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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things dictates certain successive steps, and that no individual
generates them.

Of course, a given man or a given body of men may be considered
constantly alert to advancement as a matter of right and as a
matter of succession. Those are the individuals that are considered.

Morris: In other words, at any one time, there are what two or three
people who are the likely candidates?

Harris: Yes, they ve been studied over . You see, the investigation conducted
by the FBI is an all-searching one. When that is completed, and the
bar association finishes, a given candidate is pretty well understood.

Morris: To be in the running?
Harris : Yes .

Morris: Are the FBI investigation and the bar association investigation
made before any negotiations are underway with the Senator who
makes the nomination, or are they going on at the same time?

Harris: I don t know the answer.

Morris: In the binder of letters and other documents relating to your

appointment to the Northern District Court, there is a note from
I.M. Peckham, which sounds as if he was very much supporting Judge
Harris s promotion to the Northern District Court. Were you aware
of his efforts in your behalf?

Harris: I.M. Peckham?
Morris: Right.


Harris: Yes, he was interested in my career for a long period of time.
He s related to Judge Peckham of the federal court. Yes.

Morris: How had you and I.M. Peckham become friendly?
Harris: Through the Pioneer Society. He was very active.

Morris: Were there other young judges like yourself whose career he kept an
interest in?

Harris: I think so.

Morris: Stop just a minute and I ll start a new tape.

Morris: I understand that both U.S. Senators for the district are involved
in nominations for the district court?

Harris: That s a matter of agreement between the Senators. They have their
own agreements, and they have their own vistas. They have their
own reasons for endorsement, some of which, of course, are political.

Morris: In 1946, when additional judgeship was approved, we have William
Knowland as the Senator from California, and Sheridan Downey.
Sheridan Downey was the senior Senator.

Harris: Sheridan Downey was the Senator who sponsored my candidacy.

Morris: Did you and Sheridan Downey have any discussions about the appointment?

Harris: Yes.

Morris : What kinds of things was he interested in?

Harris: The attitude of an applicant, general background of experience, the
usual considerations.

Morris: How about confirmation?
Harris: Confirmation.

Morris: In the Senate Judiciary Committee. Doesn t it have a say in confirming
nominations to the federal bench?

Harris: Yes. That s another area of activity that I think would be time-

Morris: But fascinating.

Harris: and fascinating, if one had the time.


Morris: I d be interested in what you recall

Harris: I have no comments, really, because I d be invading the energies of
a committee whose work is only remotely connected, from time to time.
I don t see I withdraw that. Can you tell me how that would be
relevant to our investigation?

Morris: I think it might be from the point of view that the judiciary

committee s concerns presumably would have an effect as to whether
or not they confirmed a specific nominee for the federal district
court. Their concerns would presumably lead them to indicate that
they would confirm this candidate, but they would not confirm

Harris: In anticipating, I don t think so.

Morris: The indications are that there is fairly strong interest, that there
are several bodies of strong interest, supporting various candidates.

Harris: I don t doubt that.

Morris: I guess from the point of view of historical reconstruction, the
question is: What factors led to person "A" being appointed and
person "B" not being appointed?

Harris: Then you get into such a wide, wide consideration of qualification
that I just don t think it bears the I withdraw that. I m trying
to give you the best knowledge that I have on the subject; but I
feel that whatever I might say on it would either be irrelevant or
immaterial. I just can t see how I, sitting here, would be able
to pass judgment in that area. That s another field of endeavor.

Morris: Did the committee ask you to come to Washington and talk with them?

Harris : No .

Morris: Okay; that s useful there.

Harris: No. One of the Senators invited me to his chambers the Senator
from Oakland

Morris: The Senator from Oakland did invite you to his chambers.

Harris: Yes. I recall particularly it was a Sunday afternoon. We had an
interesting conversation; not about this job, but he was a very
cordial man. Downey, of course, I met from time to time. I was
always available to meet a United States Senator.

Morris: I would think that would be a matter of more than passing interest.
The Senator from Oakland would have been Bill Knowland.


Harris: Oh, yes.

Morris: He d only shortly been appointed Senator himself. He was appointed
in 1945 by Earl Warren. You may well have been the first federal
judge appointed after he became a Senator.

