Thursday, April 24, 2003
Professor Edgar Jones: Star of Three Network Shows
By ROGER M. GRACE
More than 40 years before court unification, Edgar Allan Jones Jr. had the distinction of serving contemporaneously on both the Los Angeles Municipal Court and the county’s Superior Court. Or, at least, he simulated service on both courts.
On Oct. 13, 1958, “Day in Court” went on the air as a Monday through Friday ABC daytime offering, with Jones presiding three days a week, handling both civil and criminal cases. (William Gwinn was his alternate.) Jones was already appearing weekly as the judge on ABC’s “Traffic Court,” a nighttime program which began here as a local show.
UCLA Law Prof. Edgar Allan Jones Jr. is seen presiding over "Day in Court"
“Day in Court” featured actual attorneys trying the cases, with actors appearing as parties and witnesses.
As if Jones did not have enough to do with two shows on the air, ABC gave him additional duties: presiding weekly on a nighttime version of “Day in Court.” That show, “Accused,” aired from December, 1958 to September, 1959.
All this was in addition to Jones maintaining his fulltime job as a UCLA law professor—which remained his primary calling.
Remarkably, he also continued to conduct labor arbitrations on the side. “It was a frenetic period in our family life,” he related, adding that “we managed to hold it all together because of the superwoman whom I married.” The “we” included the couple’s 11 children.
The April 5, 1960 issue of “TV Guide” termed Jones “[o]ne of the big stars of daytime television,” but quoted him as saying:
“My lifetime career is teaching law. I cannot and will not jeopardize that, though television is interesting and remunerative. If I am to be a good teacher—and that’s the important thing—I can’t afford to become enmeshed in TV.”
He told me that while he did get fan mail, he read only those few letters that were forwarded to him by his staff. “I didn’t want television to impinge on my career as a law professor,” he said.
Unlike other celebrities, Jones did not send out autographed photos of himself.
He was able to devote his workday to his academic chores by taping his shows on Saturdays and weeknights. “Traffic Court” had been aired live by KABC, but once the show went on the network in June of 1958, Jones said, his days of live television ended.
On one session of “Traffic Court,” he recounted, he interrupted the taping. The traffic citee was Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, who had actually been given a ticket in connection with stopping his car, after it had been hit by a baseball, getting out of the vehicle, and tossing it back to the Little Leaguers playing in a fenced schoolyard. During the walk-through, he instructed Koufax’s witnesses, three or four Little Leaguers, to remove their baseball caps. Apparently, the “summer replacement director,” without Jones’ knowledge, tried to create controversy by telling them later not to doff their head apparel.
The taping started; the kids had their caps on; Jones asked them to take the caps off. “They ignored me,” he called to mind. “I got up. I walked off the bench.”
Inside the control room, he said, he castigated the director, telling him: “You just cost several hundred dollars.” Taping started over—the “kids were so abashed,” he recalled—and their caps came off promptly upon being directed to remove them.
Attorney George Schiavelli, a retired judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court and a faithful viewer of “Traffic Court” as a youth, remembers that session with Koufax. “I recall somebody in the [courtroom] audience trying to get his autograph” as he came forward or left, Schiavelli said.
The former jurist recounted coming to conclusions as to how Jones should rule, notwithstanding that at that time, he had “absolutely no knowledge of the law.”
Now he does. He remarked that in retrospect, he believes “Traffic Court” was “closer to how a…court should be run in real life” than courtroom shows of more recent vintage. Schiavelli praised Jones as having displayed “appropriate judicial demeanor,” handling cases in a “business-like” manner. “People were treated with respect,” he reflected.
Next week, there will be more about Jones and “Day in Court.”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company
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