Sunday, March 8, 2015

William Langer: breaking away

William Langer and his wife Lydia vote in the 1940 election (Source)

Often described as one of the most colorful characters in North Dakota politics, it would perhaps be more fitting to say that William Langer is one of the more colorful characters in United States political history as a whole. Throughout every step of his career, from state judicial offices to the U.S. Senate, Langer was dogged with accusations of overstepping his power and ignoring the rule of law. At the same time, he was an immensely popular figure credited with looking out for the interests of the downtrodden at the height of the Great Depression.

Langer was born on a farm in Everest Township, near Casselton, North Dakota, on September 30, 1886. He attended the local schools and graduated as valedictorian of Casselton High School's Class of 1904. He completed his studies in the law department of the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks in two years, graduating in 1906. Although he passed the bar exam in this year, the state did not allow people to begin practicing until they were 21 years old.

Rather than waiting out the extra time, Langer decided to travel to New York City to further his education at Columbia University. He again graduated at the top of his class in 1910 after serving as the class president. Despite an offer of employment at a New York firm, he decided to return to his home state. He was admitted to the bar in 1911 and began a practice in the city of Mandan, a neighbor to the capital of Bismarck.

After serving as assistant state's attorney of Morton County in 1914, Langer was appointed as state's attorney in the same year. He lost no time in aggressively pursuing a number of causes, namely enforcing North Dakota's ban on alcohol. He reportedly swore out 167 arrest warrants against liquor dealers and vice operators on his first day in office. He filed suit against the Northern Pacific Railway, charging them with underpaying their state taxes, and managed to recoup $1.25 million; similar suits were filed against Standard Oil and the Occident Elevator Company.

Langer also went after parents whose children were not abiding by the state's compulsory 16-year school attendance law. As a result, 800 parents received letters saying they were in violation of this statute because their children were not in class. In addition, Langer advocated for a number of improvements to the school system, including transportation for any students who lived more than two-and-a-half miles from their school and fire guards at the school buildings.

In pursuing justice, Langer's zeal sometimes extended outside the limits of the law. This would prove to be a persistent habit, one which would give his critics plenty of ammunition in later years. After easily winning election as North Dakota's attorney general in 1916, carrying every county in the state and earning 58,000 more votes than his nearest competitor, he continued his campaign against prostitution and bootleg liquor. On the evening of May 7, 1917, he made the questionable decision to have deputies take over the Northern Telephone Company in advance of a series of raids on vice dens. His rationale was that silencing the phone lines would prevent anyone from warning the targeted establishments. Tensions quickly arose between the lawmen and the telephone workers, and an attorney for the company was accused of pointing a gun at one of the deputies.

A number of charges were filed in the wake of the excitement. Langer and two deputies were charged with obstruction of justice and inciting a riot. The attorney, L.J. Palda, was charged with assault with the intent to kill. The cases eventually petered out, in part due to the entry of the United States into World War I. Langer would serve as the legal adviser for the Council of Defense during the war, and one of the deputies charged in the incident traveled overseas to assist in the assembly of tractors for the French government. The charges against Palda were dismissed, and Langer was tried and acquitted on the inciting a riot charge.

In the midst of this clamor, the Nonpartisan League—a faction of the Republican Party—declared its support for Langer's actions in a unanimously adopted resolution. Langer won re-election as attorney general in 1918, running on the Nonpartisan League ticket while endorsed by the Progressive Republicans. Among his other actions in office was the censure of 275 schools in the state for failing to display the American flag.

Despite his popularity, Langer was nearly ousted from office during his second term. He split from the Nonpartisan League in April of 1919, saying to party founder Arthur C. Townley, "You and your hirelings have lied to and are deceiving the farmers of North Dakota." In November, Langer and state auditor Carl Kositsky began distributing a magazine entitled The Red Flame, which described the NPL as being a Communist organization. A month later, as the NPL targeted the budgets of Langer and his allies while removing them from certain boards where they held power, a formal request to remove Langer from office alleged that he had "betrayed the farmers of this state" and tried to undermine banks friendly to farmers. The accusation also said he had described Governor Lynn Frazier and the state supreme court justices as "crooks and conspirators." An attempt in the legislature to impeach Langer fell short by a single vote.

On March 23,1920, Langer announced that he would seek the nomination for governor of North Dakota. He had the support of the Progressive Republicans as well as the Independent Voters Association, a bipartisan group opposed to NPL influence in state politics. After losing the Republican primary by fewer than 5,000 votes, Langer returned to private practice and moved his business to Bismarck. Although he later reconciled with the NPL, he lost an attempt to be nominated for attorney general in 1928.

In 1932, Langer was elected as governor of North Dakota on the NPL ticket. The incumbent Republican governor, George F. Shafer, made a bad misstep when he threw his support behind President Herbert Hoover. Although Hoover and Shafer shared the same political party, Shafer had also expressed his opposition to any government relief to alleviate the hardships of the Great Depression - a platform championed by Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thousands of suffering North Dakota voters threw Shafer out of office, and the state (and an overwhelming electoral vote) went to Roosevelt in the presidential election.

When he took office in January of 1933, Langer sought to take whatever steps possible to counter the effects of the Great Depression in North Dakota. He cut state appropriations in every department except education and declared a moratorium on foreclosures, going so far as to call out the National Guard to stop sheriff's sales. In an effort to support farmers in the state, he declared an embargo on shipments of wheat and beef out of North Dakota until the prices rose to a satisfactory point. He again used the National Guard to support this action, which a federal court later declared unconstitutional.

Though these actions earned Langer high standing in the minds of the general populace, especially the farmers, they made him plenty of enemies elsewhere. The railroads, grain syndicates, and electricity companies were all irked that the governor had forced them to lower their rates. Langer was also an unabashed loyalist, clearing out several executive departments and replacing their employees with people who had supported him. He was a strong critic of the New Deal, accepting the federal relief effort but criticizing its programs as not doing enough to help the poor.

Divisions again developed in the NPL during Langer's first year in office, and the party's executive committee was soon at odds with the governor over the distribution of state patronage jobs. Because of this split, there would be rumors that Langer was the target of a conspiracy to oust him. In addition to his enemies in the NPL, it was suggested that Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and federal relief administrator Harry Hopkins were eager to get Langer out of office. No matter what the origin of the investigation against him, Langer soon found himself in trouble over a fundraising scheme he had concocted.

After he became governor, Langer revived the Leader, an NPL newspaper which had folded in 1932, as a publication to represent both the party and his administration. Many farmers in the state were already paying a membership fee to be part of the NPL, and the reintroduction of the paper simply meant that they would get a subscription to the Leader as part of their dues. Langer caused more controversy when he began to ask the members of his administration who owed their jobs to his 1932 election to contribute five percent of their salaries toward a Leader subscription. By soliciting donations from people who were working in the state relief offices and receiving part of their salary from the United States government, the activity passed from a state matter to a federal one.

In the spring of 1934, Langer was indicted by a federal grand jury for "soliciting and collecting money for political purposes from federal employees and of conspiring to obstruct the orderly operation of an act of Congress." Eight others were indicted alongside him, including state highway commissioner Frank A. Vogel, relief secretary R.A. Kinzel, and Leader publisher Oscar Chaput.

Langer and his supporters denounced the indictment as being "politically inspired," as the charges happened to arrive just a few months before the primary for the 1934 election. The defense pointed out that one grand jury had declined to indict Langer and his co-defendants, and that the charges only came down after a second grand jury was handpicked to include an overwhelming number of people opposed to the NPL. The judge in the case, Andrew Miller, was also a former political opponent of Langer's.

During the trial, the defense maintained that no one had contributed a portion of their salary unless they wanted to. The request for donations had been clearly published in the paper, and anyone who didn't contribute had not been punished in any way. The prosecution showed that six employees out of 30 employees had donated a portion of their salary, accounting for a sum of less than $200. However, the records also indicated that $12,000 had been transferred from the Leader's books to Langer's personal bank account.

Taking the stand in his own defense, Langer admitted that he had received $19,000 through solicitations. However, Miller refused to admit testimony arguing that these funds were a repayment for a loan Langer made to the NPL. Langer said he had made the $12,000 transfer to his own account only to prevent its attachment by a hostile NPL executive committee. He also claimed that he had no role in the distribution of relief funds or taking funds from these salaried employees, since he had delegated relief responsibilities to a five-man commission of 1933.

After a month-long trial, Langer, Chaput, Kinzel, and Vogel were found guilty on June 17. Five days later, Hopkins removed Langer as head of federal relief activities in the state. The verdict had no effect on the primary. On June 27, Langer easily won the Republican nomination. He carried 48 of the 53 counties in North Dakota and tallied 65,646 more votes than the nearest candidate.

Two days later, Langer was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison and pay a $10,000 fine. Each of the three co-defendants received a 13-month sentence and $3,000 fine. Harold McDonald, who had actually solicited the donations, would be sentenced to only four months in prison. Langer's bond was set at $20,000, and a sympathetic farmer offered this sum to keep the governor out of prison as his appeal proceeded.

The conviction set the stage for a titanic power struggle in North Dakota. Lieutenant Governor Ole H. Olson contended that Langer had been disqualified from holding office, meaning Olson would have to take over as governor. He promptly took the oath of office and filed it with the secretary of state, but North Dakota Attorney General P.O. Sathre said Langer would remain in power at least until his sentencing. Supporters of Olson countered by appealing to the state supreme court, which also said they would not make a decision until after the sentencing.

