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

. (page 7 of 18)
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 7 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tempered reasonably.

Morris : And invoked

Harris : And invoked sparingly .

Morris: That sounds as if you see the judge s role as preventive in a sense.

Harris: That s right.

Morris: I think we may come back to this pretrial matter when we get to other

Assisting Gavin McNab

Morris: If you don t mind, I d like to go back a bit to where we were last
week in our discussion.

Harris: Shall we take a five-minute recess?
Morris: All right.


Harris :


Harris :

Would you ask Mrs . Driscoll to come down?
while Mrs. Driscoll returns]

[brief interruption


Harris :
Harris :

Morris :
Harris :

Morris :
Harris :
Morris :

Harris :

We were talking about the number of cases that the judge was
involved in while he was practicing with Mr. McNab and Mr.
Schmulowitz that involved Hollywood, either studios or performers.

There was a Mr. Connick, an international figure in the theatrical
world. I have no recollection of the case, but it may well be
that it grew out of the welter of litigation that we had involving
personalities in the motion picture world. Did you see anything
on him?

The case does not readily come to mind. Did you have anything to
do with the Chaplin case?

Chaplin, yes. Charles Chaplin we handled
Charles Chaplin and Leta Gray.

Leta Gray Chaplin and Charlie Chaplin. We handled the settlement
of the case; we handled quite a lot of the pretrial matters.
Charlie Chaplin was just as picturesque in his portrayals as he was
in the screen world. He was a very difficult client.


Mr. McNab handled most of the contacts with him. What was the name
of the late comedian? Your papers have his name.

Would that be Fatty Arbuckle?

No. Fatty Arbuckle it took three trials to acquit him.

The one I wanted to ask you about was Ben Blue and Arizona
Corns tock. You were quite a central person in that case, am I


I can t remember the details.

This was in 1935, and the case was Ben Blue v. The California
Division of Corporations and the Commissioner^ of the Department of
Investments . Ben Blue had bought shares in the Arizona Comstock
Corporation, and then he later sold them while permission to market
the shares was pending. The permission was later denied.

Harris: Was there anything about that case that ?


Morris: You appealed it to the state circuit court. I wondered how Mr. Blue
had gotten involved in mining shares. That s a pretty specialized
form of investment, isn t it?

Harris: Yes, but actors sometimes are very gullible about their investments.

Morris: Was this a questionable stock in some way?

Harris: I have no recollection. I remember Ben Blue as a personality.

Morris: And what was he like to deal with?

Harris: I have no recollection of dealing with him. He was a humorous, gay
sort of a person.

Morris: There s another case that went on for some time that interested me,
and that s the Hobart Estate case.

Harris: Hobart was a large and somewhat unwieldy case. Hobart interests

were very large on the west coast, and the fight was over the estate.
Our office handled most of the litigation on behalf of the defense.

Morris: Am I correct that at one point, Mr. McNab himself was a litigant
on the case, as well as one of the attorneys?

Harris: I believe there was some question of a possible conflict of interest,
but the matter was resolved satisfactorily.

Morris: I came across a curious reference to the Hobart case in reading

newspaper accounts of the Bridges trial.* Early in the proceedings,
Vincent Hallinan charged you with being prejudiced against him ever
since you had both worked on the Hobart case. What would that
have been about?

Harris: I would have thought the Hobart case was before his time. He s an

able lawyer. We grew up as friends and parted, as the record shows,
when I sentenced him for contempt.


Harris: I said, he s a very able lawyer. His comments to the jury when we
went to trial for contempt were very explicit and needed no

Morris: He had a separate trial on the contempt charge? Was that before

*S.F. Chronicle , November 18, 1949.


Harris: Yes.* It went to the circuit court for review that was affirmed.
What I have in mind is that Hallinan s comment to the jury saying
that my participation [in the Bridges case] is wrong. Let me
state that I felt his comments were extremely unfair. I think this
is on a tangent.

Morris: What I m interested in is the number of you Irish attorneys who were
getting established at the same time. A number of you seem to have
been interested in political life, back in the thirties. I was
wondering when you became active in the Democratic party?

