George Bernard Harris.

Memories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 online

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University of California Berkeley


. .

Regional Oral History Office University of California

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California

Northern California U.S. District Court Series

George B. Harris


An Interview Conducted by
Gabrielle Morris
in 1980

Sponsored by the Historical Society of the
United States District Court for the Northern District of California

Copyright (c) 1981 by the Regents of the University of California

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal
agreement between the Regents of the University of
California and George B. Harris dated September 30, 1980.
The manuscript is thereby made available for research
purposes. All literary rights to publish are reserved to
George B. Harris until September 30, 1990. No part of
the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the
written permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library
of the University of California at Berkeley.

Requests for permission to quote for publication
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office,
486 Library, and should include identification of the
specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the
passages, and identification of the user. The legal agree
ment with George B. Harris requires that he be notified
of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as

George B. Harris, "Memories of San Francisco Legal
Practice and State and Federal Courts, 1920s-1960s ,"
an oral history conducted in 1980 by Gabrielle Morris,
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley, 1981.

Copy no. /_

CA. 1960

TABLE OF CONTENTS Judge George B. Harris


California Pioneer Forebears

Grandfather Howard s Draying Business 5

Grandmother Howard; Catholic Schooling 13


Work and Law School 18

Observations of the Tevis Family and Kern County Land Company 21

Studies at Sacred Heart; Theater Experiences 24

Christian Doctrine; Debating Society 28

Law School or the Priesthood 31

St. Ignatius Law School 36


Student Clerk and Bar Exams 38

Recollections of Gavin McNab and Nat Schmulowitz 43

Continuing Interest in the Theater 48

Friendship with Rudolph Friml 51

Native Sons of the Golden West 55

Aileen Duffy Harris 57


Representing Hollywood Stars; A Celebrated Estate Contest 60

Office Management 64

Antitrust and the District Court 66

Pre trial Proceedings 69
Assisting Gavin McNab

Democratic Candidate for Assembly , 1938 78


Appointment by Governor Olson; Chief Justice Gibson s Reforms 85

World War II and Port Security 89

Women Attorneys 92

Fellow Municipal Judges 95

First Days on the Bench 101

The Public Defender System 102

Selective Service Appeals Board 107

Challenges of the Municipal Court 108

Duties of a Presiding Judge 111

Selective Service Proceedings and Administrative Law 114

Probation, State and Federal 116

Juvenile Court; Assignments to Superior Court 118


Appointment to the Northern District Court of California, 1946 122

Induction: Appellate Review and Instructions to Jurors 130

Law Clerk Richard Goldsmith 133

Fellow District Judges 134

Growth of the Court 137


Thiel v. Southern Pacific 141

Thoughts on Courtroom Proceedings 146

Juries and Jurisdiction 149

Grand Jury Investigation, 1951-1954 152

Recollections of Antitrust and Prohibition Issues 158

Standards and Satisfactions; Court Procedures 162


American Can and Other Antitrust Cases 167

International Longshoremen s and Warehousemen s Proceedings 175

The United States and Harry Bridges 180

Years as Chief Judge 187


APPENDIX A - "A Free Press and its Relation to the Federal Courts,"
remarks of Judge George B. Harris, Ninth Judicial

Circuit Conference, San Francisco, June 27-July 1, 1950 195

APPENDIX B - Closing Remarks of United States District Judge George B.
Harris on the Occasion of the San Francisco Bar Associ
ation Dinner on October 28, 1970, Fairmont Hotel 212

APPENDIX C - "River Lights," prose poem by Judge George Harris,

which appeared in The Skipper, December 1965 216

APPENDIX D - "Scattered Leaves," by George Harris, Sire, Bohemian

Grove, July 13, 1956 217



The Historical Society of the United States District Court for the
Northern District of California is a non-profit organization established by
federal practitioners and judges and is dedicated to preserve and develop
the history of this court. The Society s goals are threefold: 1) to marshal
the sources for historical study of the District; 2) to initiate and encourage
comprehensive and scholarly study of the court; and 3) to develop inter
pretive programs and exhibits making the fruits of this research accessible
and meaningful to the legal community and the general public.