The situation further split the NPL, with some members rallying behind Langer and other supporting Olson. Some members of Langer's administration bolted immediately after his conviction, saying they would refuse to abide by any of his executive decisions until the courts clarified the issue. These officials included Robert Bryne, the secretary of state; John Husby, the labor and agricultural commissioner; and Alfred Dale, the treasurer.

Langer was not about to give up his position easily. He stationed sheriff's deputies around his office, instructing them to bar entry to anyone who did not have his permission. On July 12, Langer asked the state legislature to convene in exactly one week. Only they had the power to investigate him, he declared; if they found him guilty of any crime, they could remove him by impeachment. The statement provided an impetus for the North Dakota supreme court to finally rule on the issue, since they needed to decide whether Langer still had the authority to call a meeting of the legislature. On July 17, in a 4-1 decision along party lines, the justices announced that Langer's conviction on federal charges had disqualified him from office.

Langer took a heavy-handed response. He declared martial law, ordering troops to be stationed around the state capitol. Ostensibly, calling out the National Guard was a way to prevent disorder by his supporters, who had been demonstrating in Bismarck. This was also the reason Langer gave for sending soldiers to surround Olson's hotel, since there were rumors that angry pro-Langer farmers were going to march on the city and uphold Langer's legitimacy by force if need be. However, declaring martial law also had the effect of prolonging Langer's rule since the military authority of the National Guard would supersede the civil authority of the courts.

An hour before declaring martial law, Langer had taken an even more drastic approach to staying in office. Holing up in the governor's mansion, he drew up a declaration of independence for the state of North Dakota. If the issue was that federal charges had made him unfit to govern the state, he reasoned, he could make this issue null and void by simply seceding from the United States. Twenty-six of his closest supporters signed the document with him. Once the state supreme court justices heard of this would-be defection, they visited Langer personally and managed to convince him of the absurdity of this strategy.

The next morning, a peaceful transition of power took place. The state adjutant general announced that he accepted the court's ruling and that the National Guard troops called by Langer would no longer answer to him. Olson, who now had a stronger claim to the governor's office, immediately canceled the order of martial law and called off the special legislative session scheduled for the next day. On July 19, accompanied by soldiers with the National Guard, he walked into the governor's office for his first full day on the job.

The drama was not yet over, however. At the urging of the ousted governor, the state legislature defied Olson's order and assembled later in the day. Several legislators were out for revenge, threatening to impeach any state officials—including Olson and the state supreme court justices—who had not stood by Langer.

The effort fell short, since several anti-Langer state senators abided by Olson's cancellation order and never showed up. Their absence left the chamber five members short of a quorum. The pro-Langer senators tried to strong-arm a meeting by ordering the sergeant at arms to compel these senators to attend by force; the first man was described as giving physical and verbal resistance as he was literally dragged to the legislature. Though Langer's advocates considered bringing the other recalcitrant senators into the chamber in the same way, they realized that the plan would be unpopular and abandoned it. The legislature was forced to recess on July 24, having done little more than adopt a resolution saying that they had met legally and that they had authorized the speaker to appoint an investigating committee to consider the impeachment of state officials.

Olson, meanwhile, ran into similar resistance as he tried to expunge Langer's appointees from his administration. When he named a new highway commissioner, Vogel refused to vacate his office and said he could only be removed for cause. Unsurprisingly, Olson was not keen to remain in office in the face of such confusion and hostility; he would fulfill the remainder of Langer's term, but would not be a candidate in the general election in the fall.

Though Langer had won the GOP nomination fair and square, he knew that his felony conviction and loss of citizenship rights would set him up for a challenge if he won the election. He opted to step aside in favor of his wife, Lydia. As several commentators pointed out, the strategy was similar to that taken by Texas governor James Ferguson; after his impeachment and removal from office, his wife Miriam "Ma" Ferguson had successfully won the Democratic nomination and subsequent gubernatorial election.

Olson and other NPL officials threw their weight behind Thomas H. Moodie, the Democratic candidate, in a three-way race for governor. Although Moodie succeeded in winning the 1934 election, he was soon forced out of office after it was discovered that he hadn't lived in North Dakota for five years as required. The legislature swiftly began an impeachment effort, but it was halted after Moodie agreed to step down in favor of Lieutenant Governor Walter Welford.

Despite the continuing effects of the Depression, supporters from all over North Dakota contributed to a legal defense fund for Langer's appeal. The renowned civil rights attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to take his case, though other lawyers had to take over after Darrow fell ill. On May 7, 1935, Langer won his first victory when the Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction.

However, District Attorney P.W. Lanier convened another grand jury soon after and again managed to indict the former governor. Langer and his co-defendants also had a perjury charge levied against them after they accused Miller of being biased against them. This was an unprecedented use of the perjury charge, and Langer would later joke that he was the only person who had been charged with the crime for filing an affidavit of prejudice.

Langer was seriously injured in a car accident in July, but survived to attend a new trial in October. The jury deadlocked, 10-2 in favor of conviction. Another trial in December covered both the conspiracy and perjury charges. This time, Langer was found not guilty. The proceedings also acquitted Chaput, Kinzel, and Vogel.

In in the interim, Welford had built up his own prestige and further cleared the state offices of Langer appointees. The acquittal cleared the path for Langer to again seek nomination for the governor's office, and he directly challenged Welford for the Republican nomination in 1936. After losing this bid by about 500 votes, Langer instead joined the race as the NPL candidate against Welford and Democratic candidate John Moses. He was not nearly as popular as he had been in earlier races, earning only 36 percent of the vote, but it was enough to win in the three-way race.

In his second term, Langer successfully convinced the state legislature to appropriate $6 million for child welfare, old age pensions, and general relief programs. The appropriation was more than what had been made in the entire period between 1933 and 1935. He also directed the State Mill and Elevator company to pay above market price for wheat. In a move criticized by the students, alumni, and faculty in the state college system, Langer dismissed seven deans and instructors; some had been employed in the system for 35 years and received only a few hours' notice to leave. The dismissals prompted a brief recall effort, but the mood in the state was somewhat assuaged when Langer introduced a student aid fund.

There were lingering corruption allegations during Langer's second term as governor. Three of his friends were found to have purchased county bonds at a discounted price before selling them back to the Bank of North Dakota. In 1938, an investigation determined that an attorney for the Great Northern Railroad had received $25,000 in stock from Langer; the transaction occurred as part of a $3 million reduction in the assessment on the railroad.

Langer did not seek re-election in 1938, instead opting to run for the U.S. Senate. He lost the GOP primary to Gerald P. Nye, thanks in part to the persistent rumors about improprieties in his administration, and was an unsuccessful candidate in the general election.

Two years later, Langer was again a Senate candidate in a race that featured a bizarre tangle of alliances. William Lemke abandoned his bid to run for re-election to the House of Representatives, instead opting to run an independent campaign against Langer in the Senate race. He hoped to strike a deal with Charles Vogel, the Democratic candidate, where Vogel would not campaign for the seat. Lemke had arranged a similar bargain in 1938, joining Nye in supporting Democratic candidate John Moses; in exchange, Moses convinced Democratic candidate Jess Nygaard to not campaign in the Senate race, thereby avoiding a split in the anti-Langer votes.

However, since Roosevelt was seeking a third term in the White House, Vogel feared that such a deal would compromise the vote for the President in North Dakota. He continued his campaign, causing the anti-Langer vote to split between Lemke and Vogel. Langer, running on the Republican ticket, won the Senate race by more than 100,000 votes.

Anti-Langer residents in North Dakota gathered signatures for a petition seeking to block the candidate's seating in the Senate. The document outlined the numerous excesses during Langer's time in the state, accusing him of everything from bribery in leasing government property to accepting kickbacks and fees for fictitious services and converting the proceeds from legal settlements. Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley, a Kentucky Democrat, asked that Langer be seated without prejudice while the issue was referred to the Committee on Elections and Privileges in January of 1941. Putting the task to the committee also meant that the Senate could expel Langer by a simple majority vote rather than a two-thirds majority when the question returned to the chamber.

The committee did not begin full hearings until November, and it did not issue its findings until January of 1942. By a vote of 13-3, the committee had decided that Langer was not fit to be a senator and should be expelled. The majority report declared that Langer had exhibited a "continuous, contemptuous, and shameful disregard for the high concepts of public duty" during his time in the North Dakota state offices. "He would defy the highest court of his state with force," the report stated. "[Langer] throughout his career had little use for law and order, but in attempting to prevent and suspend civil process upon himself he reached the high point in his continuous belief that might is superior to right."

The majority summarized some of Langer's misbehavior as including "gross impropriety, lawlessness, shotgun law enforcement, jail breaking, violation of oath as an attorney, rabble rousing, breach of the peace, obstruction of the administration of justice, and tampering with court officials." He was criticized for the raids he organized as state's attorney as well as his declaration of martial law and attempt to secede after his 1934 conviction.

One of the most bizarre incidents related to Langer's time as a private attorney. He was accused of kidnapping his own client from jail, taking him and his ex-wife across the state line, and persuading her to remarry him so she could not be compelled to testify against the client in a murder trial. Langer had promised to arrange for a divorce without fees once the case had been settled. However, when the woman tried to remarry nine years later she found that Langer had failed to keep his word.

