The Roaring ’20s

The end of World War I brought new prosperity to the County, as did the explosive discovery of oil. On March 24, 1920, Standard Oil struck it big in Huntington Beach, resulting in a huge influx of new residents making the total 61,375, to be exact. This overflow led to new housing developments in places like Placentia, La Habra and Costa Mesa.

  The Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was enacted in 1919, thus prohibiting the “manufacture, sale of and transportation of intoxicating liquors.” Orange County officials would spend much of the 1920s fighting bootleggers and rum runners.

  And, if all of this wasn’t enough, the “Bathing Suit Inspector” was hot on the trail of the Newport Beach “Shebas” who dared to wear white Duck Pants sans a bathing suit!

  These occurrences produced not only great changes in the practice of law but also created new types of clients and cases that demanded the already divided attention of the 36 Orange County Bar Association members. Because these new Prohibition cases were added to normally busy court calendars, in 1923, the Legislature authorized Department Three in Superior Court, and Frank C. Drumm was appointed judge.

  On January 7, 1920, for the first time, women were eligible to serve on the grand jury. The trial courts in Orange County were soon to follow its lead.

  However, it took two more years before Orange County finally had its first woman attorney. In 1922, Clara Cushman set out her “shingle”… again and again… as it was repeatedly stolen as a novelty.

  On a side note, the first Miss America Pageant was held on September 9, 1921.

  January of that same year brought another notable young beauty into this legal community, when 18 year old silent film star, Bebe Daniels, came roaring down U.S. 101 in her high-powered Marmon! County motorcycle officer, Vernon Myers, clocked her at 56 mph just south of Santa Ana, and stopped to arrest her before she could get to her destination, San Juan Capistrano. Hollywood had literally come to Orange County.

  Unfortunately for Miss Daniels, she was ordered to appear in front of one of the most colorful characters to occupy the Courthouse in Santa Ana: A man who became a legend in his own time, and appeared to be straight out of “Central Casting” himself, Justice John Belshazzar Cox.

  A former barber from Arkansas, and not even a member of the Bar, Cox was elected Justice of the Peace for Santa Ana in 1910, at the age of 65. Along with his fondness for “spirits,” even during Prohibition; he was known to fall asleep during attorneys’ closing arguments, shave vagrants before sending them to jail, interrupt testimony in order to perform marriages (he married more then 10,000 couples), and unfortunately for Miss Daniels, he was also known for his heavy hand with traffic violators!

  Although he never drove an automobile himself, he possessed an unshakable confidence in his recipe for justice. This included fines for anyone caught driving over 35 miles per hour and jail sentences to those caught over 50, no matter who they were, movie star or not.

  It is reported that Cox rejected Bebe’s lawyer’s pleas for a change of venue based on “judicial prejudice.” The courtroom was jammed with spectators who listened as her lawyers demanded mercy for “this poor little girl who had been subjected to so much.” After being found guilty, Miss Daniels reportedly said: “I suppose if you live in a small town you get like that. I bet 56 miles per hour sounds awfully fast if you’ve never driven anything faster than a plow.” Justice of the Peace Cox responded by sentencing her to ten days in the County jail.

  Her first visitor at the jail was Cox himself, flowers in hand. Seeing an opportunity to make headlines, her publicity agent arranged to have flowers from her fans arrive at the jail daily. Soon, special food arrived from the best hotels in Santa Ana, new furniture was added to her cell, she fell asleep to a band outside her window every night, and almost as a final jab, soon after her release, she starred in the film, “Too Much Speed.”

  Cox, a publicity hound himself, ended up having more interviews than cases, and was even featured in magazines, such as The Saturday Evening Post. He died while in office in 1924, but not before becoming the first person to publicly endorse a statewide driving manual.

Bootleggers Ride the Waves

  While the citizens of Orange County basked in the limelight of Hollywood and Bebe Daniels, they also were cast, like it or not, in the movie-esque time of the Prohibition. Bootleggers took advantage of the County’s 42 miles of relatively underdeveloped coastline and its deserted coves, to drop off their loot… and became Orange County’s number one problem. Ships would anchor off the coast and wait for fishing boats to transfer the goods to shore. A favorite place for rum runners was the open coast of Newport Beach.

  Judge Robert Gardner recalled in the book, Newport 75, that as a young boy in the ’20s, he would often sit at the end of the dock, located between Balboa Pavilion and Balboa Island Ferry, and watch the rum runners come into the bay and unload case after case of liquor into black sedans waiting to take them to Los Angeles.

  The Volstead Act, of 1919, defined liquor as any beverage with a half of one percent of alcohol. This Act made it illegal to sell alcohol but not to buy it, which was quickly taken advantage of by the District Attorney and his deputies. They used a special fund and hired detectives to attempt to purchase liquor in “blind pig” establishments, places where liquor was sold while pretending to be engaged in some legitimate business activity. Raids turned up everything from pints of raw corn liquor to complete and sophisticated stills. It was a raucous and somewhat romanticized time in Orange County.

  First offenders were allowed to plead guilty to illegal possession of alcoholic beverage and were fined $500.00, remember, this was quite a bit more back then. “Repeaters” were charged with unlawful sale and usually sentenced to 6 months in jail, a long sentence then also. At the conclusion of these trials, the liquor was poured down a sewer manhole in front of the Courthouse, as a message to the rest of public.

  Apparently, one defendant escaped a jail sentence when his attorney grabbed the jar containing the alleged liquor and drank it right in front of the jury. With the evidence destroyed, the judge had to dismiss the case?although one has to wonder how well the attorney fared thereafter.

  Temperance was a big issue in election campaigns. Candidates were often asked about their beliefs on alcohol and its use, if they, themselves, had used it in their lifetime, or if they had ever wanted to. Refusing to answer such questions or admitting to using, generally proved disastrous to the candidate. Not that much has changed, has it?

