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.
June - Those Swinging Sixties
The sixties was a watershed decade
with many changes shaping the social
and political landscape. Long Beach
was hardly at the center of radical
change, but it was affected, as was
every other urban center. Downtown
Long Beach had fallen into decay.
The stores which had anchored downtown
shopping moved to those new-fangled
shopping malls which were popping up
everywhere. The Pike lost attendance to
newer, cleaner amusement parks such
as Disneyland (As a teenager I much
preferred the Pike’s “carny environment”
and I learned all about carnival scams
from the guess your weight man.)
In Long Beach, one major change was
the 1960 opening of the first dedicated
county courthouse at 415 w. Ocean Blvd.
You may recall from prior entries that
although Superior Court had a Long Beach branch for many decades, it sat at various locations, including Long Beach City Hall and the Jergins Trust Building. In 1960 Superior Court finally found a permanent home.
Most people recall that now demolished
courthouse for its crumbling infrastructure,
including escalators which were perpetually
out of service. Those of us who worked in the
building recall the rodents, and the leaks
whenever it rained.
But when it opened, it was praised for its
modernist vision (designed by Kenneth Wing),
called the “Corporate International Style.” The
sixth floor and the east wing (which slowly
moved away from the main structure a little
more after each earthquake) were added later.
As you can see from the photos it did have a
“modern” look (for 1960) with clean lines.
Those cranky escalators could be seen from
the outside crisscrossing each other, creating what was then an interesting visual effect. By the time it was demolished in 2016, few tears were shed for its loss – but in its day it marked a coming of age for the law in Long Beach.
A significant change in the law was the enactment
of the Tort Claims Act in 1963, which set a statewide
standard for suits against government entities,
including a claims filing requirement which still
befuddles the unwary (who assume, for instance,
that claims against Long Beach City College
should be filed with the City of Long Beach). But
even before that enactment, Long Beach had its
own claims filing requirement, as did other charter
In Hurd v. Paquin (1964) 229 Cal.App.2d 634, the
claims filing requirement was upheld. Plaintiff
alleged “defendants wrongfully arrested him,
confined him in the Long Beach jail and committed
violent assaults and batteries upon him.” (This is a
1964 decision, but the events were in 1961 when
the Municipal claims filing requirement was still in
effect.) But Plaintiff did not allege that the
defendants were police officers acting in the
course of their employment and claimed this
defeated the defense. This argument fell by the
wayside when Plaintiff inadvisably stipulated at a
pre-trial conference that defendants were duly
appointed police officers and “this stipulation (incorporated by reference into the judge's order) became a part of the complaint. (1) ‘It is settled that, when filed, a pretrial conference order, unless modified at or before trial, supersedes the issues raised by the pleadings and controls the subsequent course of the case. ... Until presented with a request for its modification, the trial judge has a right to rely on the posture of the case defined by the pretrial conference order.’” Plaintiff then argued the Municipal Code requirement was preempted under Government Code section 1981 which covered negligent injury by a police officer and which did not require a claim to be filed. No luck with this argument, either – Plaintiff had alleged intentional torts, not negligence, so section 1981 did not preempt the ordinance. It was affirmed that Plaintiff’s claim was barred.
The sixties saw heightened concern about the use of drugs and alcohol. A couple of cases reflect a more sophisticated legal view developing.
Emery Newbern prevailed on his habeas corpus petition (filed in pro per) after a conviction on a charge that “that on or about August 12, 1959, he committed the crime of vagrancy in that he was a common drunkard (Pen. Code, § 647, subd. 11).” Mr. Newbern refused to waive time, and there was only four days between the appointment of the public defender and trial. That alone was sufficient as a due process violation to overturn the conviction. “In the usual case of habeas corpus granted because of illegality in the procedure leading to conviction the petitioner is, nevertheless, not immune from prosecution and will therefore be remanded to the custody of the proper local officials for new and legally proper proceedings.” Here, though, the statute itself was unconstitutionally vague: “Is the term common drunk ambiguous on its face? We are constrained to answer this question in the affirmative. There can be no doubt that the term common drunk is in general use in the community, and the adjective common is undoubtedly one of the most widely used words of the English language. Here, unfortunately, lies the difficulty, for we think it evident that such generality of usage has resulted in a variety of differing definitions rather than any single precise meaning to the term. . . . In general, the term common drunk may variously be, and is, used to denote one who is drunk many times, one who is addicted to alcohol, one who is drunk in a very unsavory manner, and one who has the reputation of being drunk, among others.” Unfortunately for Mr. Newbern it was a pyrrhic victory. Although his vagrancy conviction was vacated and dismissed, his conviction for public drunkenness stood.