Langer himself admitted that he had paid the son of the judge who had presided over his second and third trials in the Leader matter as well as an associate of the judge named Chet Leedom. The majority report determined that he had taken $56,800 in compensation for his approval of questionable bond issues in order to allow a broker named Gregory Brunk to net $300,000 in profits in 1937 and 1938. It also revived the accusation that Langer had received $25,000 for selling stock to the Great Northern Railway Company as part of the railroad's effort to reduce its taxes. Though several of the accusations had been publicized before the report, the majority felt that North Dakota voters hadn't been adequately aware of Langer's tumultuous past and that denying him a seat in the Senate was a proper action.

The minority report was just as strongly worded, saying the majority's conclusions about Langer's culpability had been based more on hearsay and gossip than on fact. It was the first time a member of the Senate had been the target of such a pointed investigation, the three minority members said. They accused the committee's investigation of being sloppy and one-sided, focusing on evidence against Langer without taking any that could exonerate him and allowing the process to be "swept away by a barrage of slander." Morever, the minority said the voters in North Dakota were well aware of Langer's lively personality since the same accusations had come up in the 1940 campaign.

"[T]he petitioners have evidently adopted the view that if you say enough things about an individual and extend the period of time sufficiently long, and use sufficiently abusive phraseology, those who try the case will finally lose patience in tracking down one false trail after another and give up in sheer exhaustion," one part of the minority report said.

Floor debate in the Senate opened on March 9 and continued for two weeks. Langer's supporters said they should not add morality requirements to those outlined in the Constitution when considering whether a member was fit to serve in Congress. Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith, a Democrat from South Carolina, remarked, "I don't like this business of going back 25 or 30 years into the life of a senator. If we did that for every senator, we couldn't get a quorum here."

The Senate first repudiated the idea that Langer could be expelled by majority vote rather than a two-thirds majority, then rejected the majority report on Langer's fitness for office. Fifty-two senators were opposed to his expulsion, while 30 were in favor. In September of 1942, the Senate approved $16,500 to compensate Langer for the legal costs he had incurred during the committee hearings.

As a senator, Langer distinguished himself as having an independent streak that often put him in opposition with his own party. Though he supported the declaration of war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was strongly isolationist. In the lead-up to the war, he opposed the Lend-Lease Act, Destroyer Deal, and expansion of the Selective Service Act to peacetime. After the conclusion of World War II, he was one of only two senators to vote against the United Nations charter.

Langer's isolationism continued in the years after the war, as the United States became increasingly involved in international affairs in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. He opposed the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, all foreign aid, and the extension of conscription laws. Though he had kind words for Harry Truman's capability as President, he was against two of Truman's signature policies: the Marshall Plan to assist the postwar recovery in Europe and the Truman Doctrine to promote the containment of Communism.

This attitude earned Langer some criticism when he publicly expressed his disdain for former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a few occasions. In 1949, critics called Langer out for his erroneous statements claiming that Churchill had fought against the United States in the Spanish-American War. In advance of Churchill's visit to the U.S. in 1951, Langer asked the pastor at the Old North Church in Boston to hang two lanterns in the steeple to indicate that the British were coming.

Langer's firm opposition against internationalism was balanced by efforts to improve everyday life for the average person. He supported measures to bring electricity and telephone service to rural areas, and he was also in favor of efforts to make health care more affordable to citizens. He served for a time as chairman of the Judicial Committee, and was always recognizable by his longtime habit of chewing on cigars without removing the wrapper.

Langer remained popular in North Dakota, winning re-election in 1946 and 1952. Though he did not drop out of the race in 1958, the Republican Party chose another candidate and Langer never made a campaign speech since he refused to leave his ailing wife's side. Nevertheless, he won re-election in this year as well.

Langer continued to serve in the Senate until his death on November 8, 1959. He lay in state in the Senate for his funeral, which took place two days later. He would be the last senator to have this kind of funeral until 2010, when similar proceedings were scheduled following the death of Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia in 2010.

Thanks to James A. Davis of the State Historical Society of North Dakota for his assistance with this entry.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The Mandan Historical Society, State Historical Society of North Dakota, The William Langer Papers at the University of North Dakota, "The Expulsion Case of William Langer of North Dakota" at, "William Langer and the Themes of North Dakota History" by Daniel Rylance for the South Dakota Historical Society, "Langer and the Dirty Thirties" in the January through spring of 1978 editions of Prairies, "Political Pulse: The NPL's Road to Ruin" in North Dakota Studies, "Wild Bill" at, "Impeachment of State Officials" report to the Connecticut General Assembly on Feb. 9 2004, "N.P. Solons in Attempt to Oust Atty-General" in the Prescott Journal-Miner on Dec. 12 1919, "Indict Governor Langer of North Dakota" in the Spartanburg Herald on Apr. 17 1934, "Six Bolt From Langer Cabinet in North Dakota, Joining Olson" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jun. 24 1934, "Langer Receives Prison Sentence" in the Spartanburg Herald on Jun. 30 1934, "Civil War Feared Between Factions in North Dakota" in the Evening Independent on Jul. 19 1934, "Olson Tightening Control of State" in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World on Jul. 21 1934, "Struggle Turns to Legislature in North Dakota Fight" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jul. 23 1934, "North Dakota Senate Fails to Get Action" in the Deseret News on Jul. 23 1942, "Wife of Deposed Governor Heads North Dakota Ticket" in the Gettysburg Times on Aug. 2 1934, "Ex-Governor Langer in Critical Condition" in the Lewiston Evening Journal on Jul. 23 1935, "Langer of North Dakota to be Retried Tuesday" in the Milwaukee Journal on Oct. 27 1935, "A Federal Jury Acquits Langer" in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World on Dec. 19 1935, "North Dakota Politics Boil Up Again; Of Course About Langer" in the Milwaukee Journal on Oct. 17 1937, "Oust Langer, Senate Urged" in the Milwaukee Journal on Jan. 29 1942, "Senate Asked to Oust Langer" in the Pittsburgh Press on Jan. 29 1942, "Three Clear Sen. Langer" in the Reading Eagle on Mar. 2 1942, "Senate Votes For Langer" in the Milwaukee Journal on Mar. 31 1942, "North Dakota Senator Has Wild and Wooly Career" in the Victoria Advocate on Mar. 7 1954, "Sensational Raid Made on Large Number of Places Last Night" in the Minot Daily News on Oct. 1 2008, "North Dakota Secedes from the U.S." in the Prairie Public Broadcasting's Dakota Notebook on Jul. 17 2013, Declarations of Independence: Encyclopedia of American Autonomous and Secessionist Movements by James L. Erwin, Establishing Justice in Middle America: A History of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit by Jeffrey Brandon Morris

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ed Malley and George Cole: hats in hand

Ed Malley (left) and George Cole

Despite the severity of their crime on the effect of Nevada finances, Ed Malley and George Cole essentially became background figures in their own case. The ease with which they were able to pilfer state funds set the stage for a dramatic confrontation with a longstanding political boss over how Nevada's affairs were managed.

Both Malley and Cole moved to Nevada to pursue the growing mining industry there. Malley was born in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, and came to the state after living for some time in Leadville, Colorado. Cole was a native of Canada, born in the town of Renfrew in the Ontario province on September 9, 1873. He moved with his family to Minneapolis when he was seven years old, and later went west and got a job as a miner in Park City, Utah. He eventually settled in Nevada, becoming chairman of the Democratic Party of Lincoln County. Both Malley and Cole eventually settled in Tonopah, joining the rush of miners to the community following the discovery of a silver lode.

Cole's early success in politics continued, as he was elected as a state assemblyman in 1904 and again in 1912. He pursued mining and hotel work in the interim, then became the state controller in 1914. He held onto the position until his defeat in a re-election bid in 1926, at which point he said he would rejoin the workforce in Clark County. Despite this loss, there was talk that Cole would be named as the Democratic nominee for the 1928 U.S. House of Representatives election.

Malley served as a constable in Tonopah before becoming chief of police in 1907. He was elected as sheriff and assessor of Nye County in 1910. While riding in a vehicle during his campaign for re-election, a shotgun became tangled in some overcoats and went off. Malley was shot point-blank in his right arm, and the limb later had to be amputated. He began serving as state treasurer after he was elected to the post in 1914.

While the men were in office, Nevada politics were strongly influenced by a Reno businessman and Republican named George Wingfield. A former cattle rancher and gambler, Wingfield had moved to the city in 1908 and made his fortune in mining. He was offered a Senate appointment in 1912 following the death of Senator George S. Nixon, but turned it down. Wingfield also owned several banks across the state, holding deposits of public funds and using his influence to build up a bipartisan political machine. Given Nevada's tiny population, the state government operated more like a small town; power was concentrated in a few individuals, and most people in governing positions knew one another.

Suspicions of corruption in the state finances began in the 1927 legislative session, but no investigation materialized. The legislature's joint ways and means committee was reluctant to ask for the funds to look into the matter, and some members were convinced that Malley and Cole were upstanding figures who could not possibly be guilty of malfeasance.

