CHAPTER XIV
THE BENCH AND BAR.

The seventh article of the constitution of 1851. as originally adopted, provided that "The judicial power of the state shall be vested in a supreme court, in circuit courts, and in such inferior courts as the general assembly may establish." Under the power so granted, the legislature, by an act approved May 14, 1852, provided for a court of common pleas, to consist of one judge, elected by the voters of the proper district, who should hold his office for four years.

This court was given the jurisdiction of the old probate court, with certain additional civil and criminal jurisdiction, inferior to the jurisdicton of the circuit court. It was the old probate court greatly improved, and with its powers and usefulness much enlarged.

By an act approved June 11, 1852, provision was made for the election of a district attorney in every common pleas district. The duties of this officer in the court of common pleas were quite similar to those of the prosecuting attorney in the circuit court, except that his jurisdiction, like that of the common pleas judge, was in general limited to prosecutions for misdemeanors. As in case of the old probate court, appeals might be taken from the court of common pleas either to the circuit court or to the supreme court. Appeals from justices of the peace might be taken to the court of common pleas or to the circuit court. There were four terms of court each year. At first these terms were fixed for the first Monday in January in each year, and for the first Monday of every third month thereafter. The length of each term was made to depend upon the population of the county, varying from one to three weeks. The clerk, however, in the absence of the judge, was, for many purposes, required to keep the court open "on every judicial day of the year."

The common pleas court was abolished by the act of March 6, 1873, its business being transferred to the circuit courts of the respective counties.

Probate Courts.

Acting under the provisions of article fifth of the constitution of iSifi, authorizing the establishment of courts inferior to the circuit court, the legislature, by an act approved February 10, 1831, provided for the organization in each county of a probate court, consisting of one judge, to be elected every seven years by the voters of the county. The court was given "original and exclusive jurisdiction in all matters relating to the probate of last wills and testaments"-granting letters testamentary, letters of administration, and of guardianship; including also "the protection of minors, idiots and lunatics, and the security and disposition of their persons and estates." The probate court was also given concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit court in actions "in favor of or against heirs, devisees legatees, executors, administrators, or guardians, and their sureties and representatives"; also "in the partition of real estate," and some other like cases.

The procedure as to pleadings, writs, trial, judgment, executions, etc., was in all respects similar to that in the circuit court, including the right to trial by jury. There might be an appeal either to the circuit court, or directly to the supreme court. The clerk of the circuit court and the sheriff of the county were alike officials of the probate court. As finally fixed by statute, the court met regularly on the second Mondays of February, May, August and November-except in case the circuit court or the board of county commissioners should be in session on such day, when the probate court was to sit on the succeeding Monday. The sessions of the court were limited to six days, and the compensation of the judge was three dollars per day.

Circuit Court.

By article fifth of the constitution of 1816, it was provided that "The judiciary power of this state, both as to matters of law and equity, shall be vested in one supreme court, in circuit courts, and in such other inferior courts as the general assembly may from time to time direct and establish."

The same article of the constitution further provided that the circuit courts should consist each "of a president and two associate judges": that the state should be divided into three circuits, for each of which a president should be appointed, who should reside within his circuit; that the legislature might increase the number of circuits and presidents as the exigencies of the state might from time to time require: that all judges should "hold their offices during the term of seven years, if they shall so long behave well, and shall at stated times receive for their services a compensation which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office"; and that "The presidents of the circuit courts shall be appointed by joint ballot of both branches of the general assembly; and the associate judges of the circuit courts shall be elected by the qualified electors in the respective counties." There was this further provision, that "The president alone, in the absence of the associate judges, or the president and one of the associate judges, in the absence of the other, shall be competent to hold a court, as also the two associate judges, in the absence of the president, shall be competent to hold a court, except in capital cases and cases in chancery."

