The ’20s had roared into Orange County with great fervor… but crashed head-on into the massive weight of Black Thursday, October 24, 1929. Every decade has its own defining events, and truly, the Great Depression molded the ’30s for the still largely agrarian Orange County.
Orange County citizens lived in and with the depression in varying degrees. Members of the legal community certainly saw the effects in the courts, and witnessed the unfortunate times for many in the streets of the community.
But, the Depression was itself a great impetus for, yet again, another decade of growth and positive change for the County and for the OCBA. It was a decade where the courts saw many interesting cases.
Remember, in the ’20s, those “rumrunner” ships? They were out there rocking in the surf taking advantage of the many miles of relatively undeveloped coastline and unloading their bounty of bootlegged liquor near Balboa Pavilion. Well, with the Depression came a new local pastime and a metamorphosis of those ships. They became floating casinos. These palatial gambling establishments offering roulette, craps and card games would anchor offshore awaiting the launches to transport to their decks even the loftiest and exalted of county citizens.
Slot machines were popular, particularly in the beach communities, because they were easy to hide. Many people turned to gambling due to the scarcity of work and the depressed spirit of the decade. Many just plain enjoyed the times. “Punchboards,” although strictly illegal, were very popular with Orange County citizens. For a price, one could select a square and hope to win the amount of money written underneath.
Officials tried to prosecute these crimes of gambling, but found it hard to get juries to convict a person for possessing a punchboard. The inability to get gambling under control became a predominant issue in political campaigns, despite the valiant effort of the district attorney. It wasn’t until the larger gambling interests moved to Nevada in the ’40s did the courts of Orange County cease to see these cases on the calendars.
“The Orange County Night Fruit Patrol!”
A person might not have been convicted by a jury of their peers for gambling in Depression era Orange County. But a thief was very likely to be convicted, if accused of stealing chickens or agricultural products, or for letting animals run loose (which resulted in the destruction of gardens). Again, even though oil had been discovered, and the railroads were beginning to crisscross the County, and the complexity and sophistication of civil cases was escalating, Orange County was still an agrarian society. The County depended on this economy.
So, the Board of Supervisors created the Orange County Night Fruit Patrol. The Fruit Patrol consisted of two officers from the sheriff’s department with three automobiles and was supervised by the district attorney’s office. The Patrol was sent out into the groves to capture any fruit thieves of the night! Given the tremendous number of acres in agricultural production, and the small number of officers, while the Fruit Patrol was somewhat successful, many grove owners defended their own land in imaginative ways, such as setting bear traps among the trees.
Sometimes these officers would find large areas of marijuana plants nestled and easily hidden in the ranch lands around the County. This would result in large drug busts on folks who were taking the meaning of the agrarian society to a new high.
Three judges served the Superior Court through the decade… James L. Allen in Department One, Homer G. Ames in Department Two and George K. Scovel in Department Three. Due to the County outgrowing the Courthouse, which was not yet even a quarter of a century old, Department Three was held in the Board of Supervisors meeting room.
Back in 1919, OCBA member Charles Swanner had been appointed librarian of the Orange County Law Library. He was paid a stipend of $25 per month for duties that included paying bills for the new books and to re-stacking the bookshelves at the end of each day. In 1931, the library was moved to the second floor of the Courthouse and a full- time librarian was hired. The foresighted folks voiced concern about the weight of the law books in the Courthouse building, a building which did not have steel girders.
During that time, visitors and newly weds made it a tradition to stand atop the Courthouse cupola perched high above the city and look out across the landscape. They could see those spectacular gambling ships bobbing off the coast. Orange County looked pretty good for its 118,000 citizens, from this vantage in the cupola. However, on March 10, 1933, this would not have been a great place to be.
