July 2013 Bar Bulletin
 
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July 2013 Bar Bulletin

How It Used To Be

Chief Justice William J. Steinert Remembered

 

In December 2011, we concluded John Rupp's history of the Seattle-King County Bar Association. In February 2012, we launched a new series, also written by Mr. Rupp, in which he recalled his stint as one of the first law clerks to the Washington Supreme Court in the late 1930s. Again, we present it unedited, as he wrote it. Enjoy.

(Sixth in a series)

[Editor's Note: When we left you in April, John Rupp was continuing his fond remembrances of the justices.]

Those dinners [with the justices] remind me to comment a little on the social life in Olympia. Other than those affairs and one or two dinner parties at the Beals' home, Libby and I had no social contact with the judges. That, of course, is not surprising. We used occasionally to go across the street and call on Judge Gose and his daughter Vyvien McCleary. Judge Gose was quite old then and afflicted with asthma, and he wasn't supposed to talk much. But he talked anyway. He was a celebrated raconteur and anecdotist, and having us for an audience was irresistible. We were fascinated, and Vyvien would practically have to drive us out of the house before the old judge got completely worn out.

I suppose that every capital city as small as Olympia was has a measure of difference between the townspeople and the Statehouse people. In a university town it is call[ed] "town and gown." In Olympia in 1937 and 1938 this difference was very pronounced. Most of the townspeople - or at least "those whom one would know" - were fairly conservative. There hadn't been a Democratic Governor since Governor Lister died in 1919.

Then in January 1933 in came a whole new Statehouse crew, swept in when Governor Martin defeated Governor Hartley. And the 1933 and 1935 sessions of the Legislature did little to allay the townspeoples' dismay - those were the sessions that led to James A. Farley's much-quoted remark about "the 47 States and the soviet of Washington."

So "the Statehouse crowd" was viewed with great suspicion, and our first few friends among the townspeople were at great pains to introduce us as being with the Supreme Court. That seemed to give us an aura of respectability, and after a while we made many fast friends in Olympia and had a very pleasant social life there.

I have saved Judge Steinert for the last because I knew him best, and he was my particular hero. He was about 57 years old then, 33 years older than I. He was a Kentuckian who had been graduated from the University of Michigan law school. I never did know why he came to Seattle, but he did, and he practiced law there until he became a Superior Court judge. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in May of 1932 and served for 17 years. So many people have told me that he was the best judge on the court that I think it fair to say that that was the general consensus. I, at any rate, have no doubt of it at all.


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