In the act approved January 24, 1831, the legislature provided that the president should receive a salary of seven hundred dollars a year, to be paid out of the state treasury; and that the associate judges should receive two dollars a day, while attending court, to be paid out of the county treasury. By an act approved February 15. 1838, it was provided that, in the absence of any presiding judge of the circuit, any other presiding judge of the state might hold court in such circuit. This was, in effect, a provision for a change of venue from a judge, and was so intended by the legislature as shown by the preamble to the act. Express provision was afterward made for changes of venue in case the presiding judge should be disqualified for any cause. In such case the special judge was allowed three dollars a day for his services.

By article seventh of the constitution of 1851 the judiciary system was completely changed. The associate judges were discontinued, and provision was made for the election for six years of one judge for each circuit. By an act approved June 17, 1852, the state was divided into ten circuits. With increase of population the number of circuits has grown, thirty-eight being established by the legislature in 1873, and the number being now over sixty.

The Bar.

Samuel Judah, who came to Merom about 1819-20, and lived in the county about three years, was one of the lawyers of Indiana who adapted the principles of general and statute law to the usage of the state. He was a native of New York, of Jewish stock, was educated at Rutgers College, and was admitted to the bar in 1819, when only twenty years old. He traveled west to Vincennes, which was then sufficiently supplied with lawyers, and in consequence he continued on to almost the edge of civilization and located at Merom. His practice while a resident of Sullivan county was confined to the usual routine cases entrusted to a young lawyer, but in later years, when he resided at Vincennes, he was frequently engaged in the suits that reached the highest state courts, and was not unknown as a lawyer to the nation at large. He possessed great power as a public man, and was once speaker of the house of representatives of Indiana, and in 1840 came within one vote of election to the United States senate.

The most interesting memorial of Mr. Judah's residence in this county is a letter which he wrote to his sister, dated at Merom, August 24, 1821. The village of Carlisle and some of its people seem much closer to the present as we read these lines: "To me there is nothing so amusing as the conversation of men of general information and practical knowledge. During a three months' sickness last fall at Carlisle, a neighboring village, I should most certainly have fretted myself to death had not the periods of intermission and the time of convalescence been relieved by exceedingly good company and books. Two young lawyers, two young doctors, one of whom had served in the Mediterranean, the other my friend McDonald, blessed with a fine mind and possessed of much knowledge and very pleasant manners, an editor of a newspaper whose genius was only excelled by his lightness of heart, a gentleman who as a commission merchant had resided in many of the cities of continental Europe, a disbanded United States major, absolutely the most pleasing and best natured companion I ever met with, and two old sea captains who had been all over the world, formed an assemblage affording more pleasant amusement and enlivening conversation than I expected to find in the backwoods among ten persons, laboring under the effects of sickness, at a season almost unexampled strangers and assembled at the same place by chance. Captain Wasson lived in Carlisle, and when the others were gone, in company with him or his books, I enjoyed much pleasure and spent the time pleasantly."

The judges of the old court of common pleas, though not residents of Sullivan county, were well known to the bar of this county. One of the best known men of the time in this part of Indiana was Chambers Y. Patterson, who was the second judge to serve in the common pleas district comprising Sullivan county. He was born in Vincennes in 1824, studied law with Griswold and Lusher at Terre Haute, and graduated from Harvard Law School. He married the daughter of Hon. John Law, one of the circuit judges of southern Indiana. When in 1859 the legislature made a new common pleas district of Vigo, Sullivan, Parke and Vermilion counties, he was elected judge. He was defeated in 1864 by Samuel F. Maxwell, this being his only defeat during his career. He was later elected judge of the eighteenth circuit, when it was composed of Vermilion, Parke, Sullivan and Vigo counties. He continued as circuit judge in Vigo and Sullivan counties (which in 1878 were made the fourteenth circuit) until his death in 1881. Concerning his character as a judge, it has been said: "He was not a close student of the law, and consequently his knowledge of the law acquired from books was limited. He possessed a good judicial mind, and gave close attention to the evidence in causes tried before him, and decided according to the natural equity or the right of the case . . . . He transacted business rapidly and impartially. His decisions stood the test in the supreme court far above the average of judges."