Harris: I can t see that the Democratic party had anything to do with
litigation that I participated in with Hallinan.

Democratic Candidate for Assembly^ 1938

Morris: What I d like to talk about a little is your work with Bill Malone
and the Democratic party and then your interest in running for the
state assembly in 1938.

Harris: All right.
Morris: New topic.

Harris: The evolution of my interest in politics was born by reason of my
association with Mr. McNab. There were no importunities, nor were
there any evidences of political suasion being presented either to
me or to my colleagues.

Morris: Mr. McNab was known as a reform leader; I wondered what particularly
he was interested in and what of those interest you shared?

Harris: That would take several volumes to carefully and knowingly present
Mr. McNab s view on politics. He was a very ingenious lawyer, of
great standing in the community. He was a figure of stature
with respect to the Democratic party. He held together a loosely
applied organization, but really not as potent as some people

My activity, really, was limited in the main to the trial of
cases and to the preparation of cases for trial. I don t believe
that my attainments in political life are worthy of too much comment,
because I m not as versed in political life as I should be, I suppose,

*U.S. v. Hallinan [103 F Supp. 800, March 18, 1952].


Harris :



Harris :

Morris :

Harris :

I think you re being very modest.

No, I m not essentially a politician as politicians are generally
known. McNab used to give us a warning, and the warning generally
read as follows: Take care of the trial of the cases; the
political matters I will attend to. By which, as I later found
out, he meant nothing more nor less than that he was fully able to
take care of whatever political matters had a bearing on our
employment .

If the inquiry is intended to portray McNab or anyone else
imposing individual viewpoints wrongfully, I never saw illustrations
or evidences of any such conduct. Nat Schmulowitz was a stickler
for decorum and was, in my opinion, one of the really great trial
lawyers in San Francisco. His conduct was punctilious, and he
rarely spoke unless he was well prepared. Now do you think I could
have about five minutes?

Certainly .
[break rest]

In terms of an attorney s interest in the civic life of the community
outside of his legal practice, I just wanted to ask you a brief bit
about your campaign for the assembly, and if you worked on other
political campaigns in the thirties before you became a judge. Bill
Malone has told us a little bit about encouraging you to run for

Bill Malone came out of the loins of the Mission District,
evidenced very early attainments in political life.


Had he in turn been encouraged to develop more interest in the
Democratic party by Mr. McNab, by any chance?

I think the emergence of Bill Malone was an automatic one. His
attainments from the standpoint of a skilled negotiator or a fair
antagonist were amply supported by his general conduct in the
community. He held the respect of the Republicans as well as the
Democrats, and was altogether worthy of the responsibilities cast
on him. Bill Malone could be earmarked a conservative Democrat,
if there is such .

The reason that I was asked to step into the political arena was
due to the fact that the 27th Assembly District was always held by a
Republican leader. That is to say Al Wollenberg and others Tinley
were generally the

*See interview with Mr. Malone, in process in the Regional Oral
History Office.


Morris: The 27th was a portion of Pacific Heights, am I right?

Harris: Yes. The most conservative district in the whole outfit. We called
it The Hill.

Morris: And who was it that suggested that you should ?

Harris: They cast around for someone who probably would be worthy of the
assignment, because they wanted to win it. I dedicated myself,
fortunately or unfortunately, to a very difficult assignment. The
27th district was held by Republican leaders from the early times.*
Some noted lawmakers came out of the loins of the district. I
had a problem on the Democratic side and that is defeating my
opponent on the Democratic side.

Morris : That was Marvin Lewis .

Harris: Marvin Lewis lost in the primary, and I had another vigorous

opponent named Murphy not the Edward Murphy with whom I later
served on the court.

Morris: In 1938, you and Al Wollenberg were running in the general election.
That was the year that Judge Wollenberg ran for the first time.

Harris: Wollenberg won the Republican nomination, and then I had received
the Democratic nomination by wrestling the powers from a very
presentable young man at the time.

There was nothing in my entry into the political life of the
city that should cause any comments.

Morris: Well, it was interesting that you and Mr. Wollenberg apparently
lived next door to each other at that point.

