Pages of History
Los Angeles Times file photo
Clarence Darrow addresses the jury in one of his two trials on charges of trying to bribe jurors in the McNamara brothers’ case.
For the last week, I have been reading the transcripts of People vs. Clarence Darrow, which were digitized by the Los Angeles County Law Library and are available from the University of Minnesota’s Law Library. WARNING: The transcripts consist of 90 PDF files in a 400-megabyte portfolio, so downloading them will put a load on your computer and printing them out could take days and consume 8,000 sheets of paper.
But if you are patient, you will be rewarded. Reading the transcripts is like being in court and hearing the long speeches and nearly continuous objections of Darrow’s defense team of Earl Rogers and Horace Appel, two brilliant attorneys whose lives disintegrated like powerful engines that were run too hard for too long. Rogers is known today through a few books, and Appel is completely forgotten, so the transcripts provide a record of their speeches and examples of their courtroom tactics.
And then there are the random outbursts:
The prosecution generally comes off well in the transcripts and Dist. Atty. John D. Fredericks – referred to as Capt. Fredericks because of his rank in the California National Guard -- and Deputy Dist. Atty. W. Joseph Ford seem to be well-matched to Rogers and Appel. The major tactical mistake, based on my reading to date, is that Fredericks brought in too many witnesses in an attempt to show Darrow’s unrelenting determination to win the case -- by bribery and coercion if necessary.
The defense won and Darrow was found not guilty – but if even half of the testimony is true, it paints a damning portrait of one of America’s legal heroes as a ruthless, corrupt man.
The transcripts are also a window on the past in countless ways. Much of the action focuses on a ranch outside El Monte, with a barn and a water tower. People ride streetcars and go into saloons with swinging doors. The courtroom is small, crowded and hot, so the judge moves the trial into a bigger courtroom in the Hall of Records. The transcripts fill three boxes, so they aren’t easy reading – but there are many treasures to be discovered.
Thanks and a tip of the hat to John Aloysius Farrell for reminding me that the transcripts are online. I stumbled across the University of Minnesota Law Library’s Clarence Darrow website early in my research and it had slipped my mind.