In 1980 this series of oral histories conducted by The Bancroft Library
was initiated as an important effort in the furtherance of the Society s
objectives. By preserving the personal reminiscences of individuals whose
experiences and memory can yield valuable "oral evidence" of the court s
history, the Society hopes to enhance and amplify the written record.

In addition to historical study of the District, the Society hopes to
promote greater public understanding and appreciation of the role of the
federal judiciary. Except for those involved in the legal process, the
operation, significance, and impact of federal trial courts remains largely
a mystery to most Americans. By focusing on the history and activities of
the Northern District, the Society hopes to bridge this gap between the legal
and lay world and even encourage other District courts to initiate similar
efforts. As the nation nears the 200th anniversary of the ratification of
the United States Constitution, it is an appropriate time to raise the level
of public understanding by placing the contemporary role of district courts
in historical perspective.

Thanks are due to the foresight and generosity of the individuals and
organizations whose support make this work possible.

Robert Peckham,
Historical Society of the

U.S. District Court,
Northern District of California

San Francisco, California
April, 1981


Interviews Completed and In Process, 1981

Harris, George B., Memories of San Francisco Legal Practice and State and
Federal Courts, 1920s-1960s

Phleger, Herman, Observations on the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of California, ISO 0-1940

Wollenberg, Albert C. , Sr., To Do the Job Well: A Life in Legislative,
Judicial, and Community Service



At the time the Northern District Court Oral History Series was
established, George Bernard Harris was the senior member of the court, having
been appointed in 1946 to the newly-created fourth seat. When he retired in
1979, there were ten judges on active status with the court. It was thus
most appropriate that Judge Harris was selected by the Northern District Court
Historical Society to tape record his memories of those earlier days of the
court, and of the San Francisco bench and bar in which he had served since the

A handsome man of average size with a cordial manner and dry wit that
reflected both his Irish ancestry and lifelong love of the theater, the judge
appeared to enjoy the interview process, welcoming the interviewer to his
elegantly-appointed Pacific Heights Victorian home and providing excellent
coffee and pastry at each interview session. Nine sessions were recorded,
between April and September 1980, with a few gaps of several weeks each due
to the judge s recurring illness. The interviews follow an outline of topics
based on helpful preliminary conversations with two of Judge Harris s former
law clerks, Richard Goldsmith, now a federal magistrate in San Francisco, and
Ed Koplowitz, now in private practice; and on a review of scrapbooks, case
records, and other documents in the judge s papers. The outline was sent to
him in sections as the taping progressed. In responding to the interviewer,
Judge Harris would occasionally comment that his memory for detail was not
what it had been, sometimes referring to his published opinion on a case,
sometimes asking Patricia Driscoll, his devoted secretary for many years, to
contact a former law clerk on a point.

The memoir begins with the judge s recollections of the maternal grand
parents who raised him in San Francisco s Western Addition and their thriving
drayage company; the dashing misadventures of his father; and his classical,
disciplined Catholic education. From his family he gained an interest in the
business world; from the Jesuits a sense of public affairs and service. Although
he had a gift for student theatricals and debate and regularly went to see the
famous actors who appeared in the city, practicality prevailed and he chose
the law instead of the theater as a career. He has maintained contact with the
theater, however, through writing and directing productions for the Bohemian
Club, encouraging the fledgling Actors Workshop, and a close friendship with
Rudolf Friml.

In the 1920s when George Harris began to practice law, the Irish community
played a major role in the political life of San Francisco. The flavor of this
era is recaptured as he tells of working with attorney Gavin McNab , who had
a strong voice at City Hall, but advised young Harris to look after the legal
work and leave the politics to him. Democratic party leader William Malone


also took notice of the young attorney and encouraged him to run for the state
assembly in 1938. Harris lost that race with a minimum of sorrow to Albert
Wollenberg, Sr., later a colleague on the Northern District Court, of whom
he speaks with courtly esteem, as he does of other judges with whom he served.