Harris: That s true. Every night I would go in and see Al Wollenberg and
talk to him about how he was doing, and he d talk to me about how I
was doing.

Morris: That s marvelous.

Harris: A great friendship developed. It was a clean fight, and it was

handled on a very high plane, because the people recognized that it
was a district that had attained distinctions as one of the fine
political areas in the West.

*From 1917 to 1943, when it became a San Mateo County district.


Morris: Would you recall what kinds of things you discussed during that
campaign? Would you and Mr. Wollenberg have debated each other,
or addressed the same groups on the same night?

Harris: Oh, yes, the same groups every night.

Morris: So that you got to hear each other s speeches.

Harris: The lonely life of an assemblyman is not altogether what it cracks
up to be.

Morris: I would have liked to have heard your debates. What did you and
Mr. Wollenberg ?

Harris: Wollenberg is no second rater. Wollenberg is a very, very astute
lawyer and a very fine gentleman. He s a tough man to beat.
Furthermore, you have the benign influence of his late and
distinguished father.

Morris: Right. You both come from well-established San Francisco families.

Harris: That s right. We kept the level very high. There was no mud-slinging,
there was no nothing. Excepting on the merits he pointed out where
he could ably represent the district. Of course, he was right in
many particulars I did not have any experience in the legislature.

Morris: I think he probably had run before, but that was the year that he
was first elected. It s interesting, because that s the year that
Culbert Olson was elected governor, and he was the first Democratic
governor in

Harris: Culbert Olson was my friend. He was the most handsome governor in
the United States.

Morris: His pictures are of a very distinguished man.

Harris: He was very distinguished. It s too bad that some of his legislation
as proposed could not have been attained. I should like to have seen
Culbert Olson in the Senate.

Morris: In Washington.

Harris: But my interest in political life was not as avid as one might

expect, because I never received too much fulfillment, and perhaps
I didn t live close enough to the picture. I could win or lose
without too much anguish.

Morris : Did you campaign at all for Culbert Olson while you were campaigning
for yourself?


Harris: No, I have no recollection of campaigning for Olson. I had trouble
enough of my own. He was a pretty rough customer, Marvin Lewis.
Marvin Lewis s mother taught him the art form of elocution. He
was no mean speaker in his own right.

Morris: Was mother Lewis a political figure, a campaigner?

Harris: Yes. She was very interesting people. Lewis was a talented young
fellow, he s done very well in the law.

Morris: You yourself were no slouch as a debater. You d done a lot of
debating in school yourself.

Harris: A lot of debating in school, yes.

Morris: That s different from actually getting up ?

Harris: Well, it s different than being in the legislature.

Morris: How had you and Culbert Olson gotten to be friends?

Harris: Olson?

Morris: Yes, Governor Olson.

Harris: I met his son first. After meeting his son, I talked to the senior
Olson. He said, "We d like you to run for office." He gave me all
the reasons, many of them inviting, why I should run.

Morris: This is in the assembly race?

Harris: Yes. I saw in the offing nothing but expense, and it proved to be

Morris: Yes. It didn t pay very well in those days.

Harris: No, it doesn t pay to run for office. I lost to Wollenberg.
Generally the loser is obliged to pick up his own chits .

Morris: Did you have a campaign manager and a committee?

Harris: Oh, sure, you always have some self-anointed campaign manager.

[laughter] That s part of the operation making big noises. Of
course, it s not as simple as that.

You have to really love politics to enjoy this campaigning.

Morris: You say there s a lot of noise to it. It s often struck me that
politics has a strong theatrical aspect to it.


Harris: Yes, I suppose so.

Morris: Who anointed themselves your campaign manager?

Harris: Enterprising people in the neighborhood; neighbor children. They re
all well-designed people; but sometimes the uninvited are most
difficult to deal with.

Morris: People you don t particularly know, or don t particularly welcome?
Harris: No, I have no likes or dislikes today; I love everybody.
Morris: Bill Malone s comment was that

Harris: Outstanding. Malone is an outstanding man. He devoted his whole
life to political enterprise.

Morris: Well, and I think would be a very knowledgeable source of information
about who was up and coming in public life, not only in San Francisco,
but statewide.