On the evening of April 27, 1927, Malley and Cole visited Wingfield at his home to confess that they had been misusing state funds for several years. Malley said the cash had been taken from state insurance money as well as the treasury to cover losses from investments that did not pan out. The duo had speculated in Tonopah mines as well as the wells of the Nevada Signal Hill Oil Company, but neither endeavor had panned out. All told, they had lost $516,322.16.

The embezzlement had been aided by H.C. Clapp, a cashier at the Carson Valley Bank. Clapp had issued three fraudulent cashier's checks to cover the losses during audits, showing a receipt of money that was never actually deposited. The largest check came to $392,700. Clapp had also allowed Gilbert Ross, the state bank examiner, to carry overdrafts on his personal account and lost more than $6,000 as a result.

Wingfield, as owner of the Carson Valley Bank, was a central figure in the whole mess. He also owned the Nevada Surety and Bonding Company, which had bonded Malley and Cole for $100,000 each. And he had recently fired Clapp due to poor performance stemming from frequent drinking. Malley and Cole knew that the former cashier was prepared to take revenge by going public with the story. Wingfield, as both the bank owner and bondsman, was in the best position to handle the crisis quietly by covering for the losses.

Malley would later testify that Wingfield and his attorney, George Thatcher, had gone so far as to promise him and Cole immunity for their crime. Indeed, Wingfield worked diligently for nine days to stabilize the financial situation. He sent the vice president of the Carson Valley Bank to San Francisco to raise $500,000 (some accounts say $600,000) and deposited the sum in Nevada. He also quietly withdrew as Malley's bondsman.

Even if Wingfield promised protection for the two officials, his close association with both the state and bank put him in a difficult situation. Unless he wanted to willingly part with half a million dollars of his own money, the revelation of the defalcations would put the onus of replacing the money on either the state or the Carson Valley Bank. By pursuing the prosecution of Malley and Cole, the burden would fall to the state and prevent a potentially ruinous situation at the bank.

Wingfield summoned several state officials, including Governor Fred Balzar, to brief them on the embezzlement. On May 7, he issued a press release detailing the confession he had received from Malley and Cole. The statement was carefully timed, taking place on a Saturday to allow extra time for the courts to open and insurers to be informed. To avoid a run on the bank, Wingfield assured the public that his deposit had ensured the solvency of the deposits in the Carson Valley Bank. "I will personally guarantee the state's losses, and of course we can alleviate any run on the bank by announcing that the funds are available, and there has been no loss to the depositors," he announced. Malley, Cole, and Clapp were arrested on the same day.

Upset at what they considered a betrayal by the man in whom they had placed their trust, Malley and Cole hired one of Wingfield's most well-known enemies to defend them. Patrick McCarran had first gone up against Wingfield when he represented May Caric in a 1906 case against the businessman. Caric claimed that she and Wingfield were in a common law marriage, and she wanted to claim part of his fortune in a divorce; Wingfield won the battle, with the court granting an annulment instead. McCarran had held little influence in the state compared to his nemesis, serving some time as a Nevada State Supreme Court judge but failing two attempts to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1916 and 1926. Curiously, McCarran was also the attorney for the Nevada Signal Hill Oil Company, where the officials' investment had failed to produce any dividends.

The Reno Evening Gazette, an anti-Wingfield newspaper, was appalled by the revelation of the crime. It questioned how the embezzlement could go undiscovered for so long and why Malley was bonded for only $100,000 when other financial officers had much higher amounts. "Seemingly there has been an inexcusable amount of looseness in the financial administration of the state when more than one-half million of the people's money could be lifted from the treasury and replaced by paper which may prove worthless," the paper declared.

Malley remained defiant after his arrest. He said on May 10 that he would refuse to resign, and two days later he even tried to get Wingfield to honor the fraudulent cashier's checks. Balzar ordered all banks in the state to refuse to honor any state checks from the treasurer, and on May 18 he formally removed Malley from office. The treasurer's position was filled by George B. Russell, a Republican newspaper editor. Even after his ouster, Malley held onto the keys to his office until May 21, when he and his co-defendants were arraigned on a seven-count criminal indictment.

Clapp pleaded guilty to the charges on June 8 and was quickly sentenced to serve five to 15 years in prison. Meanwhile, negotiations between Wingfield and state officials began in the same month to try to resolve the issue of liability in the lost funds. The talks went nowhere, and the state filed a civil suit against Wingfield to try to recover the money.

Witnesses began to take the stand in the trial of Malley and Cole on August 22. Clapp had agreed to turn state's evidence, and his testimony lasted for five days as McCarran grilled him in an effort to exploit any inconsistencies. The former cashier claimed that he had destroyed many of the cashier's checks used in the transactions, but several thousand checks and deposit slips were still available to help outline the defalcations. Other witnesses claimed that Malley had asked to keep the shortages secret until the end of 1927, when he expected the oil well investments to become profitable enough to cover the losses.

Malley took the stand in his own defense, claiming that Clapp had orchestrated the entire scheme and that Wingfield had falsely promised him immunity. Cole was also called, but answered only two questions before he was excused.

The greater part of McCarran's defense was an attempt to have Wingfield, and the failures of the Nevada state administration as a whole, share in the blame for the embezzlement. He argued that the state had violated its own 1913 law to limit the deposit of public funds more than 75 percent beyond paid-up capital, since the Carson Valley Bank was capitalized at only $50,000 in 1927 while $750,000 in public funds were held there. McCarran was also critical of the cozy relationship between Wingfield and the state government, noting that the state required no security on cashier's checks from Wingfield-owned banks. He was critical of the fact that Jim McKay, who owned several gambling and prostitution establishments in Nevada, was visiting Wingfield when Malley and Cole came to his house. He asked why Wingfield hadn't confronted Clapp about his drinking earlier, accused the bank owner of having an interest in the failed oil well investment, and suggested that he was merely trying to relieve the liability on the bank so the state would be on the hook for the lost funds.

In his closing argument, McCarran railed against Wingfield's character for three-and-a-half hours. The issue, he argued, was whether Malley and Cole would be imprisoned or whether the Carson Valley Bank would be responsible for paying the $516,322.16. "Can human liberty go into bondage and come out?" he asked. "Can liberty of state go into bondage of gold and come out? If so, free men, where is your blood? I want wealth in this state, but I want liberty more - even if there is not a dollar in the state."

The prosecution simply reminded the jurors that Malley and Cole were on trial, not Wingfield. After only three hours of deliberation on September 10, both men were convicted. One week later, they received the same sentence as Clapp: five to 15 years in prison. Malley was unrepentant, maintaining that he was innocent. Cole offered a more ambiguous statement, saying, "I have made mistakes, as has every man, but I am not ashamed of anything I have ever done."

Historians have described McClellan's attempts to deflect blame from Malley and Cole as a somewhat strained attempt to critique Nevada government as a whole, but they agree that some figures managed to escape suspicion or even questioning at the trial. Ross was never called to account for the money he received on overdrafts. James Scrugham, who governed Nevada from 1923 to 1927, was never called to account for how the majority of the defalcation took place during his years in office. In fact, since Scrugham had gone on to own the Nevada State Journal and the paper was mortgaged to Wingfield, he was able to oversee the publication's wishy-washy editorial stance on how other state officials couldn't be held responsible for failing to keep an eye on Nevada's fiscal matters.

There was still the issue of how to make up for the missing funds. Balzar said that a special legislative session was unnecessary, since he considered that the state could remain solvent until the next scheduled meeting of the legislators in 1929. However, he changed his stance in a November statement declaring that a special session would probably have to take place. The reversal came after Wingfield, excluding his injection of personal funds, said the Carson Valley Bank wouldn't have enough money to cover the losses without state action.

Wingfield also held the upper hand, since he had the option of liquidating the bank. As part owner, doing so would allow him to recover $45,000 (half of what the Carson Valley Bank was capitalized at) and be liable for only $75,000 of the bonds. State officials knew that if Wingfield pursued liquidation, they would lose out on any funds he would offer and be left scrambling to get the rest of Malley's bond from his other bondsmen, most of whom were dead. On December 15, Balzar called a special session of the legislature to meet on January 16, 1928.

The key question of the session came down to how much money Wingfield should pay to cover the defalcation. The businessman had put a great deal of energy into lobbying his position in the intervening weeks, and he said most residents in the state favored a compromise solution. He also argued that the state had been in a position to discover the fraud, not the Carson Valley Bank. Wingfield said he was legally liable for only $123,622.16, or the difference between the shortage and the state warrant held by the bank, and offered to pay this sum.

This amount was rebuffed as the few anti-Wingfield legislators tried to push an amendment that would split responsibility evenly, with both the bank and the state paying 50 percent. The attempt was unsuccessful, and the parties settled on a figure of $154,896.65 to be paid by the Carson Valley Bank. The compromise was approved by the house of representatives on January 31 and by the senate and Balzar the next day. The funds were deposited on February 3 after the deal was approved by the board of compromise and adjustments set up by the legislature.

The solution left a balance of $361,425.51 to be covered by Nevada taxpayers. There was also a tab of $52,000 in indirect costs caused by the special legislative session, including audits and legal fees. A 10-year property tax was imposed to meet these costs.

At first, Wingfield suffered few repercussions from his association with the scandal. He was elected unopposed to the board of regents at the University of Nevada later in the year. Some even praised him for his response to the crisis, saying his actions had prevented a more severe panic and that he had graciously agreed to pay more than he was liable for in the final settlement with the legislature.