Harris: This was before I was on the federal bench.

Morris: He wanted to talk to you, but he didn t want to talk about the work
of the district court?

Harris: It was not quite that. He had a levity about the thing that was

refreshing; he was not a ponderous person. I found him very engaging
and quite a gentleman.

Morris: Now, that s an interesting recollection, because many people have
commented that Bill Knowland was very distant and reserved kind of
a person.

Harris: No, I don t think so. He was an outgoing man. I d recall him as
a conservative.

Oakland always had its participation, always had its voice,
and the voice of Oakland was heard many times.

Morris: In the deliberations of the district court?
Harris: In deliberations. [pause]

Morris: There are some marvelous comments in the letters that your friends
and supporters wrote to you. This is one in June of 1946, from a
man named Charles Douglas, who says: "About two weeks ago, our
mutual friend phoned me that he had heard from Washington, and that
you were secure. I told him he was an optimist, and that all we
could do was to hold." I wondered if your recollection is that it
was as early as the first week in June of 1946 that you got some
indication that your appointment was going to be approved?

Harris: It could have been. I did not have any preordained voice, nor
did I have preordained information.

Morris: There are quite a few letters that suggest that people had written
on your behalf.

Harris: That s understandable.

Morris: Was somebody organizing these letters and asking people to write


Harris: No, they become part of a public press, and the press, of course,
notices what they want to notice and what they don t want to
notice. I didn t have any inner sanctum to require the

Morris: Would the press have come and talked to you about it, and said
Harris: They may well have; I don t remember. I was available at all times.

Morris: Was your feeling that you were ready to move on and that you d like
to go on to another court?

Harris: Any man who says to the contrary is not expanding on the truth

[Morris laughs], because that s a natural inclination of the human
being, to want to better himself, either in the circuit court or the
district court.

Morris: So you were ready when the notice came that your nomination had been

Harris: I was ready to move on.

Morris: Did this involve any actual contact with Harry Truman, who was
president then?

Harris: No, I was not close to Harry Truman in any sense of the political
world. I was an intense admirer of his; but Truman knew me only
as a working judge, and that s about it. I had no in at all with
Harry Truman.

Morris: The official record says that you were appointed by Harry Truman,
and I wondered if

Harris: During the regime of Harry Truman, yes.

Morris: Do you receive a commission which is signed by the president?

Harris: Yes, by Harry Truman.

Morris: But that is a ceremonial thing that doesn t necessarily involve the
president actually talking to the candidate.

Harris: Well, the president would have to sign.

Morris: But he doesn t necessarily himself interview the candidates?

Harris: No, he has a secretary do that.

Morris: Did somebody from Washington come out and talk to you from the
president s office?


Harris: I don t remember, really.

Morris: I am being inquisitive, but primarily because appointments to any
significant position, like the district court, are one of the
areas which students and scholars are most interested in, because
the resulting impact of the person that is appointed does affect
the later events under their wing, as it were.

Induction; Appellate Review and Instructions to Jurors

Morris: Did you ask to have the actual installation ceremony on the fifth
anniversary of your taking over the municipal court seat? It was
five years to the day that you were inducted into the federal
district court. You went on the municipal court July 17, 1941,
and then you were inducted into the federal court July 17, 1946.

Harris: What is the significance?
Morris: Was it just a coincidence?
Harris: [It was a] coincidence.

Morris: Yes. That s delightful. Do you recall the ceremony at all of your
being sworn in to district court?

Harris: My being sworn into office? Yes.
Morris: Could you tell me a little bit about it?

Harris: Well, it was a distinguished group of lawyers and people of general
interest usual run-of-the-mill type of guests that you d find in
any ceremony of like import. Rudolf Friml happened to be there.

Morris : Was he?

Harris: Yes. He wanted to see what they were going to do to me.

Morris: [laughs] I understand that.

Harris: He was quite a comedian.

Morris: Did he have a suitable song for the occasion, or would that be

Harris: No, I told him I was being inducted into office. Judge St. Sure
was quite elated that he was present. Judge St. Sure conducted
the ceremonies of my installation.


Morris: And St. Sure was fond of the theater too?

