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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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 10 of 18)
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Harris: That s right. Under pure mechanism of assignment. No favoritism,
no nothing.

Morris: Can a judge come to the presiding judge and say, "I really would
rather not sit on this case?"

Harris: Yes, and then state the reasons if he desires. Just that he feels
that he s in a sense disqualified from hearing the matter.

Morris: Would this be because of personal knowledge of the case or ?

Harris: It depends. Generally when a given judge invites the attention of
the chief judge to a given set of circumstances supporting
disqualification, there s no argument about it. It s finalized
right then and there. No debating.

Morris: In municipal court was there a kind of a pattern maybe that some
judges were better on some kinds of cases?

Harris: That s true. Certain judges specialize and achieve a degree of
competence that s a little bit greater than just the ordinary
run of the mill. When you consider the wide jurisdiction of the
municipal court, you can see that it must, in order to run, have
competent people. It s a challenging job.

Morris: What kinds of cases did you find yourself either specializing in ?
Harris : I found the criminal cases very demanding .
Morris: Because of the nature of ?

Harris: Because of the nature of the offenses that were being considered,
and the wide range of cases being considered.

Morris: Did you find yourself specializing, then, in criminal cases?
Harris : No .

Morris: Were any of them sufficiently challenging or interesting that you
still recall them as criminal cases that you dealt with on the
municipal court?

[pause for thought]


Harris: In fairness to the record, I would be indulging myself if I sought
to impose a recollection of so many years. It would be impossible
for me with any degree of accuracy to point to any given case as
demanding or more demanding than others.

Morris: How about jury selection when you were doing your first term as
presiding judge?

Harris: Jury selection has changed radically over the years. It now

presents a wide range of jurors able and willing to go to work
deciding the cases.

The municipal court has been able to cope with the hard demands
of a lengthy calendar, but it is a difficult court. It s difficult
in its terms of the degree of punishment, in terms of the necessities
of the situation. It requires skilled men, men of devotion to
discharge their responsibilities.

Morris: Does it require a close working relationship with the district
attorney s office?

Harris: No, it doesn t reach the proportions. The district attorney by

the very nature of things is to some extent political. The person
charged with the responsibility of running it must sense that in
some degree without indulging himself on a court.

Morris: Are there not technical requirements for many of the cases

brought in by the district attorney s office to the municipal

Harris: Technical requirement?

Morris: That in certain kinds of cases, it s the district attorney that
brings the matter to trial?

Harris: No, I think they re brought on the calendar automatically. After

the cases are at issue, I think it s purely mechanical. The degree
of time occupied is a factor, of course.

Morris: But to what extent are there, in municipal court, cases in which
the county has brought action against someone?

Harris: The county necessarily is the litigant in many cases. I ve never
seen a case differentiated by either the district attorney s
office or any other agency receive any favoritism or any
indulgences. I don t think any public complaint s ever been
made; it may be possible.

Morris: You said a little bit about the municipal court judges developing
some specialties in some kinds of cases how about the attorneys
coming to ?


Harris: That s true.

Morris: Were you beginning to notice that in your term on the municipal
court? That attorneys were more specialized?

Harris: That s true.

Morris: So, you d come to expect a certain attorney if it was a certain
kind of a case, perhaps?

Harris: And/or certain law offices handling certain cases, and to a degree
being specialized.

Morris: Were there some law offices that specialized in matters that would
come to municipal court?

Harris: That s true.

Selective Service Proceedings and Administrative Law

Morris: Another area that you talked about a little bit last time was the
hearing procedures that you helped to develop for the selective
service board during World War II.

Harris: In the first instance, that was a very trying and demanding process,
because we had men untrained in the judiciary passing upon critical
rights of the persons brought before the board. I found generally
that there was a high degree of competence and a high degree of
effort to accord the accused, or the participants, every advantage
known to the law. Our reviews were orderly and just, and I can t
now recall any severe complaints that we ever suffered.

Morris: Did you in a sense provide some training for the people selected to
be on the hearing committee?

Harris: Oh, yes. We had some pretty well- respected lawyers on the board.
My recollection now is Al Zirpoli was one (now Judge Zirpoli) .

Morris: Would a selective service hearing board be in the area that s called
administrative law?

Harris: Yes, essentially administrative.

Morris: Right. In that their actions are based on the rules and regulations
of their particular agency. Has administrative law expanded in the
time that you ve been serving on the bench?


Harris: Oh, yes. Administrative law is probably the most active that we

have. There are very few cases that do not fall put it this way
most of the cases entertained by the lower courts are administrative
in their initial phases. Sometimes they broaden out into a
consideration of the several writs, but largely it s in a court
trying administrative cases, rather.

Morris: Does the increase in administrative
Harris: Demands?


Morris: No, I m thinking of the business of administrative law still. Does
that move into areas that used to be the province of the courts
proper, or is just there s been an ?