Among the judge s papers are two binders of congratulatory messages on
his induction to the San Francisco Municipal Court in July 1941 and on his
induction to the federal Northern District Court precisely five years later,
that attest to the wide acquaintance and respect he enjoys in official circles.
On both occasions, Harris was sworn in by Phil Gibson, chief justice of the
state supreme court, whose efforts to improve administration of the state
courts the two men often discussed.

Judge Harris describes his work on the state and federal bench with a
broad brush, providing a sense of the measured processes of judging rather
than analysis of technical or philosophical points of legal procedure.
In these chapters, it is not always clear when a discussion is of municipal
or federal court procedures, as when the question is of pretrial conferences
or probation procedures.

Indeed there may well have been common ground between both courts since
there were general efforts at both levels to expand these aspects of judicial
activity. His view is that of one to whom ritual and a certain remoteness
are appropriate and for whom the courts are removed from the hurly-burly of
changing emotions and shifting social trends. In referring to their work with
Judge Harris, both Goldsmith and Koplowitz stressed the conscientiousness of
Judge Harris s handling of cases, the quality of teaching in his dealings
with lawyers and juries, as well as the judge s calm response to the dramatic
elements in many courtroom events. Of the variety of celebrated cases which
came before Judge Harris, only a few are touched on in any detail in this oral
history. In 1949, for example, he sat on both a raucous trial of long-time
International Longshoremen s and Warehousemen s Union president Harry Bridges
for alleged perjury [86 F. Supp. 922 and 86 F. Supp. 931] and the largest antitrust
suit of its day, the case against the American Can Company [87 F. Supp. 18].
Both were marathons that evoked considerable attention, but Harris recalls
serenely that there were familiar procedures with which to deal with each

Judge Harris s health continued to fail so that he was unable to review
the transcript of the interviews, which was edited in the Regional Oral History
Office. In December, 1980, questions which remained unclear and a few
sensitive points were read to the judge by the interviewer and revised as he
suggested. Shortly thereafter, the judge moved to Los Angeles to be near his
daughter Gail Harris Getty and his grandchildren, whose activities he greatly
en j oys .

Gabrielle Morris,

19 May 1981

Regional Oral History Office

486 The Bancroft Library

University of California at Berkeley

, A (,..

* - ...-

JTnmtfeta %&mintt EDITOR

. *
-Friday, July24, 1970


-GEORGE B. HARRIS is>i gen tie, warm,
hearted man who loves humanity, the lavtand the-
theater in that order: Next week he wilLretire as
chief judge of the United States District Court
here after 24 years on the federal bench-


* ** "

We are glad tha.the intends,, in retirement, to .
return for special judicial service as. the need aris
es. The bench will always need men of his tempera
ment, integrity and experience,..

Few men serve on the bench as long as Judge
Harris has. He went on the municipal bench here
at the age of 39, moved up to the federal bench at
44. The administration of justice has changed dra
matically in those 29 years, particularly in the
direction of meticulous regard for the rights of the
poor and the ill-educated. Judge Harris, presiding
at the trial court level, has been one of. the devoted (;

* men who have made the changing aystem wprk^s*-J

-.. -". : -" -;> - <

During recent years he has, carried a heavy -"
administrative burden, made particularly difficult:;-:
by judicial reorganizations v the -.rapid changes in 4;
the judicial process and "a persistent shortage-of : i
judges. The heavy work volume delayed his retire- -
ment three years beyond the normal retirement .
age of 65.

.. ,...

We salute him on his long service and extend.,/
every good wish to him in retirement. ; ^:-&$

[Interview 1: April 17, 1980]////

California Pioneer Forebears

Harris: I think I.M. Peckham instilled a lot of his personality in our chief

Morris: Was he Robert Peckham f s ?

Harris: Out of the loins of

Morris: father?

Harris: I believe it s uncle.