Harris: He was very fair. A very strict judge, but very fair.

Morris: And Phil Gibson came over and swore you in?

Harris: And administered the oath. Would you mind adjourning for the day?

Morris: No, I think that s a good place to stop for today.

Harris: I m tired. What shall we cover in the future?

Morris: Let s see. A couple of things that I d like to ask you about
Judge Goodman made the ceremonial speech at your induction. He
raised a couple of points that I d like to ask you about.


Morris: He spoke of the vigilance" of one s appellate brothers in setting
errors right.

Harris: Yes.

Morris: I wondered if you d care to comment on that.

Harris: Well, it was not intended by the late Judge Goodman to express more
then a generalization of the attitude of the trial judge and his
brother. It s certainly not an activity that would merit anything
but a fair attitude, not a hasty one. Your question implies perhaps
some haste and some possible personal feeling.

Morris : Personal feeling?
Harris: Yes. It does not.


Morris: No, I hadn t really thought of it that way. A similar concern that
a case might be reviewed turns up occasionally in some of the
instructions for the juries.*

Harris: Oh, yes.

Morris: I wondered if the fact that any case may be appealed is one of the
things that a judge is aware of during the process of trial and

*See binder "Instructions to Juries" in Judge Harris s papers.


Harris: Oh, certainly. We were bringing the attention of the lawyers to
the fact that instructions may be imperfect. Instructions are
sometimes difficult.

Morris : They seem to follow certain patterns .
Harris: That s right. That s correct.

Morris: There are sort of some standard instructions that are used over and
over again, and then additional ones that are specific to the
conditions of the case being heard.

Harris: That s right.

Morris: Are there ever times when a judge would wish to be reversed on

Harris: I noted that in your notes. I don t think so; I don t think any

man enjoys being reversed. Moral reasons. I don t know. I never
had the question put to me in that fashion. I would say as a
generalization, there s no desire inherent in a judge s attitude
I withdraw that. I would say as a generalization that it rarely
occurs .

Morris: I was asking this because I ve been reading some more in Judge
Wyzanski s book. At one point, he s making a speech to a group
of law students

Harris: He s an appellate judge, essentially. He s a lawyer essentially.
Morris: Right. You feel he s still a lawyer, rather than a judge.
Harris: Yes.

Morris: His comments seemed to be reflecting the thought that sometimes a
judge might feel either that the existing laws did not give him
sufficient support for a decision, or that there were sufficient
questions about laws which might somehow be contradictory; that
there were times when a judge might wish there to be a change
in a law.

Harris: Judge Wyzanski probably is aware of the sensitivity of a trial
judge in being reversed and probably is big enough and is a
philosopher enough to be aware of the niceties of our procedure
and the depth of integrity of the run-of-the-mill trial judge.
Generally, of a very deep, philosophical turn of mind. It s possible
that a man of that temperament might get some solace out of a
reversal, when he feels that there s a wrong being done and that
it can be recaptured. It might be some individual solace; I can
see that.


Morris: Would this kind of reflect what I gather is a continuing discussion
between judges who believe in a close interpretation of statutes and
the constitution and those who favor a more broad interpretation?
This is what s written about a lot; do judges themselves talk about
this kind of a point?

Harris: Well, Judge Wyzanski is essentially a philosopher. Strong mind.

Morris: Interested in pushing out the various concepts and expanding
judicial and legal framework? [pause]

Law Clerk Richard Goldsmith

Morris: Maybe we could spend just a few minutes and you could tell me what
happens when you go on the bench, how you go about organizing your
own court.

Harris: I think the organization remains largely to the clerical force, and
the chief of the clerical division. Other than a selection from
time to time, perhaps, the courts as such, the individual courts,
are not devoting their time to the minute details of the clerical,
but as often as necessary in a trial court will find ways of
capturing some of the good clerks and try to have them maintain a
degree of integrity and trustworthiness as a badge of their tribe.

Morris: I talked a little bit with Richard Goldsmith, because I was struck

with the fact that he served as your clerk for close to twenty years.*
That s kind of unusual, in t it?

Harris: It s very unusual. Personal wishes and personal desires sometimes
have a part in the very fast relationship that develops.

