer.”

State Bar records show he was admitted to practice in California in October, 1889. McLachlan had been admitted in the State of New York in 1880 and hung his shingle in Ithica (a village that in 1887 became a city).

He came to Pasadena in 1888 to reside, and set up his practice there. From the start, he associated with lawyers with political backgrounds.

The 1890 county directory, in the Pasadena section, lists “Metcalfe & McLachlan, lawyers.” Alexander R. Metcalfe, Pasadena’s feisty city attorney, was politically active and well-connected.         

Contradicting the axiom that “opposites attract,” the partners had similar backgrounds. McLachlan had been born in Scotland (on Aug. 1, 1852), and had been a school teacher in New York before coming to California. Metcalfe, born in Canada, had Scotch parents, and had been a school teacher in Ontario. Both were ardent Republicans.

The March 6, 1890, edition of the Los Angeles Times reports that the previous day, McLachlan had stood in for Metcalfe in prosecuting a Salvation Army captain.

“The offense charged,” the article says, “was committing a nuisance in the way of obstructing the streets and sidewalks by the army on a special celebration held last Saturday.”

Ah, hurray for the times when the obstructing of traffic and interfering with operations of businesses, for private purposes, was prosecutable rather than being officially condoned, as today. Why should our access to streets, constructed at public expense, owned by the public, be blocked off, usurped by persons taking them over for purposes other than those for which they were constructed, and with re-routing of traffic resulting in delays of often considerable duration?

In 1890, prosecutors could seek penalization of the take-overs of public streets. But—drat!—there was, in the case prosecuted by McLachlan, a hung jury.

Metcalfe & McLachlan, a Nov. 5, 1891 California Supreme Court opinion reflects, represented the appellant in a contract case. Co-counsel with them was the appellant, himself, Delos Arnold, a former Republican state senator from Iowa (who had been made prosecuting attorney the day after he moved into Marshall County, Iowa, because he was the only attorney in the county).

Arnold was sued in specific performance in Los Angeles Superior Court after he backed out of an agreement to buy a piece of real property, and Judge Walter Van Dyke (later a member of the California Supreme Court) ruled in favor of the seller, Catherine Banbury. The state high court agreed with Arnold that where a married woman undertakes to convey real property, the contract is void unless it is acknowledged by her before a notary. (A single woman could convey real property without that formality.)

Although there was no certificate of acknowledgment by a notary public attached to the complaint and no other evidence that the requisite acknowledgement had been made, the high court was not about to let Arnold worm out of the deal he had made. The judgment had to be affirmed, the opinion declared, because there was no affirmative showing that an acknowledgement had not occurred.

Arnold and McLachlan were both among the vice presidents of a Pasadena Republican club.

McLachlan later hooked up with lawyer John B. Cohrs—a veteran practitioner from Illinois who came here for his health in 1892 and in 1898 and survived six more years. A Democrat, he had served a term in the state Senate.

A June 10, 1895 issue of the San Francisco Call, from which the drawing above was lifted, tells of McLachlan at the office where he practiced with Cohrs:

“Bryson block, [northwest] corner Second and Spring streets, is full of noted lawyers. Here the Hon. James McLachlan, Congressman-elect, has his office and receives cordially newspaper men, woman suffragists, book agents, political friends and harbor advocates….He is a man of good judgment and like California’s sunshine warm and genial.”

Sanford V. Landt, who had been the mayor of the City of Tipton in New York, joined the firm. He was still practicing in this county when he died in 1925 at the age of 84.

The law firm of McLachlan, Cohrs & Landt moved into the Wilcox Building by 1897. After a couple of years, McLachlan went off on his own.


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