Bench and Bar San Bernardino County, California

The members of the legal fraternity in San Bernardino having formally organized in a bar association on December 4, 1875, that organization was reconstructed October 31, 1887. This reorganization was little more than the adoption of a revised constitution. The first officers of the association were: Byron Waters, President; W. J. Curtis, Vice President; Henry Goodcell, Jr., Secretary. The present officers are: W. J. Curtis, President; F. W. Gregg, Vice President; Henry Goodcell, J r., Secretary; J. P. Higlet, Treasurer. The first constitution provided for an admission fee of $5, but as amended, it provides that required funds be raised by assessments. The constitution calls for regular annual meetings, and for special meetings to be held at the call of the president. The present membership is thirty-six, although the attendance is sometimes greater than that figure.

The present superior judges are: John L. Campbell and C. W. C. Rowell. Prior to their incumbency this office was variously filled; Hon. H. C. Rolfe, who grew up to the legal profession in San Bernardino, as an industrions and studious practitioner, held the office; so too, Henry M. Willis, who came, a young lawyer, from San Francisco in 1858, arrived at the position of County Judge and Superior Judge. Hewitt Clark was a bright professional, but drink caused his decadence and death. Samuel G. Campbell, a lawyer from Missouri, was in the early days District Attorney. He was an able man, but a dissipated one, and he died in a sad way. J. S. Sparks was par excellence the criminal lawyer at the bar of San Bernardino,able, eloquent, and almost always successful. Judge Benjamin Hayes, well known in Southern California history, was the first District Judge, presiding over all the southern counties, including Santa Barbara. Judge A. D. Boren, born in Illinois, still a prominent citizen of San Bernardino, whither he came in 1854, was on the bench for fourteen years continuous. He was four times elected County Judge, and presided during the most lawless period of San Bernardino’s history.

During this period, the functions of a county officer were often attended with considerable danger, unless the official were allied with or subservient to the gang of roughs in possession. The era of good feeling and peace that had prevailed between the Mormons and their Los Angeles neighbors continued about until the exodus or return to Salt Lake in 1857-’58 of some three-fourths of the Mormon element. At this time there came to the county and the town a very undesirable class of citizens, and disorder and lawlessness became the rule, after these people organized to the extent of possessing themselves, partly by fraud and partly by’ force, of the offices of sheriff, county clerk, county recorder, etc. To illustrate these conditions, the following narratives will serve as types: One McFeely, who was, by the way, deputy clerk of San Bernardino, went one day to the house of an inoffensive old Negro, being intoxicated, and there made such threatening demonstrations that the old black man filed a complaint against him. McFeely was arrested, and taken before Justice J. W. Wilson. Taking the complaint into his hands, apparently for inspection, he rolled it into compact form, and then, pistol in hand, in the presence of the court, he forced the old darkey to eat the document! Judge Boren had this matter brought before the next grand jury, and an indictment was found against McFeely. At the trial the deputy sheriff packed the jury box largely with the friends of McFeely, to defend whom were retained all the lawyers in San Bernardino. Judge Russel, the District Attorney, did his whole duty, but he was one against many. In the midst of the trial, the county clerk, coming drunk into the courtroom, heard the judge make a law-ruling unfavorable to McFeely, and, drawing his gun, he cried out to his deputy, “Buzz Tarleton, don’t you dare to set down any such ruling as that!” The associate judges in great alarm sprang away from the side of the judge, lest a ball designed for him might go wide of the mark and strike them, and there was general confusion in the courtroom. The judge ordered court adjourned, and the clerk, finding comfortable quarters in a saloon, was not present at the afternoon session. The honest men on the jury were so impressed by this occurrence, and by the evident determination of the McFeely faction to release him at all hazards, that they actually agreed to a verdict of “not guilty,” some of them telling Judge Boren later that he had perjured himself in his duty as a juror to prevent bloodshed and violence in court against the magistrate.

The county court in those earlier days comprised the county judge and two associate judges-justices of the peace.

Source: An Illustrated History of Southern California: embracing the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the peninsula of lower California.

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