Morris: How did you come to find Mr. Goldsmith?

Harris: Goldsmith was a clerk for Judge Michael Roche. Michael called me

when I first came on the bench and asked me if I needed a law clerk.
He d heard that I was working nights and didn t have enough help.

Morris: When you started out you had no clerk at all?

*Mr. Goldsmith provided helpful background on Judge Harris s early
days on the Northern District Court in an interview recorded June 11,
1980, and deposited in The Bancroft Library with the tapes of
Judge Harris s interviews.


Harris: Yes. So he had two clerks available. I selected Goldsmith, and it
was a very happy selection. He s a very devoted man to the law and
devoted to the courts. He s now a commissioner no, he s more than
a commissioner.

Morris: Magistrate.

Harris: He s a magistrate. And he s a good one. He d make a good candidate
for the district court, as well as higher courts. He s essentially
a good lawyer.

Fellow District Judges////

Morris: I d like to ask about the district court judges that you were serving

Harris: Oh, yes. Judge Michael J. Roche [spells name] came out of the loins
of the labor unions. He had an illustrious career as a trial judge.

Morris : In legal

Harris: In federal court.

Morris: In matters affecting labor unions, he would represent labor?

Harris: He would try cases involving labor unions as well as labor litigants.

Morris: But when he was an attorney himself, did he represent union issues,
union matters?

Harris: Well, he started his career on the municipal bench, so he didn t

have much time as a trial lawyer, practicing per se. He came to the
attention of laboring people as a result of his loyalty and fealty.

Morris: His father and brothers were active in the labor movement?

Harris: I imagine so. He was a fair man and loved his fellow man with a
great loyalty and fealty. When I first came to the municipal
bench, he was the chief. He was of inestimable value to me and
very generous.

Morris: In helping you get familiar with the ways of the court?

Harris: To acclimate myself and to get the feel of the court. Although I
had an extensive career as a trial lawyer, nevertheless, it was
Mike Roche s firm belief that it took five years to indoctrinate
a man, however much ability he may have had, in the ways of the
municipal trial judge.

Judge Harris induction to the District Court, July 17, 1946.
From left: Thomas Anselm Duffy, the Judge s Crier and father-
in-law; Judge Harris; Jerome Duffy; Rudolf Friml.

Members of the Northern District of California Court, circa 1955.
From left, rear: Oliver Carter, Edward P. Murphy, Oliver Hamlin,
Sherrill Halbert; front: Chief Judge Louis Goodman, Michael
Roche, Judge Harris.


Harris: Louis Goodman was a man apart a dedicated lawyer, judge, and man
of family.

Morris: Man of family. He had a large family in the ?

Harris: He had a boy and a girl. Louis Goodman was a charitable man, devoted
much of his time to charities.

Morris: Did he? When you say he was very helpful to the charitable
organizations, what kinds of groups would he lend a hand to?

Harris: Oh, general charity.

Morris: Churches, or symphony and cultural things?

Harris : A mixed bag .

Morris: If somebody needed a hand and a good person for chairman, he d serve
as chairman of a committee?

Harris : I couldn 1 t answer that , really .

Morris: Was it from Judge Goodman that you got interested in lending a hand
to charitable causes yours : If?

Harris : Charity?
Morris: Yes .

Harris: No, my elemental concept of charity was reaffirmed by him. I never
had the money to carry out charitable work as well as he; but I
was motivated a great deal by his efforts.

Morris: I was thinking of your efforts on behalf of Mary s Help Hospital.

Prying money out of other people across the community, I think, may
be certainly as great a service as making a large donation oneself.

Harris: There are so many factors that lend themselves to charity, and the
field of charity, that it would be impossible for me to give a
comprehensive answer. I think that lawyers, judges, and so forth
respond pretty much within their financial abilities and are
awakened to the causes of humanity perhaps a little more readily
than the average citizen.

Morris: Why is that, do you suppose?

Harris: They see the evidences more readily because of their training and
natural appetite to help.


Morris: Do you suppose they come up against situations where people are
in real distress more than the normal, run-of-the-mill person?

Harris: A lawyer is generally the one you run to for immediate aid, perhaps
before pursuing the matter before the agency involved.