Harris: That s true. It s largely in the matters of the court in broad
generalization .

Morris: But it doesn t seem to have cut down the work of the courts.

Harris: The courts are increasing constantly. Instead of four judges, they
have twenty- four judges.

Morris: [laughs] That s quite a growth.
Harris: That s said facetiously.

Morris: Do the rulings of an administrative court then become part of the
body of material that a judge needs to consider in precedents?

Harris: That would be a difficult thing to answer concisely and precisely.

It would almost require a minute inspection of records and so forth.
I don t think I could enlarge too much.

Morris: Well, I m not sure that I m prepared to ask you the right questions
on it, either; but as an area that

Harris: It s difficult, a difficult area.

Morris: for future study, is that one that has had a significant influence
on the work of the courts?

Harris: That s a fair statement.

Morris: One last question on selective service: was it a major issue during
World War II? Were there considerable numbers of young people who
did not want to serve in the military?


Harris: Yes, it was a heartbreaking experience for many judges, and I must
include myself, to pass judgment on many young men, because the
sincerity of their part was manifest from the nature of the testimony
that they gave. That s enough. Period.

Morris: I was thinking in a comparative sense. We came through a period in
the 1960s when there was a very strong, publicly-visible resistance
to military service. I don t remember a similar number of young
people ready to go to jail to avoid military service during World
War II.

Harris: It s a long period of time to consider. My recollection is that

there were very few cases that demanded the attention of a hearing
body. Generally the processing in the first instance was all-
embracing and all-inclusive.

Probation, State and Federal

Morris: Another area that I think is valuable to have your views on is the
municipal court s role in probation and supervision of defendants.

Harris: That almost is a separate study. That would require an infinite
amount of time to really process. The records would have to be
examined carefully.

Morris: I believe you were involved in an extensive study of probation

procedures on the district court. I was wondering if anything like
that had happened in your municipal court service.

Harris: I couldn t make a comparison. The factors involved are entirely
different. Probation in the federal court has grown up to such
an extent that [pause] The factor of probation in a given case
presents some of the most critical questions imposed upon both the
federal courts and the state courts. To accord a man a real
hearing and a probationary period is one of the most challenging
questions that we have, because there you have split decisions;
you have a vanguard, if you please, of difficult roles that must be
assumed. I look upon probation as the safeguard of any court, be
it municipal, superior, or appellate.

Morris: Including federal.
Harris: Including federal.
Morris: You say "safeguard of the court."


Harris: Over the years that I ve been privileged to sit, we ve had a broad
view of some very competent men as probation officers, career men
who are willing to devote an extraordinary amount of


Morris: I d like to explore a little more this idea of probation as a

safeguard of the court. Is that in the sense of a review of whether
the conditions at the ?

Harris: It gives an opportunity, number one, for intensive study of a man s
career before passing ultimate judgment. It provides for a fair,
intellectual approach by the probation officer, covering a wide
range of problems. It involves a complete study of the man s
career from the time he s born, by competent men. It s not simply
a matter of passing notice, but an application of sincere study on
the part of the officer.

In both courts, state and federal, we have had a high degree
of performance on the part of the officers. They re a select group
and eager to help the court in every sense of the word. It s a
refreshing experience that I had with both the agencies, that is
the federal and municipal, as giving an opportunity on the part
of the courts to give the defendant every ounce of vitality to a
meaningful document; that is, a decree of probation.

Morris: Is this the review that is made after the trial and before the
judge issues a sentence in a case?

Harris: All of the subject matter of the probationary motions are carefully
processed before sentence. In order to safeguard that, very often
a case is reopened for additional testimony, as a result of the
recommendation of a probation officer.

Morris: Even though it s been a jury case, and the jury has rendered its

Harris: Yes.

Morris: In that case, is the jury brought back in to hear the additional

Harris: Under certain grave considerations, yes.

Morris: That s very helpful, because I think in the general public s mind,
probation is thought of in the much narrower sense as the public
interest in the behavior of a person after they have been in jail.

Harris: I can t conceive [pause] any degree of differentiation.


Morris: Is the sentencing of a person who has been found guilty a more
arduous task for a judge than rendering an amount of damages or
something relating to property?

Harris: I missed the last part.

Morris: Let me see if I can phrase it more efficiently. Is

Harris: It s efficient, but I

Morris: Is it more difficult for a judge to pass sentence on somebody who

has been found guilty, and is presumably going to be required to go
to prison. Is that a harder decision than a case of a dispute
over property?

Harris: I would think so. The decisions become more grave and hard, in terms
of processing facilities. An office capable of handling major cases
is an office that perforce must take into consideration every factor
as guilt and/or innocence. Under the circumstances, it doesn t
require a perfunctory, but an all-embracing view of the evidence as
a whole. Those are not mere words, those are working words; words
that have to be met.