A 6.3 on the Richter scale earthquake hit Santa Ana. OCBA member Frank West was eportedly just finishing his fiery closing arguments when the temblor rocked the Courthouse. Visiting Judge Frank Collier of Los Angeles, who was hearing the case, was not concerned but acquiesced to the nervous attorneys and moved the case outside to reconvene on the sidewalk under a tree. Later when he re-entered his courtroom, he walked up to the bench, and found a very large brick had fallen directly into his chair.
Fortuitously, OCBA member James Tucker had just set up an emergency response team of the American Legion the very night before. At 5:55 P.M., three skyrockets were exploded over Santa Ana as a call for the group to report for disaster duty to patrol the streets.
Later, at 9:00 p.m., the National Guard relieved the American Legion team. Unfortunately, there had been three deaths and extensive damage to Santa Ana. Subsequent aftershocks, for four days, caused serious damage to the Courthouse. That heavy cupola up on the roof had to be removed — the view of the County was never the same.
The earthquake was probably “insult to injury” to most in Orange County. The legal community was already feeling the effects of the Depression by way of the rising number of indigent clients. Prior to the creation of the Public Defender’s Office, the Court would appoint an attorney for anyone charged with a crime in Superior Court who was financially unable to afford an attorney. The judges would make assignments from a list of all the attorneys. This became a hardship on the assigned attorney, if the case lasted several weeks or months and no fee was collected. The attorneys were selected not by expertise, but by alphabetical order, so a “civil” attorney might be appointed to a serious criminal case. But, the Bar members, as always, realizing that the practice of law is a “profession of service,” and understanding the plight of the citizens in Orange County during the Depression, continued to step up a serve.
Like Bebe Daniels’ favorite Justice of the Peace, John B. Cox in the 1920s, there were other notable justices who were repeatedly re-elected even though they had no formal legal training. Marco F. Forster in San Juan Capistrano served from 1938 to 1953, holding a post previously held by his father and grandfather.
Justice C.C., “Gavy” Cravath served in the Laguna Beach-San Clemente Justice Court from 1927 to 1963. During his stint in the ’30s, “Gavy” would have seen the epic storm of 1939 totally erase the Laguna Beach fishing pier that been funded and built by the townsfolk at the turn of the century. “Gavy” was a second-career man, having been a professional baseball player and so, no doubt, would have enjoyed hearing the broadcast of the very first night baseball game played, when the Reds beat the Phillies in 1935. Coincidentally, up the road from Orange County, Wrigley Field had opened as the home of the Pacific Coast League’s Angels in 1925.
During this time, a young law student, Erle Stanley Gardner, was “reading” law with one of the original 10 founding members of the OCBA, E.E. Keech. At that time, would-be lawyers could attend court and study with a mentor in order to finally take an oral quiz before a panel of presiding judges. Gardner went on to practice for a short time, but later found a greater talent for writing… and went on to write the Perry Mason mysteries, which of course, evolved into the popular television series in the ’50s.
The More We Change, the More We Stay the Same Examples from The Minutes
During the ’30s, every member was invited to the OCBA meetings. Due to the small size of the Bar, there was no Board of Directors and the average attendance of the meetings was between 25 to 30. At that time, the Executive Committee was comprised of the President, the First, Second and Third Vice-Presidents, the Secretary-Treasurer (who was always George Parker) and two other bar members. Judges could be and were officers.
We can see from the Minutes of the OCBA meetings, that the Bar continued to evaluate and endorse candidates for local judicial offices simply by discussion of the general membership and a show of hands.
Our members were already active in the State Bar, and in 1929 sent four delegates to the second annual State Bar Convention, beginning a long and successful tradition. (We send close to 70 or 80 delegates today.)
In 1929, the Bar was asked by Chief Justice Waste of the California Supreme Court to approve actions of the State Judicial Council. The rogues that we were, we responded by way of Resolution opining that the rules adopted by the Judicial Council for the entire state of California had not expedited judicial procedure in this County. In fact, these statewide procedures had caused great confusion in the courts “amounting to almost a denial of justice,” and that our local Superior Courts had adopted their own rules.