Harris: Oh, yes. It s generally recognized, or implied, that when you do
run for office, and attain some distinctions, and withstand the
rigors of running, that there should be some reasonable way of
remembering that kind of conduct in terms of attainment of higher
office and the like.

Morris: I gather that there were some disagreements between Mr. Malone and
Governor Olson.

Harris: I wouldn t know.

Morris: You didn t get involved in those at all?

Harris : No .

Morris: I wondered if Mr. Malone talked to you at all about becoming a
candidate for the county central committee?

Harris: No. Malone and I never discussed politics, except in an impassive

Morris: Did you have any contact with a man named Tom Finn, who I understand
was an important person in Republican politics? Was he well known?

Harris: Tom Finn was a Republican leader of many attainments; and so far as
I know, was a decent, honest, reliable labor leader.

Morris: It looked as if for a while there were Irish leaders both in the
Republican and the Democratic party.


Harris: I don t think the characterization Irish leaders?

Morris: I looked through some of the election records, to understand Mr.
Malone s efforts to elect a Democrat in every assembly district,
and what I found were Irish names as the candidates for both

Harris: Wouldn t that be true if you took a cross-section of the United
States, you d probably find a proportionate share of Irish.

Morris: In the thirties?
Harris : Yes .

Morris: Yes. I think that s a useful comment, because the names do change,
and reflect other ethnic origins. There have been several
references in the press clippings on your career that you were a
delegate to the Democratic National Convention one year, and I
can t determine some say 1940 and some say 1944.

Harris: In the forties. I was nominated, but I developed a very vicious
flu and could not attend.

Morris: Was that a great loss in your life?

Harris: I don t think so. I never had that avid a notion about political

Morris: So you didn t really stay active, then, in election campaigns?

Harris: No, not in a formidable sense. I would take the citizen s viewpoint
of what is good for the country and what is bad for the country, and
make noises like everybody else. I still have only to say that I d
rather go down and see a good show. Not that I m without respect
for the labor leader, and I m certainly respectful of the ordinary
leaders of the destinies of the people. In these module districts
like the 27th Assembly, generally you find some pretty able people,
south of market people.

The Irish love politics, we say.
Morris: How about that other young Irish attorney, Pat Brown?

Harris: He s gone a long way. I saw him when he started in the Richmond
district, with a handful of loyal little patriots.

Morris: Would this be the Sons of Cincinattus?


Harris: Yes, I remember that. Pat is one of the finest politicians ever
developed in the West politicians is all I m talking about.

Morris: In terms of understanding and interest in the mechanics of
elections and government.

Harris: Right. Pat Brown, as far as I know his extreme honesty, his
presentation and his contact.

Morris: He seems to have had a very strong interest in political organization
and political life, from a very young man.

Harris: Yes, he s got a strong and devoted interest.

Morris: Did Pat recruit you to become a member of the Sons of Cincinnatus?

Harris: No. I can t remember any overtures that he ever made. He had a

closely-knit little group. I did see him quite often, when he came
to the Hall of Justice; as the new district attorney, he sought my
advice on many matters of practice and procedure and so forth.
I was then on the municipal bench.

Morris: Before Pat Brown was elected - t there were some concerns about the
office of the district attorney and its operation.

Harris: I know of no concerns that were put to my attention. No.

Morris: The contrast that is cited is that across the bay, there was that

energetic district attorney in Alameda County named Earl Warren, who
was making things new and different in county matters.

Harris: You mentioned Earl Warren, one of the great respected leaders of the
West, and a man of dedicated honesty, and a man of extreme talent.

Morris: Was there any feeling in San Francisco that the district attorney s
office should be brought up to date and modernized so that it would
be like what Warren was doing across the bay?

Harris: I don t know that they helped it any, but I think everybody had a
hope that the office would continue to be run on a high level.

Morris: Had Matt Brady been district attorney for a long time?
Harris: Matt Brady was an institution; he was not a public leader.
Morris: He was an institution. Because he d been around so long?

Harris: Well, it s a way of saying that he was well-versed in the art of
politics , which he was .