  Meanwhile, down at the beach, while bootleggers patrolled the beaches from their boats, a bevy of beauties were sunning themselves and parading around in what was becoming a highly charged and controversial issue: the wearing of white Duck Pants in lieu of bathing suits!

  In July of 1925, the Santa Ana Daily Register reported that Tom Robinson, “bathing suit inspector” of Newport Beach, was launching an all out attack against the women who wore these trousers without bathing suits underneath. Anyone caught doing so would be arrested. Also, people in bathing suits on the beach that come within ten inches of the knee, suffered the same penalty. Luckily, some members of the City Council “appreciated” these beauties, and decided not to support this action.

  Nineteen-Twenty-Five saw the Last Great Train Heist in Orange County when a mail car near San Juan Capistrano was robbed with the flare of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The bandit climbed on top of the speeding train, lowered himself to the side of the train using a rope ladder and kicked out the side window. When the train rolled into Santa Ana, the bandit and the money were gone, never to be seen again.

  Minutes of OCBA meetings in the ’20s sound almost silly to us now. The OCBA, in April of ’25, adopted a Schedule of Minimum Fees for its members, including, “preparation of last will and testament, contracts, leases, mechanic’s liens, declaration of homesteads — $5.00.”

  In 1927, one could apply for application to the OCBA and be a member for $3.00 in dues. That year, OCBA members attending the first State Bar Convention, which was held in Pasadena, could stay at The Crown Hotel on East Colorado or the Hotel Pasadena for $2.50. (The OCBA was entitled to send ten delegates that year. Now we send upwards of 80.)

  George A. Parker, from the Orange County Title Company, was persuaded to take the job as OCBA Secretary “for one year” when Alexander W. Rutan was OCBA President in 1927. After being elected for the “one year,” Parker set up quarterly meetings for the 52 members setting a limit of $1.25 for evening meetings and 65 cents for luncheons. George Parker ended up holding the position of OCBA Secretary for 42 years!

  The clientele of the OCBA members was changing, from Hollywood types, to bootleggers, to oil companies. One very notable case was a suit brought by the minority stockholders of Menges Oil Company, which owned the most productive oil well in the state, located in Brea Canyon. The stockholders complained that they had been induced by the President of the company to sell their stock at $2.00 per share, when in fact it was worth $50.00. It was charged that the company officials knew that the infamous “Oil Well #Five” would be productive, even though it had not even been put into service at the time the minority stockholders sold out. In fact, the well went on to produce 2,600 barrels a day for many years. Plaintiffs were represented by bar members and “top guns” of the time, Clyde Bishop, H.C. Head and A.W. Rutan. Counsel for the oil company was E.E. Keech. The Plaintiffs lost and the California Supreme Court upheld the decision.

  On October 24,1929, “Black Thursday,” the stock market crashed.

The More We Change, the More We Stay the Same… and that is Not Always for the Best

  Two years after Bebe Daniels served her time in luxury in the County jail, Justice Cox was involved in a case that is a very sad chapter in this County’s history — the trial of Mose Gibson. A prominent rancher was brutally murdered with an ax, and a posse sent by Sheriff Calvin Jackson apprehended the suspect Mose Gibson, an African American, in Arizona. Hearing rumors of an attempt to lynch Gibson by a group of County rogue vigilantes, the deputies were ordered to take the prisoner straight to L.A. County jail. On the morning of his arraignment, Gibson was taken before Justice Cox in the basement of the Courthouse at 5:00 A.M. for his preliminary hearing. At 8:00 he was taken upstairs to Judge R.Y. Williams for his Superior Court arraignment. It is reported that Mr. Gibson plead guilty and was sentenced to death and was on his way to San Quentin before noon.

  Unfortunately, people are being tried and sentenced to death in other parts of this country in not much more time than this. And, a disproportionate number of these people are African American males… and are poor. Often, persons charged with capital offenses are not provided with adequate counsel at one or more levels. The quality of counsel, more than the circumstances of the offense and the offender, determine who is sentenced to death.

  In 1997, the American Bar Association (ABA) of over 400,000 members, called for a moratorium on the death penalty. While the ABA takes no position on the death penalty, both supporters of the death penalty and those who oppose it have joined hands, voices and resources to convince every jurisdiction that imposes capital punishment not to carry out the death penalty until implementation of policies and procedures that are consistent with longstanding ABA policies. These are intended to ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process and to minimize the risk that innocent persons may be executed. The ABA has identified guidelines for the appointment and performance of counsel and for striving to eliminate discrimination in capital sentencing on the basis of the race of either the victim or the defendant. The ABA also calls for the prevention of execution of mentally retarded persons and persons under the age of 18 at the time of their offenses.

  Each of us, as members of a truly privileged profession, must do all we can to make sure that justice forever remains true to her word. The life-saving work of private lawyers who have provided pro bono legal services to wrongly convicted or death-sentenced prisoners ranks among the legal profession’s most cherished contributions to American society.

  As attorneys and as individuals, we stand first for the public good, next for our profession and lastly for ourselves…

  On this month’s cover, along with the Affiliate Bars’ presidents, is the Santora Building, at 207 North Broadway, Santa Ana. Named by combining “Santa Ana” and “Orange,” the Santora Building was designed in the Moorish style by Frank Lansdown in 1926 and was completed in 1929. An ornate two-story shopping arcade, it housed some of Santa Ana’s finest shops, a basement jazz club and the popular Daniger’s Tea Room. The building has now been restored and features studios and galleries for many local artists. It serves as the hub of Santa Ana’s burgeoning Arts Village. The Santora Building is on the National Register of Historic Places.8

Danni Murphy is a senior attorney with the Orange County Public Defender.