The Septuagenarian Speaks – published December 25, 2019, Siskiyou Daily News
Two weeks ago, I went to the Siskiyou County Bar Association Christmas party at the Rex Club in Yreka. There was a nice turn-out of lawyers, judges, and others from the local legal community, newcomers and old-timers. The Rex Club has been the primary venue for Bar Association social events for as long as I can remember, although I do recall a few memorable parties at other locations, way back when. Green spaghetti at Louis Sbarbaro’s place in Weed was wonderful. The “Whispering Winds” restaurant at then brand-new Lake Shastina was the venue at least once. And there was the one at the Shamrock, when Carl Kegley, an octogenarian attorney, entertained us all by playing honky-tonk piano. Those were the days, my friends. I really miss Sbarbaro’s place and the Shamrock. Whispering Winds not so much. The Rex is a Yreka institution, a prohibition-era bar in operation since 1928. It’s always been great, but just keeps getting better. It was the perfect location for the Bar Association party this year, and the hors d’oeuvres were excellent.
I sat at a table with, among others, Albert (Hooch) Newton and his wife Dorothy. Hooch was the reigning old-timer at the party. And, thinking back on who was in attendance, I guess I was the second-oldest-timer. Surely that can’t be right. Can it? Maybe so. In 1972 Ann and I were trying to figure out where to go after I got out of the Air Force, and happened to discover a place called Yreka, California, which we had never heard of. Joe Correia and Larry Bacon hired me to come work in their law firm for $800.00 per month. I still remember that Monday morning in May, 1972, my first day on the job. Larry Bacon said, “I’ll introduce you to the judge,” and walked me through the north courthouse entrance door and up the stairs to the second floor. Today, of course, due to security concerns, you can’t go in through that door any more. You have to go through the security entrance at the front door. There is a good reason for that, so I’m not complaining, but it’s still a pain in the ass. Larry took me up to meet Judge Jim Kleaver, and I was nervous and scared. Judge Kleaver said, “Welcome to Yreka. Joe and Larry are good guys to work for.” I said, “I hope I can do okay.” He said, “You’ll do fine.” It never crossed my mind that nineteen years later, after Judge Kleaver retired, his office would be my office.
Hooch was telling some war stories about law in Siskiyou County. At one time, before Ann and I moved to town, he was the District Attorney. After that, he began a successful law practice with his younger brother Mike. Just last week the Newton brothers announced their retirement after over fifty years in practice. Talking with Hooch reminded me that there is a plethora (that’s a legal term) of great stories from Siskiyou County’s legal history. I will make it my mission to document some of the stories from time to time in future columns. Please let me know if you have any good ones that should be included.
I will start with one today, recounting a malpractice of my own from years ago. When I was a new young lawyer in town, there were still Justice Courts (which were later eliminated by the state). An outgrowth of the old system where each town had its own Justice of the Peace, several Justice Courts existed in Siskiyou County, each serving its regional territory, including one in Happy Camp. I had a young Happy Camp client who was charged with Speed Exhibition. Speed Exhibition is driving in a dangerous or unsafe manner in order to show off or make an impression on someone else. It was a misdemeanor, so my client had the right to a jury trial, which he adamantly demanded. So, we had a jury trial at the Happy Camp Community Center. To my dismay (and to that of my client) it took the jury about fifty seconds to find him guilty. I later found out that everybody in Happy Camp knew of this kid, and that he had a reputation for constantly driving around town screeching his tires. I also later found out, again to my dismay, that there was a law in effect at the time giving misdemeanor defendants the absolute right to request and obtain a change of venue to the county seat, i.e. Yreka. A Yreka jury would not have known of this kid, or of his proclivity for squealing his tires. It was clearly malpractice on my part. Fortunately for me, the statute of limitations has long expired. Thinking back on it, despite my malpractice, I believe justice was done.