Morris: And it was I.M. Peckham who told you to join the Society of California

Harris: Yes. He had a lot to do with my career. Pretty good advisor; good
politician, and all in all, a pretty good fellow.

Morris: Well, that s a pretty good place to start, because I wanted to ask
you this morning about your family background.

Harris: Yes, fine.

Morris: To become a member of the Society of California Pioneers, if I m
right, you have to have an ancestor who was in California before

////This symbol indicates that a tape or a segment of a tape has begun
or ended. For a guide to the tapes see page 194.

Harris: Yes.

Morris: Which ancestor was that of yours?

Harris: George W. Harris. I remember Peckham went into this very carefully.
He had a monograph on it and also Nieves de la Sierra.

Morris: Now, was she of Spanish or Indian heritage?
Harris: Spanish.

Morris: Does family history preserve how George Washington Harris happened
to come to California?

Harris: No, but we have Jack Henning
Morris: Of the labor federation?

Harris: who s identified in labor, and his record, of course, of achievement
is very great. Jack looked up the history of the family in both
sides, and has considerable material on it.

Morris: Is he a relative of yours?

Harris: Cousin. I think that I.M. Peckham went into it pretty carefully,
too. I think they settled in Boston, the Harrises, Boston,
Massachusetts, then came to California.

You can have a copy of this. [Hands copy of G.W. Harris
birth certificate and genealogical chart. See page 3A & b.]

Morris: Thank you. Your grandfather, George Washington Harris, came to
California and married Nieves de la Sierra?

Harris : Yes .

Morris: And they lived down in southern California?

Harris: No, they settled here, apparently, and the records of the Spanish
church, you may recall it s located in North Beach it had
substantial records at one time before the fire of benefactions
to the church. She was quite a giver of benefactions, and somewhat
of an aristocrat. She of course, this was much before my time
but my Grandma Harris spent considerable time in the Spanish church
and taking care of benefactions and charities.

Morris: That was where your family lived, in the North Beach area?
Harris: Yes, it s still there. [pause] All right. Have you read that?

Morris: Yes, that fine chart of your parents and grandparents. Your father
was involved in ranching?

Harris: Yes, in the Kern County area.

Morris: One could live in San Francisco and still manage ranch properties
in the south?

Harris: I missed that.

Morris : Your family lived here in San Francisco

Harris: Yes.

Morris: but your father could still manage ranch country in southern

Harris: Yes. My father traded a lot of property. The Harrises were really

rich, and the riches passed me by. [laughter] My father was endowed
with a great deal of public interest spirit, and traded some of the
magnificent property here in San Francisco and California for ranch
property in Kern County, and lost considerable of the assets in
that enterprise.

I never had very much to do with the Harrises in this, socially
or otherwise, because my Grandma on the Irish side of the family
didn t care for it too much.

Morris: That s Mary McLean?

Harris: Yes, Mary McLean. She had fixed opinions as to what she liked and
what she didn t like.

Morris: And she didn t think much of the Harris side of the family?
Harris: No, losing the money first of all.
Morris: Well, I can understand that.

Harris: So I was torn between these conflicting forces. I think my Irish
grandmother persuaded me that she had the best vistas of living
and that I d enjoy her companionship. It so happened that my
mother passed away when I was four.

Morris: Oh, dear.


From Judicial Conference of the U.S. Bicentennial Committee,
Biographical Questionnaire


|ive information, first, for the Judge
imself and, then, for parents and spouse(s).
owever, do not provide information for the
jdge himself in the shaded areas.

Country of Origin
(with year of arrival and
year of naturalization if
the country is not U.S.A.]

Family Name(s)
(Include maiden
name, previous
married name, etc.)













t i

i i


Bernard Dugan


Gertrude Howard


Aileen Duffy

Charles Sheldor



Mary MacLean


Beorge Washing-!