The California Supreme Court, did, nevertheless, accept our invitation to appear at a dinner at the Santa Ana Country Club on December 12, 1929. And, come they did! All seven justices spent an evening with the Bar members, which included a “Special Program” devoted to entertainment, presided over by F.C. Drum as Toastmaster and “Noodles Fagan” as Master of Ceremonies. It’s not clear if anybody played golf that day?but, the country club dinner bill looked roughly like this: 109 dinners at $163.50; 15 performers at $22.50; two chauffeurs for $3.00; 100 cigars at $15.00; and 17 cigarettes for $2.55! These guys were great!
During the ’30s, the annual election of Bar Officers was a simple procedure of a motion and second, of a slate produced by a nominating committee. Again, all the Bar members would be present at each meeting. In 1930, the newly-elected President, Judge Frank C. Drum, gave a speech and… a box of cigars to the members. Per the Minutes: “The cigars were greatly appreciated.”
All applications for membership in the Association were read, discussed and voted on at the regular meetings. All committee chairs regularly gave reports at the meetings. The committees, at that time, were the Grievance Investigation Committee (labeled “Secret”), the Grievance Committee, the Court Forms Committee, the Fees Committee, the Legislative Committee, and the Program Committee.
It appears that the members’ wives were encouraged to attend the dinner meetings. Usually speakers were invited to give informative talks, following the business portion of the meetings, but most of them were not related to the practice of law. On July 10, 1930, with 52 people present, all business was dispensed with after dinner because “of the fact that the ladies were present” and the speaker, Mr. John Mott for Los Angeles, was there to speak on his “observations regarding President Hoover gained from his recent visit to the White House.” Without T.V. and the Net, this was most likely the most in depth and personal information that our members would receive regarding a United States president.
As if ripped from the OCBA minutes from last year, Minutes from August 8, 1930 report that the President of the State Bar of California was present to outline the programs for the coming State Bar Convention and to inform the Bar about the aims and the “problems” of the State Bar.
Just as we do now, we were sending two delegates to the American Bar Association (ABA) conventions. The ABA was concerned then, as now, about the same types of issues regarding the bench and bar, including the unauthorized practice of law.
Just moments after his election, new 1931 Bar President Albert Launer also presented a box of cigars to the members “and a box of candy to Miss Blythe.”
The cost of the dinners at these meetings was limited to $1.00 each. Any member in arrears in dues more then one year would automatically be dropped from membership. Dues were $3.00. The 1933 Schedule of Minimum Fees adopted by the OCBA included, “Adoption: $25.00, Dissolution of Corporations: $50.00, Divorce by Default: $75.00, Preparing a Will: $5.00, Appearance in Superior Court: $20.00.
After several meetings and discussions during the year, the Bar endorsed a proposition to the Orange County Grand Jury to raise judge’s salaries from $8,000.00 per year to $9,000.00.
The Bar was in contact with other local bars, such as the Hollywood Bar, on matters of commonality. Because of the small size of our Bar, we could take positions on legislative issues, including locally, within the state and on national levels. We were concerned about ethics in the practice, and set up the Ethics Committee to address these questions. The Minutes reflect a tremendous interest by the members in the health of the legal community.
Much of the July 11, 1934 meeting was spent in discussing the lack of signs in the law library requesting silence, and “because of the noise and the confusion” the Secretary was requested to ask that such signs be erected and to suggest “action be taken to make the library a better place for concentration.”
In 1934, the OCBA’s attention was called to the problem of “ambulance chasing” and the need for the County to adopt similar ordinances as Los Angeles to curb this conduct.
The Minutes reflect that at the May 11, 1934 meeting, it was announced that member Mr. Mize had recently taken a pig as a “fee” and the pig would soon be barbecued for an OCBA meeting dinner — provided that he could get the pig fattened up. He requested all Bar members supply him with their garbage — for the pig.
Good news, on October 10, 1934 it was announced that the notices to be silent had been posted in the library.