James M. Hanna, who died on his farm in Curry township, January 15, 1872, was distinguished by service on the supreme bench of the state from 1858 to 1866, and thereafter lived in Sullivan county till his death. He served a term as state senator from this county. He was born in Franklin county, Indiana, in 1816. His son, Burton G. Hanna, was born in Clay county in 1840, graduated from the State University, entered the law and served a term as prosecuting attorney, and was prominent in Democratic politics.

A former member of the Sullivan county bar whose acquaintance with the members of the profession and whose personal standing gave him the distinction of leadership was Sewell Coulson. He came to Sullivan county in 1856. Born in Pennsylvania in 1825, of Quaker parentage, he studied law in Ohio and had attained considerable reputation in Hardin county before his removal to Sullivan county. He was a partner of Israel W. Booth for several years. He was retained as counsel on one side or the other of the most important criminal trials in Sullivan county courts. His ability as a lawyer never secured recognition in public office for the reason that he was a Republican, but he was long a man of influence in the profession and as a citizen. In a former history of Sullivan county he was the author of the chapters on the bench and bar, and thus preserved to memory many interesting and valuable facts concerning the former lawyers and courts of this county.

Mr. Coulson died at his home in Sullivan, December 6, 1884. At a meeting of the bar, of which Judge Buff was chairman, speeches paying tribute to him were made by Murray Briggs, J. T. Hays, J. W. Hinkle, W. and C. E. Barrett, T. J. Wolfe, Alex. Massie and James B. Patten, and among the resolutions adopted was one that "in the death of Sewell Coulson the bar of the Sullivan circuit court has lost its ablest member and the profession one of its brightest lights." The editor of the Democrat estimated him as one who was never known to hold malice, and in his practice was remarkably tenacious of his clients' rights, and was never accused of being untrue to those who employed him.

The present congressman from the Second Indiana district, John C. Chaney, is closely identified with Sullivan county. When a boy he attended the Ascension Seminary and was an honor graduate. He taught school while preparing for the law, and after a course of study in the office of John T. Gunn he entered the Cincinnati Law School and graduated in 1882, after which he returned to Sullivan to begin practice in partnership with his old preceptor, Judge Gunn. The Chaney family have been well known in the public life of the county for many years, yet politically they are Republicans and have gained honors against normal majorities of the other party.

The successor of C. Y. Patterson as judge of the circuit court was George W. Buff, who was elected to that office in 1882. He was born in Darke county, Ohio, in 1843, his parents moving to a farm near Merom in 1862. He studied law with his brother, N. G. Buff, in Sullivan, and began the practice of law in 1870, at first with his brother, and later with John T. Hays, and then with James B. Patten.

During the latter part of his career, Judge James C. Allen was a prominent member of the Illinois bar, was a judge of the supreme court of that state, member of Congress, and very prominent in Democratic politics. He began his career in Sullivan county when twenty-one years old. Born in Kentucky in 1822, he was a young lawyer at Merom during the last months of that town's position as county seat, and followed the court to Sullivan. In 1845 he was elected prosecuting attorney, and after his term in that office moved to Illinois to continue his upward progress in law and politics.

The pioneer, Rev. Joseph Williams Wolfe, was a versatile and very active man. In 1860 he was admitted to the bar. For some years before and for a long time afterward he was a familiar figure in the office of the circuit clerk, serving as a deputy through various administrations after he had been circuit clerk himself for eight years. At a still earlier period in the county's history he had been an active minister of the Christian church, and his name appears in many church records. He was also a large property owner. He was a Virginian, born in Frederick county in 1810, of German descent, and the family located in Sullivan county in 1819.

