Centennial Series: Long Beach & The Law
In honor of the Long Beach Bar Association’s Centennial, this is a series of historical notes on cases and courts in Long Beach through the decades.
February -The Roaring Twenties
The “Roaring Twenties” saw many changes in the
legal landscape of Long Beach. One of the most
significant was the establishment of a Superior Court
branch here in 1923. Its location? It held court in Long
Beach City Hall. The Long Beach Bar had sponsored
the legislation to allow branch courts within a County.
The first Superior Court judge in Long Beach was the
Honorable Ralph H. Crock, formerly a local attorney
(as was the next Long Beach judge, P.E. Keeler).
But the legislation authorizing branch courts was
deemed unconstitutional in 1924 because the
authorization was limited for “counties of the first
class.” The Long Beach Bar Association again stepped
in with a revised measure in 1925. It passed and a
branch of the County Clerk’s office was established in
1926 along with a second branch courtroom. The first
courtroom remained in City Hall, but the second
branch was set up in the Insurance Exchange building (there was limited space in City
Hall due to the rapidly expanding city government). In 1929 both courtrooms were transferred to the
Jergins Trust Building.
The 1920s also saw passage of a municipal court bill, and the whopping five departments took over at
the Insurance Exchange (known then as the
Middough Building.) Two of Governor Richardson’s
five appointees were later deemed ineligible because they did not meet the “five year practice rule.”
Both the City and the legal profession were booming. Buffum’s Department store opened downtown and See’s candies opened a shop here. The Jazz Age saw the beginning of the oil boom and the expansion of its airport.
But what sort of cases out of Long Beach became published precedent? Here’s a hint – Long Beach got its first electric traffic signal in 1927. The age of the automobile had arrived and issues which might seem obvious today were novel back then. In the case of Ex Parte Daniels (183 Cal. 636) the California Supreme Court ruled that Long Beach’s citywide 15 MPH speed limit was invalid because the State’s 20 MPH limit preempted the field. In McManus v. Arnold (82 Cal.App.215) a motorist threw his vehicle in reverse and ran over a child. It was held that neither the child nor his parents were contributorily negligent (Defendant contended the parent s were negligent in supervision of this child).
Allowable damages for personal injury were still small by today’s standards. In a wrongful death action, a new
trial motion was granted on grounds that $10,000 was
excessive (58 Cal.App. 509). In the days before the Coastal
Commission, one citizen tried to fence off a portion of the
beach and shot a man who had the temerity to try taking
down the fence. The Plaintiff’s damages were reduced
by remittitur to $10,500 (208 Cal. 315).
As the governmental apparatus grew, the boundaries of power were checked by actions for Writs of Mandamus. These actions became fairly common in Long Beach of the 1920s. The City Council had to be ordered to hold a recall election against two of its members (207 Cal. 263). Expansion of the sewer system had to be compelled in the face of administrative recalcitrance (91 Cal.App. 168).
The next two decades would see Long Beach’s transformation from “Iowa by the Sea” to a major urban center, and the Long Beach Bar Association played no small part in this history.
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The LBBA would like to extend a special thank you to Ken Freedman for his work in preparing this series.