However, the affair was the beginning of the end for the political boss. The embezzlement had exposed Wingfield as a behind the scenes power broker in Nevada politics, and newspapers both in Nevada and in nearby states denounced the settlement as letting him off too easily. It didn't help that the decade-long tax was arriving just before the start of the Great Depression.

The scandal also helped McCarran get the political recognition he had long pursued. In the 1932 election, he again ran for the Senate against Republican incumbent Tasker Oddie. The Depression had been underway for three years, and Wingfield had again tried to prop up his banks with personal funds. It was not enough, and the banks were forced to close in the same week as the election. This factor has been credited with giving McClellan the edge he needed in the race, and he narrowly defeated Oddie.

Wingfield was forced into personal bankruptcy in 1935. He was able to regain a more modest fortune with a successful gold and copper strike, but he never again had the same influence in Nevada politics. McCarran, by contrast, developed a political machine of his own and was able to hold onto his Senate seat for another three terms.

The two men ultimately buried the hatchet, working together on issues of common interest such as mining regulations during the 1940s. For McCarran's 78th birthday in 1954, Wingfield wrote, "You are a great American, a great Senator, and a good friend; and may you live long and prosper." As fate would have it, McCarran died a month later. Wingfield, who had been born just eight days after McCarran, lived another five years.

The officials convicted in the embezzlement were all released in May of 1931, after serving the minimum sentence with time off for good behavior. In May of 1935, the state parole board issued full pardons to Malley and Cole to restore their citizenship. Malley pursued a real estate career and was able to resume government work by getting a position in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Cole became a dealer at a Lake Tahoe club and later worked for the state highway department.

Cole died in October of 1948 at the age of 75. Malley died 18 years later, in January of 1966, at the age of 87.

Special thanks to Michael Maher, librarian at the Nevada Historical Society, for his help in finding additional information for this article.

Sources: Online Nevada Encyclopedia, "Nevada State Funds Half Million Short; Treasurer Faces Jail" in the Evening News on May 6 1927, "Bank Cashier Found Guilty" in the Spokesman-Review on Jun. 9 1927, "Clapp Denies Guilt in Nevada Scandal" in the Berkeley Daily Gazette on Aug. 24 1927, "Clapp Unshaken in Nevada Fund Probe" in the Berkeley Daily Gazette on Aug. 29 1927, "Nevada Officials Face Prison Term" in the Berkeley Daily Gazette on Sep. 12 1927, "Malley, Cole Given Paroles from Prison" in the Nevada State Journal on May 5 1931, "Cole and Malley Get Pardon and Citizenship" in the Nevada State Journal on May 9 1935, "George Wingfield and Nevada Banking, 1920-1933: Another Look" in the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly in Fall 1992, "The Cole-Malley Scandal: Nevada's Political System Revealed" in the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly in Summer 2007, "Nevada Political Power: Bosses of the Silver State Squared Off in Sensational Trial" in the Reno Gazette-Journal on Jan. 4 2014, Pat McCarran, Political Boss of Nevada by Jerome E. Roberts, The Roots of Reno by Al W. Moe, A Short History of Carson City by Richard Moreno, George Wingfield: Owner and Operator of Nevada by C. Elizabeth Raymond

Sunday, November 23, 2014

G. Harrold Carswell: representing the mediocre

When George Harrold Carswell's name was first put forward for a seat on the United States Supreme Court, some newspapers commented that his confirmation was all but assured. For one thing, he had no stocks or bonds at a time when financial conflicts of interest were affecting the high court. His decisions had not endeared him to labor groups, but observers considered their opposition to be little more than token.

The factor most in favor of Carswell's nomination, however, was the fact that the path had already been cleared for him. The Senate had already rejected President Richard Nixon's first nominee for the Supreme Court, and the chamber had not rejected a President's nominees twice in a row in 76 years. There was a perception that doing so would weaken the relationship between the President and Senate Republicans, and that it would delay decisions on important matters by leaving the Supreme Court deadlocked.

Carswell had already been confirmed by the Senate to three federal judicial posts over the course of his career. He had passed background checks by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on each these occasions. And he perfectly fit the profile for Nixon's ideal nominee: a Southern judge with a constructionist view toward the Constitution, or interpretation that the founding document limited the role of the government.

When he learned of the nominee's credentials, Attorney General John N. Mitchell enthusiastically recommended Carswell to Nixon. The judge, he declared, was to be "too good to be true." The statement was more accurate than he realized.

Carswell was born on December 22, 1919, in Irwinton, Georgia. His father, George Henry Carswell, served for 30 years as a state legislator. The elder Carswell was also secretary of state at one point and twice ran unsuccessfully in Georgia's gubernatorial elections. Carswell earned a bachelor of arts degree from Duke University in 1941 before attending the University of Georgia Law School, but suspended his studies to join the Naval Reserve after the United States entered World War II. He sailed in the Pacific aboard the heavy cruiser Baltimore and attended several universities as part of his officer training, including six months of postgraduate work at the U.S. Naval Academy. When the war ended in 1945, Carswell left the service with the rank of lieutenant.

Resuming his studies, Carswell earned a bachelor of law degree from Mercer University and graduated from the Walter F. George School of Law in 1948. He immediately started a private practice, then sought to follow in his father's footsteps by running as a Democrat for the Georgia legislature. After this bid failed, he moved his practice to Tallahassee, Florida.

Prior to the 1952 election, Carswell sought to persuade his fellow Democrats in Florida to vote for the Republican candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He soon switched his allegiance to the Republican Party. After he was elected, Eisenhower rewarded Carswell by appointing him U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. Carswell held this post until March of 1958, when Eisenhower nominated him for a seat on the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Florida. The Senate confirmed the appointment, and Carswell began serving the role the next month. He was only 33 years old, the youngest federal attorney in the country at the time. In 1969, Nixon nominated Carswell for a new seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, located in New Orleans. He was confirmed by the Senate in June.

Carswell began his new job at the same time that the Supreme Court was going through an upheaval. Justice Abe Fortas of the Supreme Court had resigned in May of 1969 after it was discovered that he had a connection to a discredited financier. Fortas had agreed to perform services for the family foundation of Louis E. Wolfson, who had been convicted of stock manipulation.

Nixon's first choice to fill the vacancy left by Fortas' departure was Clement F. Haynsworth, Jr. The conservative Democrat and South Carolina judge had been serving on the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Senators were concerned that Haynsworth had exhibited a conflict of interest in several cases where he owned stock in companies appearing before the court. Labor and civil rights groups added their voices to the opposition, saying Haynsworth had been biased against them in his decisions. On November 21, 1969, the Senate rejected the nominee with 55 senators opposed and 45 in favor; 17 of the 43 Republicans in the Senate broke ranks to vote down the President's first choice.

Unrepentant, Nixon blamed the defeat on an "anti-Southern, anti-conservative, and anti-strict constructionist" prejudice in the Senate, even though some constructionists had joined the opposition. He ordered an aide, Harry S. Dent, to "find a good federal judge farther to the South and further to the right." Carswell fit the bill, and Nixon put his name forward on January 19, 1970.

When the nomination went before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Carswell's attitude toward racial relations became an immediate point of concern. He had a distinctly mixed record on civil rights, applying Supreme Court decisions to his own district but showing less concern for equality if these precedents did not apply. In one case, he had ruled against his own barber in favor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, saying the shop could not deny service to black customers. He had also decided that the Tallahassee city commissioners could not make distinctions based on race in their decisions, and Yale professor James W. Moore credited Carswell with making the University of Florida Law School free of discrimination. However, he had also dismissed cases that sought to force a theater to sell tickets to black moviegoers and reopen swimming pools closed by a "wade-in" protest. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, charging him with a bias against blacks making civil rights claims, had formally opposed Carswell's promotion to the Court of Appeals.

Representatives of civil rights groups expressed their concerns before the committee. They painted Carswell as a judge who was openly hostile to civil rights claims and any Northern lawyers representing them, saying he had shouted at black lawyers while acting cordial toward white ones, delayed civil rights cases without cause, and even turned his back on civil rights lawyers in the midst of their arguments. Rutgers University law professor John Lowenthal said Carswell was "extremely hostile" to a 1963 habeas corpus petition to free seven people charged with criminal trespass for urging black citizens to vote. He said Carswell had eventually granted the petition but refused to let the court marshal serve the release order, forcing Lowenthal to deliver it to the sheriff. LeRoy D. Clark, a New York University Law School professor who represented the National Conference of Black Lawyers in his appearance before the committee, declared Carswell to be "the most hostile federal district judge I've ever appeared before with respect to civil rights matters."

Statements that Carswell made in his 1948 legislative campaign raised the question of whether Carswell was being blatantly racist in this behavior. In a speech, he had endorsed segregation as "the only practical and correct way of life in our states" and further declared that he was committed to a "firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy." Surprisingly, these statements proved only a minor hurdle. Carswell denounced his former statements as "obnoxious and abhorrent to my personal philosophy" and said he had lost the race in part because he was considered too liberal in spite of such declarations. His supporters said Carswell shouldn't be judged for statements he had made 22 years before the confirmation hearings.