In later years the name Hamill has been familiar in the history of the bar of Terre Haute. The late S. R. Hamill, Jr., figured prominently in the trials of John R. Walsh, the Chicago banker and railroad promoter. M. C. Hamill is a prominent attorney of Terre Haute. A little over thirty years ago the father of these men, Samuel R. Hamill, was himself an active member of the Sullivan county bar. When death through heart failure took him away on June 22, 1875, he had been serving about a year as prosecuting attorney of the judicial circuit of Sullivan and Vigo counties. He had lived in this county about twenty-five years. He was born at Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, about 1820, studied law and moved first to Newark, Ohio, to practice, and then to Evansville, Indiana, and also lived a while in Wisconsin. After his marriage to Miss Martha Wood, member of a distinguished family of Terre Haute, he came to Sullivan county. At one time he served as school examiner for the county, and for some years had been a trustee of the schools of Sullivan. He was a fluent and forcible speaker.

From 1854 to 1884 one of the bar's most thoroughly qualified members wras John T. Gunn, who excelled as a practitioner, who studied all the precedents and authorities and relied upon logical and carefully prepared argument to win his cases. He was noted for his precision and methodical manner of doing business. He died January 19, 1884, at Jacksonville, Florida, where he had spent several months in the vain effort to restore health. At a citizens' meeting resolutions on his character and career were prepared by a committee of associates consisting of Judge Buff, J. T. Hays, J. C. Briggs, D. Crawley, J. T. Mann, J. C. Bartlett and Dr. Thompson. Mr. Gunn was born in England, April 16, 1826, and located at Sullivan in 1853, being admitted to practice in May of the following year. He was one of the oldest members of the bar at the time of his death.

The military spirit ran high in the members of the Briggs family. It is said that Benjamin Briggs, the first American of this family, came to the colonies from England about 1770, and a few years later mortgaged his estate to raise a company of patriots to fight against the mother country, and, besides sacrificing his estate, lost his left arm at Monmouth and his right leg at Yorktown. David, his son, raised a company for the defense of Baltimore in the war of 1812, and was always known as "Major" Briggs. Joseph W. Briggs, a son of the major, was one of the few men who came to Sullivan county during pioneer times possessed of a college education. He was a graduate of Dickinson College of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and had been admitted to the bar of that state before he came west to Carlisle, Indiana. In this county he was a merchant and farmer for a time, was elected probate judge, in 1836 state representative, and soon afterward began the practice of law, which he continued until his death. Following the example of his father and grandfather, when the Mexican war broke out he raised a company, largely of Sullivan county men, and led them to battle in the campaigns of southern Texas and Mexico. He was noted for his scholarship, his fluency as a speaker, his readiness in argument, and his broad knowledge of the world.

On the death of Judge John C. Briggs, at his home near Sullivan, April 14, 1901, the Sullivan county bar declared that, "as a soldier, a legislator, a judge, and a lawyer, he had met each responsibility with credit to himself and honor to the country . ... In cross-examination he was exceedingly strong, so also in summing up a case before a Sullivan county jury. His mind was masterful and his memory wonderful . . . . In the death of the Hon. John C. Briggs the state and county have lost a useful and distinguished citizen, the Sullivan county bar has lost a leading member, and his wife has lost a devoted husband."

Judge Briggs, who was a member of the well-known family of that name in Sullivan county, was born at Carlisle, September 2, 1841, and came to Sullivan at the age of fifteen to study in the old seminary. When the war came he enlisted in the Fourteenth Indiana Infantry, was later transferred to the cavalry and made quartermaster. For personal bravery in battle he was promoted to captain. At the close of the war he was located for a short time at Eastport, Mass., but in the winter of 1867-68 returned to Sullivan. He was a while in the dry goods business with James W. Hinkle. In 1869 he began reading law in Dan Voorhees' office at Terre Haute, and the following year was admitted to the bar. At the fall election of the same year he was elected prosecutor for the circuit then composed of Vermilion, Parke, Vigo and Sullivan counties. Until 1873 the firm of Voorhees & Briggs shared a large practice at Terre Haute, and the partnership continued for several years after Mr. Briggs' removal to Sullivan. In 1878 Mr. Briggs was elected to the state legislature, but declined re-election, and from 1880 to 1888 achieved his highest honors as a lawyer. In 1888 he was elected judge of the circuit court, and after leaving the bench his health gradually declined until his death.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]