Morris: My records say that Mike Roche went on the district court in 1935.
Harris: That s about right.

Morris: So he would have helped instruct you in the ways of the district

Harris : Yes .

Morris: He was already on the district court when you went on the muni

Harris: That s right.

Morris: Was Louis Goodman on the municipal bench with you before he went to
the district court?

Harris: No, he went right to the superior court. He had an extensive
practice in personal injury and estates.

Morris: That s an interesting combination. It s at the superior court level
that you deal mostly with probate, am I right?

Harris: Probate, yes.

Morris: Let s see. Judge St. Sure was the chief judge.

Harris: Judge St. Sure was away from the court for over a year when I first
was fortunate enough to sit on the district court. Mike Roche was
in effect acting chief judge.

Morris: A year s illness is kind of major interruption in one s life. When
he recovered from the illness, did he recover fully so that he
could carry a full load, Judge St. Sure?

Harris: No, his health was badly impaired. He gave himself so fully to the
court, I m quite sure that it had an impact on his future welfare.
In those days, there was just Louis Goodman and the staff, Michael
Roche, Martin Welsh [spells name] he mainly sat in Sacramento.

Morris: And at that point Sacramento was part of the Northern District of

Harris: That s right. That s correct.


Morris: So you didn t really have much contact with him, or did you?

Harris: Yes, we went up to Sacramento constantly and tried their cases.
Louis Goodman and I would go up and clean up, maybe, a number of
cases off the calendar keep the calendar moving.

Morris: How often would that be? Once a month or twice a year ?

Harris: Oh, no. That also is related to so many factors: availability
of temporary help

Morris: Tell me about Mr. Welsh. Was he from the Sacramento area, Martin

Harris: Yes, originally. I think he sat in the superior court. He also
was a very able man in his own right.

Morris : Would he occasionally come sit in San Francisco when you needed help
with your cases?

Harris: Yes, he d help us out. The complexion of the court has changed so
rapidly in the years that the early days are not earmarked any
longer. I think there was a great deal of individual human interest
in one another.

Morris: When there are just four of you, you get to know each other better?

Harris: Yes.

Morris: And work more closely together?

Harris: Right.

Growth of the Court

Morris: Could you give any kind of a rough reconstruction of whether the
cases that came to this court in Sacramento were appreciably
different from the kinds of ones that would come to the court in
San Francisco?

Harris: No.

Morris: So there was a regular court in Sacramento that met regularly.
When you were first on the bench, did you ever go to Oakland or
San Jose to hear cases?


Harris: Oakland, yes, quite often. We had a court in Oakland. San Jose,
no. We serviced San Jose for a while.

Morris: Is that because the lawyers didn t want to come all the way to
San Francisco to present a case?

Harris: Matters of convenience, yes.

Morris: And the district goes all the way to the Oregon border, am I right?

Harris: Right.

Morris: Did anybody ever up in Arcata or Redding have a concern about why
the court didn t ever sit up there?

Harris: Yes, I think so. Redding was a very active place, legally.
Morris: That s where all the water stuff was going on.

Harris: Yes. The Carters came from Redding, Oliver and his father [Jesse].
They became quite renowned in trial work, representing people
injured in railroad accidents, and other litigation. Oliver was a
fond friend of mine, both on and off the bench.

Morris: You d been friends before you ended up in the court together.
Harris: Yes.

Morris: I ve been trying to work out a nice, neat chart to help me understand
how the court worked. When a new person is appointed, say when
Judge St. Sure retired in 1949, does somebody take his seat, in
effect: Is it his seat that is ?

Harris: No, it s a gradual transition.

Morris: But it looks as if Mr. Erskine was appointed

Harris: Herbert Erskine. Very able trial lawyer.

Morris: But he was appointed to take the place of Judge St. Sure?

Harris: That s right. I think Herbert Erskine, by reason of his extensive
trail practice, was probably one of the best trial judges that we
had in the United States. He could handle any type of litigation
and was a joy to watch in court. However, I think, in turn also,
he hastened his demise by reason of his tremendous activities. He
refused to restrain himself and passed away very suddenly.

Morris: Yes, he was only on the court for about two years.

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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 11 of 18)