People v. Fair (1967) 254 Cal.App.2d 890 considered the meaning of the term “intoxicated.” Penal Code section 367d made driving while intoxicated a misdemeanor, and Mr. Fair was convicted of that offense even though he had not been drinking or using narcotics. The trial court granted a new trial, ruling that impairment by use of a non-narcotic drug did not satisfy the statute. “The question put to us by the order certifying the cause is whether the word ‘intoxicated’ appearing in section 367d includes intoxication induced by a nonnarcotic drug, or whether it should be confined to intoxication caused by ingestion of alcoholic beverages only. Section 367d was enacted in 1911 and has not been amended. . . . Although the automobile was still a phenomenon when section 367d was enacted in 1911, there was then nothing particularly new about intoxication and the causes and effects. At that time, so far as we can determine the word “intoxicated” had not been defined by any appellate court in this state. This being so, we must assume that the Legislature used the word in its commonly understood meaning as set forth in the standard dictionaries of that day.” After a review of various dictionary definitions, the court concluded:
“In our opinion, the word ‘intoxicated’ was used in section 367d to describe the proscribed condition of the operator or driver of a motor vehicle. . . . we hold that a person is intoxicated within the meaning of that section whether that condition is brought about by the ingestion of intoxicating liquor or by the ingestion of a narcotic or nonnarcotic drug.” As you might recall, various designer drugs in the 60s (such as LSD) were not proscribed until some years after their invention (See Ken Kesey’s Electric Koolaid Acid Test). This seemingly obvious legal determination (from a modern perspective) of the meaning of intoxication would prove useful in later prosecutions.
Old timers will recall the old Lion’s Drag Strip on the West side of Long Beach. Lion’s associated Drag Strip v. United States is a tax case from the 1960s of little interest, but the decision sets out a little bit of Long Beach history:
"During the late 1940s it became apparent to the Law Enforcement Agencies in Southern California and particularly the metropolitan Los Angeles area that due to the concentration of automobiles, problems were encountered with rapidly increasing frequency in the control of the activities of young men in their teens and on up past driver's license age. The problem was presented by their desire to build automobiles, to use the knowledge they had gained in the service during World War II and the Korean Conflict to build these automobiles, and their ability to improve on the automobile's performance. They were racing high-powered automobiles on public streets. They were forming actually their own drag strips by blocking off public throughways with makeshift timing devices, flaggers, and spectators. Law Enforcement Agencies became deeply concerned about the lawlessness attending the activities of these juveniles. By 1952 or 1953, the problem continued to grow to a point where immediate remedial measures became a necessity.
A most hazardous area was identified in the Alameda Boulevard-San Pedro-Wilmington area and the Los Angeles Riverbed. Drag races were being held there nightly, and police officers were unable to cope with the problem. When surprised by police officers, the juveniles would scatter in all directions, and it became impossible to corral these youngsters. Juveniles were getting hurt; there were accidents; youngsters and members of the general public were killed. Because of the proximity of this area to the City of Los Angeles, the problem became more dangerous there than in other locations in Los Angeles County. The numbers of cars and the frequency of accidents increased. The Law Enforcement officers from these communities voiced their opinions in their communities.
When the problem became so acute in this area, service clubs in the area affected consulted with Law Enforcement officers and among themselves for the purpose of arriving at a practical solution. Downtown Lions Club, North Long Beach Lions Club, West Long Beach Lions Club, Lakewood Lions Club, Signal Hill Lions Club, San Pedro Lions Club, Wilmington Lions Club, Torrance Lions Club, Harbor City-Lomita Lions Club, Belmont Shore Lions Club, and Los Altos Lions Club, and the individual members thereof formed Lions Associated Drag Strip, a corporation, for the primary purpose of solving the problem presented.”
Another sixties trend was the return in popularity of “natural childbirth.” In People v. Bernhardt (1963) 222 Cal.App.2d 567, Long Beach chiropractors were convicted of manslaughter and conspiracy to violate the Business & Professions Code by practicing obstetrics for home delivery. The child delivered was of “unusual size” and the mother died of internal bleeding. “Dr. Bernhardt testified that in the preceding five years he had signed birth certificates in all cases in which he had made home deliveries in connection with his work at the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic. Prior to this case, his attention had never been invited to any problem ‘in connection with doing home deliveries or obstetrics.’” Surprisingly, the convictions were reversed:
“With respect to the manslaughter charge
it is also contended that there was
prejudicial error in that the jury was
not instructed on the subject of proximate
causation. . . . It was the opinion of Dr.
Bernhardt that the cause of death was an
embolism for which no act of any
defendant was responsible. The matter
of proximate cause was an issue which
had to be resolved by the jury. As stated
by Perkins . . . ‘For conviction of
manslaughter in such a case the state
must do more than establish mere
coincidence between such an act and
the fact of death. It must establish the
'causal connection' between the violation
and the loss of life.’ Moreover, the same
burden exists where the charge of
manslaughter rests on evidence of
In the notes from the 1950s we looked at Long Beach’s on-going efforts to utilize tidelands revenues for regular City budgetary items. Some of those tideland funds were used to purchase the Queen Mary, which, although sometimes controversial and never profitable, remains a Long Beach landmark.
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The LBBA would like to extend a special thank you to Ken Freedman for his work in preparing this series.