There are occasions when you run into a situation where the
probation officer might be regarded as lenient. Those cases are
not considerable and ordinarily receive a fair hearing.

Juvenile Court; Assignments to Superior Court

Morris: When you were on the municipal court, was there a separate juvenile
section, or would all judges handle some juvenile cases?

Harris: No, there s no separate business section. Sometimes you wonder

about that, because it might be more efficient if you had a so-called
business section. But then again it would be criticized because of
splitting different areas of decision and adding another body of
trained men, considering the expense involved, and all of the other

Morris: So that civil cases and criminal cases were handled by the same

Harris: The same judges.

Morris: How about cases involving young people?

Harris: That s the juvenile


Morris: Was there a separate juvenile court?

Harris: Yes, juvenile court very difficult court.

Morris: Did you serve on that at all?

Harris: Yes. Everyone has to serve on all the courts.

Morris: Why is the juvenile court more difficult?

Harris: The youngsters [pause] the youngsters involved find it difficult
to adjust themselves in very many instances to a workaday career
strike all that. The juvenile court is a difficult court by reason
of the nature of the decisions that are made, and the nature of the
defendants. They re [usually] all young men and require patient
and considerable attention.

Usually, the juvenile court judge remains in his office for a
considerable length of time, sometimes many years. I m mindful of
men who should receive the accolade of approval and merit. Mel
Cronin is one. Very able and very thoughtful judge, particularly in
the juvenile court. He held that office for many, many years, and
drew great distinction.

Morris: When you were on the municipal court in the forties, there were

some major changes underway in the juvenile correction system in

California. The Youth Authority was trying to develop
new kinds of

Harris: I have no recollection.

Morris: I was wondering if the courts would be involved in that. Or if the
kind of correctional facilities available in which to house a young
person, if that would ever have an effect on the kind of decision that
was reached?

Harris: It probably would. Probably would.

Morris: We ve touched on superior court a couple of times. Did you have
occasion to have a temporary service on the superior court?

Harris: Temporary and by appointment from the state supreme court.
Morris : How does that work?

Harris: Just by a simple order. The chief justice assigns a given judge to
a given court, and it breaks through the barriers of a lot of
technical requirements . The appointment generally gives to a
municipal judge an opportunity to serve on the higher courts without
permanent designation by temporary designation.


Morris: It sounds like a way of seeing if he s ready for greater responsi

Harris: It could be.

Morris: Was this the kind of thing that Chief Justice Gibson would talk to
you about?

Harris: Yes, very often, as to the general I m afraid I m not coming through,

Morris: I think it s doing fine. I ve got a volume control here.

Harris: I still have a persistent cold.

Morris: Would you like a glass of water?

Harris: Yes, that would be good. We ll take a short recess. [brief tape

Morris: We were talking about conversations with Judge Gibson about serving
on the superior court.

Harris: From time to time Judge Gibson would inquire not only of George
Harris, but of practically all of the sitting judges, so that he
would have a background of information reliable and pertinent and

Chief Justice Gibson, of course, was one of the most admired
men ever to sit in the supreme court of California, because he
gave so unstintedly of himself and such devotion to the court. I
can t believe that he s been properly rewarded, but I m sure someday
he will be noticed among the greats.

Morris: I think it s a step in that direction to have the recollections of
people like yourself who he encouraged to broaden their experience.

Harris: I think so. I think it is.

Morris: How would this work? If you were sitting on the superior court, you
would not be available for municipal court service. Would that
cause any problems in terms of the caseload of San Francisco
municipal court?

Harris: I don t think so.

Morris: Would you sit for three or four months at a time on superior court?

Harris: By assignment and by order, so that the jurisdiction of the court s
maintained. It s not done out of hand, but after processing,
making appropriate orders.


Morris: How does superior court differ in the way you would handle a case
from the municipal court?

Harris: There s no difference, in procedure. All procedural techniques
are available to both courts. All the writs: habeas corpus,
prohibition, and so forth, certiorari, are all available to both
courts. It s a statutory court with wide jurisdiction and a very
useful court.

Morris: A very useful court.

Harris: Very useful. It s one of the great facilities of a sitting judge.

Morris: To be able to send a case to superior court?

Harris: Under given circumstances.

Morris: Informally, are there any differences in the relations between judges
sitting on the superior court?

Harris: No.

Morris: You re physically all in the same building, aren t you? The municipal
courts and the superior courts? Or were in your time.

Harris: I think so.

Morris: Are there any other aspects of municipal court service that you

would like to include for the record and for the enlightenment of
future potential judges?

Harris: I think not. Absent a series of facts and circumstances larger than
we presently survey, absent that, I would say what we ve conducted
is sufficiently embracing to give a predicate for any useful
recommendations available.

Morris: Thank you. That s helpful. It s helpful too as a basis for
understanding the role of the district court.