Members were always cognizant of issues of purview when discussing whether to take positions on matters of interest. They would find them to be “not of a legal nature” or of “such a nature with which the Bar Association is not concerned.” One such request came from the California State Park Commission, asking the Bar to recommend that an initiative measure be placed on the November ballot authorizing slant drilling. The members decided it was a matter “too involved and controversial in nature” for the Bar to take a position on. Today, the Bar has official policy in place regarding purview questions, this being absolutely essential given the size of the membership and the diversity of areas of practice, size of firms and special interests.
The April 10th meeting of 1935, a busy one, included adopting new court forms that had been scribed by the Forms Committee, asking the Library Committee to subscribe to the Los Angeles Daily Journal, requesting that the Legislative Committee investigate the appointment of a public defender, and considering a suggestion that the salary of the District Attorney and his deputies be increased and that they be prohibited thereafter from private practice. Charles Swanner was voted President. There was a Resolution passed that Honorable Chas. R. Barnard, presiding Justice of the District Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District of the State of California, be appointed as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of California.
Apparently by 1936, a County ordinance was in place regarding those pesky “ambulance chasers” and three members were appointed as committee to contact the District Attorney about investigating these people.
Because the State Bar District 8 was then composed of San Bernardino and Riverside counties as well as Orange, the three county Bar Associations met in Orange County for a visit of the State Bar President on January 15, 1937. After the President’s address, “the meeting was given over to various vaudeville acts.”
It was decided to conduct a plebiscite amongst the members of the OCBA, regarding the creation in Orange County of two Justice Court Townships, “one North of the river, and one South of the river.” The report of the plebiscite showed an overwhelming majority in favor of such a plan.
On March 12, 1937, following apparently very vigorous and heated “debate” on the matter of President Roosevelt’s plan to add six new members to the Supreme Court of the United States, a Resolution was passed. It essentially stated that the OCBA was opposed to any legislation to increase the number of justices, and in very stern language, reminded the President of the United States about “the three separate co-ordinate departments, namely the legislative, the executive and the judicial. “A copy of the Resolution was ordered sent to each Senator of the State of California and to the representative in Congress from the district. Judicial independence was, even then, a hot topic!
The final bill of the decade submitted to the Bar from Santa Ana County Club for a meeting was: 86 dinners at $107.50; and 70 cigars at 10 cents a piece.
We face oh so many of the same issues today, as the Bar did back in the ’30s. As a trade organization, the Bar is here to serve its members and assist them in their practice of the law, and also in the “business” of the practice of the law. In doing so, the goal is that this will help our members serve both their clients and the community that supports us. As a Bar, we strive to be pro-active and continually look to the future needs of the profession and those within it.
Unfortunately, the lines between the three branches of government continue to blur. The judicial selection process has become further politicized. Bar leaders will continue to be called on to shape the future of the profession, the condition of the legal system and the role of the bar associations. But whether it be when advocating for adequate judicial resources or campaigning against attacks on judicial independence, bar leaders can expect that they will need to handle these challenges, in part, in the political arena, just as our members did, 70 years ago.
In a “Peanuts Classic” by Charles Schultz, Linus is seen sitting against a rock, repeating a quote, “The Lawyer is evermore the Leader in society.” Snoopy, walking by, hears these words and thinks, “I like that.” “I don’t understand it but I like it!”
I like that too!
The Bowers Museum, seen on this month’s cover, first opened its doors on February 15, 1936 as a city-run museum devoted primarily to the history of Orange County. The museum is named for Charles W. Bowers, who left his property at 2002 North Main Street to the city of Santa Ana in 1924, with the understanding that it would be used for a museum.
The museum was officially known as the Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum until it was expanded and transformed into the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, in 1992. Since this reopening, the museum has presented over 45 special exhibitions from all over the world, and has opened six permanent galleries. The museum’s collections are particularly strong in the areas of African, Oceanic, Native American, and pre-Columbian art, as well as California Plein Air paintings.
Danni Murphy is a senior attorney with the Orange County Public Defender.