Morris: Okay. Bill Malone said that he felt that politics had lost a
great practitioner when you decided not to pursue politics.

Harris: I don t know what the people may have lost, but I m glad that I
pursued the career that I did.

Morris: Did your wife take part in your campaign for the assembly?

Harris: Yes. Aileen was avidly interested in my career, and was a great
adviser. I sought her advice on all matters that were germane to
our family life; I sought her advice on practically all matters of
my career.

Morris: Would she maybe have organized a women s committee too ?

Harris: I remember she was even dedicated to posting signs on posts.

Morris: Good for her!

Harris: That s how much she was interested.

Morris: That s a noble, unsung part of political campaigns. Would she have

been in charge of the mechanics of the campaign, seeing to it that ?

Harris: Not necessarily.

Morris: It sounds as if she enjoyed the various civic aspects of life.

Harris: She had a very deep-rooted instinct about political life. Her
intuition is better than some person s judgments.

Morris: In what ways?

Harris: Oh, that would occupy our attention for several weeks if we started
in on that.

Morris: Okay, take a stab at it now, and then when you think of other

things, when they re appropriate, we can include those in the record

Harris: Let s go back to that.

Morris: Yes. I do think that one s spouse is quite often very much a part
of one s professional life.

Harris: There s no question about it. Generally wives are true helpmates
in attaining success .

Morris: You have a very gallant view.


Harris: Not gallant at all, I have a practical viewpoint. My wife was an
intellect, and I could see her in the role of executive in many
branches of government. I can see her as a recipient of high
office if she sought it. But she never sought it, and she more or
less avoided it. If it involved any kind of a critical comment,
she would not embarrass at all.



Appointment by Governor Olson; Chief Justice Gibson s Reforms

Morris: Let me ask you about your appointment to the municipal court. When
did you begin to think that that might be a possibility in your

Harris: Well, I listened to some of the people who were espousing my cause
ever since I started.

Morris : Who would those be?

Harris: Well, some of them are gone. The municipal court in the days that
my conduct was reflected there was an institution. Developed there
were some of the finest lawyers in the West.

Morris: Is the municipal court something that you seek appointment to?

Harris: Oh, sure, you run for office on the municipal court. That s the

first rung. Thereafter, of course, it depends upon your ambition
as to how much you want to attain. The municipal court is a
difficult court, difficult in the kind of work that s engaged in,
difficult in the type of assignments that are given. Altogether,
it s a challenging court.


Morris: I understand that Phil Gibson is credited with considerable
innovations in the state courts while he was chief justice.

Harris: He gave every aspect of the courts his most careful attention. He
and his wife made it a practice to visit all the little towns of
California to examine the courts and the politicians occupying the

Morris: He went around and talked to municipal court judges in local ?


Harris: He did everything that a person should do to revise the thinking
and revise the judicial attitude of the holders of the office.
His practice and procedure was a benign one, to bring about a
realization of the true value of maintaining the municipal bench
in the highest order, particularly as it s reflected in the justice
courts. The justice courts received their attention from Mr.
Chief Justice Gibson.

Morris: Those by and large have gone out of existence, haven t they?

Harris: Justice courts largely went out of existence as a result of the
activities of Phil Gibson.

Morris: Was there concern in the legal profession that the justice courts ?

Harris: None. It was a decadent situation.

Morris: They were not effective?

Harris: That s right.

Morris: Because of let s see; let me put that question the other way. I

understand that the judges on the justice courts did not necessarily
have to have legal training. Was that one of the concerns?

Harris: That was one of the big concerns.

Morris: What did you and Phil Gobson talk about when he talked to you about
the possibility ?

Harris: Oh, the million things that lawyers talk about, judges talk about.
I couldn t make any recollection of the subject matters.

Morris: And then what happened after Mr. Gibson talked to you?
Harris : What do you mean?

Morris: Well, the municipal court at that point was an appointment by the
governor. Did Culbert Olson talk to you at all about the
possibility of an appointment?

Harris: No. Culbert Olson called me on the telephone from Sacramento on the
day that I was advised of my appointment to the bench. He was very

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

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 7 of 18)