Nieves de la Si







Harris: It was a tragedy because I was a youngster growing up, and full of
interest, full of ideas, even as a baby. She took me over my
grandma did and raised me and educated me, and was a great
influence on my life. I remember she d sit up at night when I was
writing. I was doing a great deal of writing even as a youngster,
particularly plays and things. She d sit up practically all night
with me while I indulged myself in various enterprises.

Morris: Just to keep you company?

Harris: Yes, just to keep me company. I remember she d say quite often:

"George, you never have to carry the learning on your back." What
that meant to her was a great deal, because she believed in

Morris: "You ll never have to carry the learning on your back."

Harris: No, I mean "You never have to carry the learning on your back."

Morris: The learning will carry you?

Harris: I suppose so.

Morris: That s a very cryptic Irish kind of a phrase.

Harris: I was privileged to go into the family history of the McLeans while
Aileen and I were in Ireland several times. I finally located the
birthplace of my forebear Mary McLean, and the parish church where
she had her records. Jack Henning almost coincidentally discovered
the birth records and so on.* He has many of them in his possession.
So we have sort of worked together.

Morris: And combined the family history.
Harris : Yes .

Morris: Do you remember now, off-hand, where it was that Mary McLean was
born in Ireland?

Harris: Yes, in a little town called Old Town. It s about forty miles from
Dublin, maybe fifty. Her family, apparently, were ranchers, middle-
class. Mary McLean was the first to come over from Ireland of the

*A1 though Judge Harris used the spelling McLean , John Henning,
in an unrecorded conversation on November 18, 1980, noted that
family records used the Irish-English spelling McLane .

Morris: Did she come over by herself?
Harris: Yes. She was quite a woman.
Morris: I should say so.

Harris: Came over alone, and I think she arrived in Boston eventually. She
got on a boat called the Henry Chauncey [spells it] , a sailing
vessel out of Boston, I guess. She met her husband on board this
sailing ship; his name was Charles Sheldon Howard.

Morris: Did she ever tell you if she came to California or got on the boat
because she thought she might find a marriageable young man?

Harris: She told me a story, and it was kind of a fascinating one. She
fell in love with her husband aboard ship, and they pursued a
career together. How they got to San Francisco is a matter of
public record, but they went into the teaming business, trucking
business.* In those days, the trucking industry was one of
considerable interest to the populace, because San Francisco, as
you know, was this focal point of I m interfering with your

Morris: No, no. Go right ahead; this is what I like to hear.
Harris: Is this coming through all right?

Grandfather Howard s Praying Business

Morris: Very fine. You were telling me about the drayage business.

Harris: The McLeans had Scotch-Irish background. It seems the McLeans came
down from Scotland in the early years, settled in and around
Dublin. I ve always sort of looked upon my Grandma Howard of my
family, impressed as I was by her taking me over as a youngster,
providing my sinews of war

Morris: Providing your ?

Harris: Sort of giving me the sinews of war to get along all right.

Morris: That s a nice phrase. You said she worked with her husband. She
worked in the teaming business too?

*Henning reported he had recently discovered that Charles Sheldon
Howard had been a general in the Confederate army and came to
California after the Civil War.

Harris: Yes, both of them.
Morris: Did she keep the books?

Harris: She kept the books in a little office on Dupont Street, then Grant
Avenue. She was quite a figure in Chinatown. They called her
Mrs. Charlie. During the tong wars, they gave Mrs. Charlie
protection right down the line. She was vulnerable; she was
sitting out there in a little desk in Chinatown. It s a story
itself, Mrs. Charlie, which I ve written.

Morris: Have you? I haven t come across that poking around in your papers.
Harris: It becomes a part of another story about Alcatraz.

Morris: Okay, I ll ask you that later. I m interested that they had their
business in Chinatown

Harris: Yes, they had a growing business, very fruitful business. And then
they took a partner in called Peck, and the firm was known as Peck
and Howard.* I like to look upon the Howard side of the family as
a productive one, and I therefore bestowed my indulgences on the
Howards rather than the Harrises, of course, due to the importunities

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Online LibraryGeorge Bernard HarrisMemories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 → online text (page 1 of 18)