Carswell's record showed a high rate of reversal when it came to his decisions, especially on civil rights. A study by students at the Columbia University Law School found that 58 percent of his decisions had been overturned on appeal. Among all federal jurists, Carswell had the eighth most cases reversed by appellate courts. Supporters dismissed this finding, arguing that Carswell considered civil rights cases fairly and that the reversals came about after the high courts set precedents for the speed required in integration.

Senators opposed to Carswell also questioned whether his record qualified him for the highest judicial post in the country. At the time of his nomination, he had only been on the Circuit Court for six months. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, described Carswell's judicial record as "utterly pedestrian" and said that Nixon should have recommended a nominee that could meet a standard of "singular excellence." Louis Pollack, the dean of the Yale University Law School, also dealt a blow to Carswell by describing him as having "more slender credentials than any nominee for the Supreme Court put forth this century."

Despite these shortcomings, the Judiciary Committee delivered a 13-4 decision on February 16 to send the nomination to the Senate with a recommendation that Carswell be approved. The committee's majority report concluded that his record on civil rights showed him to be even-handed. Carswell's opponents were outraged. Clarence Mitchell, director of the NAACP's office in Washington, said the decision was "a kick in the teeth of those of us who have sought to quell the fires of racism among Negroes in the United States." Senator Birch Bayh Jr., an Indiana Democrat, warned that Carswell's nomination would "encourage violent extremists." Senator George S. McGovern of South Dakota, who would go on to face Nixon as the Democratic candidate in the 1972 presidential election, said of Carswell, "I find his record to be distinguished largely by two qualities: racism and mediocrity."

The opponents had taken a strategy of delaying the nomination process to allow more thorough vetting of Carswell to take place. After the Judiciary Committee's nomination, they won some extra time due to lengthy debates over amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1970. It was enough to bring up more concerns regarding Carswell's character.

Additional racial issues surfaced. While acting as U.S. Attorney in 1956, Carswell had taken part in the transfer of a public golf club in Tallahasseewhich had received $35,000 in federal funds for its constructionto a private organization that barred black members. It was a rather transparent effort to skirt desegregation. Carswell had also signed papers incorporating a "whites only" boosters club for the Florida State University football team and sold property in 1966 with a restrictive covenant forbidding a sale to a black buyer. One paper found that in a speech to the Georgia Bar Association only two months before the nomination, Carswell had opened by saying, "I was out in the Far East a little while ago, and I ran into a dark-skinned fella. I asked him if he was from Indochina and he said, 'Naw, suh, I'se from outdo' Gawgee.'"

Carswell won significant support from his fellow judges, but it was not unanimous. Only eleven of the 15 judges on the Court of Appeals expressed their support in March. A month later, 50 of the 58 active federal district judges in the Fifth Circuit supported him. Meanwhile, thousands of lawyers and hundreds of law professors sent letters to the Senate saying they did not think Carswell was qualified for the high court. One public statement, signed by 350 practicing lawyers and law school professors, said he did "not have the legal or mental qualifications essential for service on the Supreme Court." Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg admitted that he considered Carswell unfit for the post.

Some of Carswell's supporters also blundered in their embarrassing defense of the nominee. Speaking to reporters about Carswell's record, Republican Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska sought to justify what detractors were calling a lackluster record. "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers," Hruska said. "They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't all have Brandeises and Frankfurters and Cardozos and stuff like that there."

Senator Russell Long, a Louisiana Democrat, also advocated for Carswell in a backhanded way, saying the Supreme Court already had enough "upside-down, corkscrew thinkers." He asked, "Would it not appear that it might be well to take a B or a C student who was able to think straight, compared to one of those A students who are capable of the kind of thinking that winds up getting us a 100 percent increase in crime in this country?"

When the vote went before the full Senate on April 8, Carswell proved to be more popular than Haynsworth. However, he did not get enough support for approval. The final tally was 51 against the nominee and 45 in favor; 13 Republicans had joined 38 Democrats in the opposition. For the first time since Grover Cleveland's second term, a President's Supreme Court nominees had been rebuffed by the Senate twice in a row.

Nixon again blamed the rejection on regional bias, commenting that he didn't think the Senate would approve any Constitutional constructionist from the South. Carswell and Haynsworth had both endured "vicious assaults on their honesty and their character," he said, and he would not nominate another Southerner if it would submit him to "the kind of malicious character assassination accorded to both Judges Haynsworth and Carswell."

Critics condemned the remarks as inaccurate and indicative of Nixon's own biases. Bayh said Nixon's determination to get a Southerner in the Supreme Court was "the most damning evidence of a Southern Strategy that we've had," referencing the President's appeasing the pro-segregation groups in the South to help him win the 1968 election. Some Southern senators who had voted against Carswell also disputed Nixon's accusation, saying he could have found better constructionist nominees from the South. Nixon would subsequently nominate Harry Blackmun, a Minnesota judge on the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit; he would be approved unanimously in May.

Less than two weeks after Carswell was turned down, he made a surprising decision. Though he had lifetime tenure on the Court of Appeals, he resigned on April 20 to pursue a Senate bid in the 1970 election. He had agreed to do so at the urging of Florida's Republican governor, Claude Kirk, who hoped he would take the place of retiring Democratic Senator Spessard L. Holland. Carswell said he would support Nixon's policies, agree to a withdrawal of troops from Vietnam if an "honorable settlement" could be reached, and advocate for "common sense and conservative approaches to problems of education, crime control, and fiscal matters." He also had an ax to grind with the chamber that had rejected him, saying the Senate needed "more deliberation and less ultra-liberalism."

The effort was for naught. Representative William C. Cramer defeated Carswell by a nearly two-to-one margin in the Republican primary, earning 220,553 votes to Carswell's 121,281. Cramer would ultimately lose to Lawton Chiles, the Democratic candidate whose campaign had included a lengthy hike through Florida to meet with residents across the state. Carswell resumed work as a private attorney.

Later in the 1970s, two incidents emerged suggesting that Carswell was a closeted homosexual. The first occurred in Florida in June of 1976, after vice officers staked out a men's room in a Tallahassee shopping mall following complaints from merchants that homosexual liaisons were taking place there. After meeting with a male vice officer at the mall, Carswell drove him to a wooded area north of the city. He was promptly arrested on charges of battery and attempting a lewd and lascivious act.

Carswell was briefly hospitalized for a nervous condition after the incident. He allegedly told the officers, "I'd rather be dead than in the clutches of vice officers under such circumstances. I may just kill myself tonight. This is not true. You've got it all wrong." Four months later, he pleaded no contest to the battery charge and was fined $100.

The second incident occurred in September of 1979. After meeting a man in the skating rink of an Atlanta hotel, Carswell invited him up to his room. Carswell told police that he was then attacked and struck several times with a sharp object.

Carswell continued practicing law until his death, of lung cancer, on July 13, 1992.

Sources: Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, "Floridian Picked by Nixon for Post on Supreme Court" in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal on Jan. 19 1970, "Carswell Abides by High Court Rulings" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Jan. 20 1970, "Supreme Court Nominee Carswell Rejects White Supremacy Speech" in the Observer-Reporter on Jan. 22 1970, "Judge Carswell Deeply Rooted in Old South" in the Milwaukee Journal on Jan. 25 1970, "Carswell Hearings Recessed" in the Daily News on Jan. 29 1970, "Senate Panel Ends Hearing on Carswell" in the Toledo Blade on Feb. 3 1970, "Supreme Court Position Carswell Likely to Win" in the Rome News-Tribune on Feb. 8 1970, "Senate Judiciary Panel Approves Judge Carswell" in the Rome News-Tribune on Feb. 17 1970, "Carswell's Confirmation Looks Certain" in the Rome News-Tribune on Feb. 26 1970, "Goldberg Says Carswell Unfit for High Court Justice Post" in the Observer-Reporter on Mar. 23 1970, "High Court Takes a Beating in Talk About Mediocrity" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Mar. 25 1970, "Eleven Judges Support Carswell" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Mar. 29 1970, "Fifth Circuit Judges Back Carswell" in the Toledo Blade on April 5 1970, "Court Nominee Harrold Carswell Rejected by 51-45 Senate Vote" in The Bulletin on April 8 1970, "Nixon Charges Anti-South Bias" in the St. Petersburg Times on Apr. 10 1970, "Carswell Runs 'On Own Merit'" in the Evening Independent on Apr. 25 1970, "Harrold Carswell" in the St. Petersburg Times on Sep. 3 1970, "Faubus Loses Contest; Carswell Defeated" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Sep. 9 1970, "Carswell Returns to a Life of Private Law Practice" in the Ocala Star-Banner on Dec. 30 1970, "Carswell to Face Battery Charge, State Attorney Says" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jun. 29 1976, "Carswell Arrested on Morals Charge" in the Morning Record on Jul. 1 1976, "Carswell Reports Beating" in the Tuscaloosa News on Sept. 12 1979, "G. Harrold Carswell, High Court Nominee" in The Hour on Aug. 1 1992, "G. Harrold Carswell, 72, Rejected as Nixon's Nominee to High Court" in the Seattle Times on Aug. 1 1992, Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Bush II by Henry J. Abraham, The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment that Redefined the Supreme Court by John W. Dean, Encyclopedia of the United States Congress by Robert E. Dewhirst

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bruce Bennett: chartering a disaster

Bruce Bennett and family. Source:

In a government career marked by corruption and harassment of civil rights groups, Bruce Bennett is somehow best remembered for his role in the debate over teaching evolution in schools.