Appointment to the Northern District Court of California, 1946

Morris: While you were on the municipal court, were you aware of the

activities of the federal courts and of their concerns about staff?

Harris: Not until a given situation was presented. Some of the judges, of
course, are better students than other judges. In those instances,
maybe a wider range of application would be justified. There are
many factors that are in the very nature of things not inclusive,
or not all-inclusive, and a given set of circumstances might afford
a given predicate for useful recommendations.

Morris: Were you aware of the concern about the caseloads of the district
court and efforts to get additional judges on that court?

Harris: Yes, constantly. Ever since I came on the court. It s a very, very
difficult situation to get the number of men needed, of skilled
men, competent men.

Morris: As early as October 1945, Tom Clark, who was then the U.S. Attorney
General, was in contact with the Senate Judiciary Committee,
providing information to support the requests for an additional
judge for the Northern District Court of California. He reported that
the early history of the Northern District was that there were
temporary positions and time limits on making appointments to the
Northern District Court.* The last additional position had been
created in July 1942, which was the fourth permanent judge for the
district court.

*Letter, October 25, 1945, Tom Clark to Pat McCarran, chairman,
Senate Judiciary Committee, and letter, January 6, 1946, Will
Shafroth, U.S. courts administrative office, to Sheridan Downey,
Senator from California. Both in binder on Judge Harris s
induction to the federal court.


Harris: That s possibly true.

Morris: This is from letters that I found in the binder on your appointment
to the district court. It was very helpful. I was wondering if
there was some kind of a committee or group in San Francisco that
was urging the creation of an additional judgeship for the district

Harris: Other than the spontaneity of those groups charged with the

responsibility of recommending, there was no official body that I
can recall. It may have grown up since I served in the federal
side, but there s no official body.

Morris: The bar association ?

Harris: The bar association uniformly is on top of that.

Morris: Did they maintain an interest in making ?

Harris: Oh, constantly. Visitations upon the court, and the bar association
is most attentive.

Morris: You say visitations upon the court. They send a committee to say
it s time we should have another judge?

Harris : Yes .

Morris: I would think the presiding judge would be happy to receive such

Harris : They have decrees .

Morris: Who is particularly active in the bar association?

Harris: Jack Sutro. Without minimizing the work of many, many others,
Sutro has shown a great diligence.

Morris: In matters related to court?

Harris: In the personnel. Very often that s enough.

Morris: You might tell me for my own understanding.

Harris: Over a lifetime, there are many individuals who provide great help
for the judiciary, and they never heard of accepting any of the
plaudits. I believe that they should be rewarded by appropriate

Morris: Was Mr. Sutro head of the bar association at that point, or on a


Harris: At one time he was. That also is a body that succeeds itself.

Morris: They appoint their own officers?

Harris: They get their own officers, own directors.

Morris: Do the sitting members of the court is it customary for them to
remain active in the bar association?

Harris : No .

Morris: So going on the bench removes you from an area of activity that
you ve been involved in before?

Harris : Yes .

Morris : Is that a hardship?

Harris: No. It s a responsibility that s grave, but not a hardship.

Morris: Some of these statistics are interesting, and the general drift of
them is that the northern

Harris: Statistics on what?

Morris: Statistics on the Northern District Court in the 1940s, leading

up to your appointment to it. That the Northern District Court in
California handled more cases than other district courts, with
fewer judges, and that the average elapsed time on the disposition
of cases was several months less than the average for other
district courts. I wondered if you could shed any light on why
the district court in California, Northern District, handled so much
more business than other courts?

Harris: I didn t know that. I didn t know that statistic was available.

Morris: I don t know if they still maintain these records; but this report

that I m quoting looked like a regular periodic statistical summary.
At the time, you probably wouldn t have been aware of the volume
of cases, but the recommendation from California was for two
additional judges, and Attorney General Clark recommended just one.

Harris: After a survey is made by the competent authority, recommendations
are made of wide importance on the number of judges available for
selection, and the number of vacancies available. Those statistics
represent a lifetime of application; they re quite meaningless
unless read in the light of the experience of the court and the
necessities of the court. There s a high degree of responsibility,
and not temporized. I mentioned Jack Sutro as one who appreciates
this, and there are others over the years who gave very unstintedly
of their energies. That s about all I could add.


Morris: Right. I was wondering at what point you were aware there was going
to be an additional judgeship on there.

Harris: Oh, yes. Sure. Everyone is alerted to that, officially and
otherwise. There s no mystery about it.

Morris: Did you talk to anybody about the possibility of yourself being a
candidate for that position?

Harris: No.

Morris: How does it come about that a person is ?

Harris: It came about as a result of the vacancy, as a result of the fact
that I must have shown a competence; otherwise they wouldn t come
to me at all, they would avoid me. I think the natural order of

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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 10 of 18)