The Arkansas state legislature crafted an anti-evolution law in 1928, making it unlawful for any teacher in the state's schools or colleges to include evolution in their courses. The law also banned textbooks featuring evolution and set a fine of $500 for anyone who violated the statute. Coming just three years after the fight over evolution in the Scopes Monkey Trial, backers of the bill said the legislation amounted to supporting the Bible over atheism and giving taxpayers control over what would be taught in schools. At the general election in November, voters overwhelmingly approved the measure with 108,991 in favor and 63,406 opposed.

The law was never strongly enforced, and attempts to repeal it were made in 1937 and 1959 as support for such fundamentalist measures waned. It wasn't until 1965 that the effort gained significant public attention. Susan Epperson, a high school teacher in Little Rock, became the plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the bill on the basis that evolution instruction was part of "the obligations of a responsible teacher of biology."

Bennett, the attorney general of Arkansas, was eager to take on the suit and even expressed his hope to disprove Darwin's theory during the proceedings. Maintaining the old argument that evolution promoted atheism and deprived the state's schools of choosing what they would teach, he asked, "Will our children be 'free' to choose their religion after their minds have been warped by anti-religious propaganda; or will they be forever captives of the Darwin theory, foisted upon them in their youth?"

Judge Murray O. Reed had no wish to see the state embarrassed by a Scopes-like circus more than four decades after that case. The case was scheduled to last only one day - April 1, 1966 - and the proceedings in the Pulaski County Chancery Court lasted only two-and-a-half hours. On May 27, Reed declared that the law was unconstitutional since it sought to "hinder the quest for knowledge, restrict the freedom to learn, and restrain the freedom to teach."

The ruling was subsequently overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court, then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The justices upheld Reed's ruling in a 7-2 decision, saying the Arkansas law was unconstitutional since it infringed upon the First Amendment. Justice Abe Fortas said in the majority report that the right of free speech "does not permit the state to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma" and that the law essentially gave preference to the creationist view by "seeking to blot out" the conflicting scientific theory.

The case set a precedent for the legality of other anti-evolution laws, establishing that public schools could not be forbidden from teaching Darwin's theory as a way of upholding religious doctrine. Bennett's grandstanding and loss in the lower court also contributed to the loss of his office, which in turn led to revelations that he had used his office for corrupt purposes.

Bennett was born on October 31, 1917, in Helena, Arkansas. Four years later, he moved with his family to the small city of El Dorado and completed school. He studied pre-law at El Dorado Junior College and Third District Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Southern Arkansas) in the nearby community of Magnolia.

Bennett joined the Army in 1940 and remained in the military after the United States entered the Second World War. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1942 and served 14 months in Europe before returning to the U.S. for pilot training. For the remainder of the war, he would be a commander of a B-29 in the South Pacific. Bennett flew 30 missions over Japan, coming home with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, and Air Medal with three clusters. He resumed his studies and earned a degree from Vanderbilt Law School in 1949.

Three years later, Bennett began his political career. He was elected as a Democrat to be prosecuting attorney of the Thirteenth Judicial District in 1952 and 1954. He was elected as the state's attorney general in 1956 and re-elected in 1958.

The emerging civil rights movement would find that they had no friend in Bennett. Little Rock became the focal point of a standoff between Arkansas state officials and the federal government in September of 1957, when a federal court ordered the school district to integrate in compliance with the Supreme Court's "Brown v. Board of Education" decision. Governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering Central High School. Stymied by his failed attempts to negotiate the issue with the recalcitrant governor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and ordering the Army's 101st Airborne Division in from Kentucky to provide protection for the students and ensure order during the integration.

Bennett subsequently crafted several bills to harass civil rights activists, especially the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The measures prevented the NAACP from providing legal counsel or funding for lawsuits in the state and prohibited NAACP members from becoming state employees. With Faubus's support, Bennett also had the Arkansas NAACP's nonprofit status revoked in 1958 and banned it for nonpayment of taxes.

Six months later, Bennett went farther by accusing civil rights protesters and NAACP members of being "enemies of America" in league with an international Communist conspiracy. He ordered the organization's membership lists and personnel records to be opened for scrutinizing by state officials, then organized public hearings on the issue before the Arkansas Legislative Council's Special Education Committee. Bennett was so convinced that the civil rights movement was "riddled with Communists" that he appeared as an expert witness on the allegation in Tennessee and ran unsuccessfully as a segregationist for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1960, accusing Faubus of being a secret ally of NAACP state leader Daisy Bates despite Faubus's open resistance to desegregation.

Bennett remained popular enough that he was re-elected as attorney general in 1962 and 1964. He lost the primary to Joe Purcell in 1966, soon after his failed attempt to uphold the anti-evolution law. Ten days after taking office, Purcell set his sights on his predecessor by filing a lawsuit charging that the Arkansas Loan and Thrift had been selling securities illegally.

Bennett had helped found the AL&T in 1964, using the attorney general's office for the purpose. Along with used car dealer Ernest A. Bartlett Jr. and others, he incorporated the institute using a 1937 industrial loan charter from a defunct financial institution. The AL&T solicited investors for industrial development projects, luring people in with promises of high interest rates and deposit guarantees. In truth, the AL&T put investors' money into questionable developments while padding the accounts of the institution's officers. During his time as attorney general, Bennett held several shares in AL&T in his wife's name and collected regular legal fees from them. He also bought an inactive insurance company and sold it to the AL&T for $64,000; this organization was redubbed the Savings Guarantor Corporation and used to guarantee investors' deposits even though it was backed by no equity other than worthless AL&T stock.

The fraud crossed state lines, with Bennett and Bartlett taking a part in setting up a similar scheme in Louisiana. He made a hefty profit off the Louisiana Loan and Thrift, set up with the cooperation of Louisiana Attorney General Jack P.F. Gremillion, by borrowing $160,000 from the institution before canceling the debt by transferring his stock to another man. Between AL&T and its Louisiana twin, Bennett made some $200,000. He also used his official position to protect the AL&T from state regulation, issuing five secret opinions to state officials stating that Arkansas's securities laws didn't apply to the institution since it was operating under an old industrial loan charter rather than as a bank or savings and loan.

Purcell's suit sought to order the AL&T to stop representing itself as either a bank trust company or a savings and loan. Tom Glaze, a trial attorney in Arkansas during this time, recalls that this filing went nowhere because of a blatant conflict of interest in the Pulaski County Chancery Court. Claude Carpenter Jr., the business and law partner of the court's Chancellor Kay Matthews, enjoyed insider dealings with AL&T. The institute's founder, Ernest A. Bartlett Jr., even visited Carpenter soon after the filing and paid him a $23,000 retainer. Carpenter, who would be named a co-conspirator in the case, denied doing anything with the money other than fly to Las Vegas with Bartlett to gamble and chat with him about Arkansas Razorbacks football.

The cozy relationship stalled the matter for several months, with Matthews granting plenty of extensions. The delay finally prompted state officials to go over the court's head. Governor Winthrop Rockefeller had become the first Republican elected to the office since 1872 with his victory in 1966; his securities commissioner, Don Smith, appealed for help from the Securities and Exchange Commission. On March 13, 1968, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Miller ordered AL&T to be shut down and placed into receivership.

More than 2,000 people and two churches had invested over $4 million in AL&T. The investors would only recoup about one-quarter of what they had put into the fraudulent institution when its assets were liquidated. In one amusing exchange, a representative from the Booneville Lutheran Mission asked that the churches be the first to receive any recovered assets so they would be able to replenish their building accounts; the man explained, "This is not the people's money, this is God's money." In denying the request, Miller replied, "God should have looked after it a little better then." The AL&T was denounced as the "Arkansas Loan & Theft."

Bennett insisted that his only connection to the AL&T was that his wife briefly owned some shares in the institution. He was confident enough in his own chances of acquittal that he ran once again for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1968, although he finished a distant fourth. The investigation of the AL&T records soon uncovered his close connection with the institution, including the secret opinions on regulation of the AL&T.

In 1969, Bennett was indicted on 28 counts of securities violations, mail fraud, and wire fraud. Three other officers - Bartlett and brothers Afton and Hoyce Borum - were charged with the same crimes. Several other people, including Carpenter and some members of the Arkansas General Assembly, were named as unindicted co-conspirators.

Bennett was able to escape punishment because of his poor health, namely throat cancer. Bartlett would be convicted of some of the charges against him and receive a sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The Borum brothers would also be convicted, but receive shorter sentences. The charges against Bennett were dismissed on May 20, 1977, due to his ongoing health issues as well as difficulties in finding witnesses to testify against him. "I'd like to thank my friends and attorneys for their continued faith in me," he said after the court's decision.

Bennett died two years later on August 26, 1979.  

Sources: The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, Civil Rights Digital Library, National Parks Service, "Arkansas Battles to Save Ban on Darwin's Theory" in the Ellensburg Daily Record on Aug. 16 1966, Chronology of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy by Sehoya Cotner and Mark Decker and Randy Moore, Fulbright: A Biography by Randall Bennett Woods, The Arkansas Rockefeller by John L. Ward, Waiting for the Cemetery Vote: The Fight to Stop Election Fraud in Arkansas by Tom Glaze

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Oakes Ames: digging himself a hole


In his support of the transcontinental railroad, Oakes Ames also became one of the most significant figures in the Credit Mobilier financing scheme. Though he was perhaps the most helpful witness in implicating other legislators who were involved in the shady deals for the railroad, he was also one of the very few people punished for his actions.

Ames was born in Easton, Massachusetts, on January 10, 1804. He attended the public schools as well as Dighton Academy, but left at the age of 16 to begin working in his father's business, Ames & Sons. He and his brother Oliver would be the third generation of the Ames family to be involved in manufacturing shovels in North Easton, and they couldn't have entered at a more fortuitous time. Oakes and Oliver worked their way up to the head of the company in 1844, shortly before the demand for shovels went through the roof. The company supplied shovels to miners during the California gold rush and also provided them to people involved in agricultural development in the Mississippi Valley and another gold rush in Australia. The self-made fortune Ames earned from these sales got him the nickname "King of Spades."

Ames first became involved in railroads around 1855, when he joined in land speculation in Iowa. He became the principal stockholder and director of the Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska Railroad the next year. Ames also bought an interest in the Lackawanna Steel Corporation, knowing they would be primarily involved in the production on rails.

A founder of the Massachusetts Republican Party, Ames also joined the executive council of Massachusetts in 1860. Two years later, he was elected to the House of Representatives. That was the same year he became an early investor in the transcontinental railroad, loaning $200,000 to Central Pacific lobbyist Collis Huntington for that purpose. Ames also served on the committee that passed an amended Pacific Railroad bill in 1864. He became so closely associated with the railroad that a town in Iowa was named for him. Ames also recalled that President Abraham Lincoln told him early in 1865, "Ames, you take hold of this. The road must be built, and you are the man to do it. Take hold of it yourself. By building the Union Pacific, you will be the remembered man of your generation."

To secure funding for the transcontinental railroad, Oakes and Oliver joined with Union Pacific executive Thomas C. Durant to establish the Credit Mobilier. Taking its name from a defunct French firm, the Credit Mobilier would be used to generate support for the project in Congress and build the Union Pacific. Oliver was named president of that railroad in 1866.

The Credit Mobilier soon offered its founders an easy way to defraud the government. Durant arranged to have Herbert M. Moxie make the only construction bid for work on the Union Pacific. Since the government bonds were awarded to the Credit Mobilier, the firm was essentially paying itself for the work and subcontracting the actual labor out to builders. The estimates for the cost of the railroad were inflated, and the planned route out of Omaha was given several unnecessary twists and turns to increase profits.

The scheme nearly fell apart in a power struggle between Durant and the Ames brothers after the latter were able to oust Durant from the presidency of the Credit Mobilier board and replace him with Oliver. The board split into two factions, with construction on the railroad continuing at no profit. In October of 1867, Durant was readmitted as president and a revised construction contract brought in retroactive payments to the board.

The booming Credit Mobilier stock soon became popular among the legislators in Congress. "We want more friends in this Congress, and if a man will look into the law (and it is difficult to get them to do it unless they have an interest to do so) he cannot help being convinced that we should not be interfered with," Ames declared. He began distributing Credit Mobilier in blocks of 20 or more, usually keeping them in his own name for the sake of simplification. Union Pacific rounds also began making the rounds. It was a useful way to secure favorable legislation and derail any investigations into shady dealings with the railroad.

In the winter of 1866, Ames received 373 shares of Credit Mobilier stock and distributed 160 of them to nine members of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate. Another 30 went to a a private party. It's unclear what happened to the remaining 183 shares. Ames may have kept it for himself, or he may have given it to other legislators. The latter option seems less likely, as Ames kept a record of his transactions in a ledger.

The Credit Mobilier dealings came under more scrutiny in the 1872 election season when a lawsuit against the firm led to the revelation of a partial list of stock gifts. The list included a number of major political figures including Vice President Schuyler Colfax, vice presidential candidate Henry Wilson, Speaker of the House James G. Blaine, and future president James Garfield. The opposition press made much of the accusations. Charles Francis Adams Jr. wrote the initial expose on the affair in an article for the New York Sun, dubbing the Credit Mobilier "The Pacific Railroad Ring." The article, published on September 4, included a list of 13 congressmen accused of taking stocks. Despite the scandal, President Ulysses S. Grant, the Republican candidate, was easily re-elected. It did lead Congress to form an investigative committee (led by Rep. Luke Poland, a Republican from Vermont) in December of 1872.

Ames told the committee that the transactions involving the Credit Mobilier stock were "influenced by the same motive: to aid the credit of the road." He didn't consider the activity to be illegal, saying the shares were sold in a "strictly honest and honorable way." Some of the legislators had even returned the stock soon after. However, members of Congress backed away from Ames' testimony, considering that he had readily admitted that he had sold them a lucrative stock at an insider's price in order to guarantee favorable legislation for the railroad.

Shunned by the other accused members in the case, Ames produced his ledger and began naming people who had received the stock. One friend of Ames wrote, "Ames had been bullied and badgered till his patience and good nature were exhausted. Sorrow and determination were written in every line in his strong face. He looked broken." Ames' ledger cleared Blaine and Wilson, but implicated everyone else who had been named. Most of the legislators had sold the stock quickly, realizing minor gains. Rep. James Brooks, a Democrat from New York, had held onto his stock longer and made a considerable profit.

By the time the Poland Committee completed its work, Ames was already running down his days in Congress; he had chosen not to run for re-election in 1872. But when the committee made its recommendations for punishment, it asked for Ames and Brooks to be expelled from the House of Representatives.

On February 27, 1873, the House of Representatives voted 115-110 to accept Republican Representative Aaron Sargent's suggestion that Ames and Brooks be censured for "seeking to secure congressional attention to the affairs of a corporation in which he was interested, and whose interested directly depended upon the legislation of Congress, by inducing members of Congress to invest in the stocks of said corporation." The recommendation passed 181-36 in the case of Ames and 174-32 in the case of Brooks. There was some talk of keeping the Poland Committee in place to investigate the other members who had been named, but these efforts faded out and none of the other members named in the Credit Mobilier scandal was punished.

Ames died only a few months after receiving this punishment. He passed away in North Easton, Massachusetts, on May 8, 1873.

There was still plenty of sympathy for the late congressman. In 1883, the state legislature of Massachusetts passed resolutions of gratitude for his work and expressed its faith in his personal integrity. It asked the United States Congress to extend a similar recognition to Ames, but this appeal apparently fell on deaf ears. Both Oakes and Oliver are also memorialized on a curious granite pyramid in Wyoming. Once set alongside the high point of the Union Pacific railroad, the rerouting of the line over the years has left the monument isolated in a remote prairie near Laramie.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Oakes Ames biography on American Experience, "The Credit Mobilier Scandal" on American Experience, "The Credit Mobilier Scandal" on the Historical Highlights section of the House of Representatives website, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad by David Haward Bain, The Complete History of Railroads: Trade, Transport, and Expansion edited by Robert Curley, Business Scandals, Corruption, and Reform: An Encyclopedia by Gary Giroux

Friday, May 16, 2014

Richard W. Leche: keep on trucking


When the political machine overseen by Huey P. Long was left leaderless after Long's assassination, Richard Webster Leche was selected to take the reins. Leche's time as governor of Louisiana would essentially mark the beginning of the end of the Long machine's power, as he retreated from some positions held by the late "Kingfish." Leche himself would be be best known for making good on a statement he made after his inauguration: "When I took the oath of office, I didn't take any vow of poverty."

Born in New Orleans on May 15, 1898, Leche attended the local schools before starting studies at Tulane University. The entry of the United States into World War I interrupted his education, as Leche volunteered for the Army. He fell ill in the outbreak of Spanish influenza and never saw active combat, but still managed to serve two years in the military and leave as a second lieutenant in the infantry. After some time as an auto parts salesman in Chicago, Leche returned to school and earned an LL.B from Loyola University in 1923. He began practicing law soon after.

Leche's first bid for public office came in 1928, when he ran as a Democrat for the Louisiana state senate. Though he was unsuccessful, the experience did bring Leche into the fold of Long's machine as it successfully sent the Kingfish into the governor's office. Two years later, when Long ran for Senate, Long managed his campaign as well as that of congressional candidate of Paul H. Maloney. Both men were elected.

Long refused to relinquish the governor's title even after his election to the Senate, continuing his state duties until January of 1932. When he left the state title, it kicked off a procession of short-lived governors. Though Lieutenant Governor Paul N. Cyr was in line to take Long's place, Long managed to maneuver state senate president Alvin O. King into the office. King served for only a matter of months before he was replaced by Oscar K. Allen, a former state senator.

Leche served as King's private secretary and legal adviser between 1932 and 1934. He left the position when he was appointed to the Louisiana Court of Appeals, Parish of Orleans. Leche may have happily left politics behind in favor of a judicial career but for an unexpected event in September of 1935. Long, nearing the end of his first Senate term, had recently announced that he would run for President. When visiting the state capitol in Baton Rouge, he was fatally shot by an assassin. Without the Kingfish, there was a vacuum at the top of the Long machine.

Leche was chosen to fill this void. With Allen's death in January of 1936, Lieutenant Governor James A. Noe reluctantly held the governor's office for the remainder of the term. Leche easily won the Democratic nomination, earning three times the number of votes as the anti-Long candidate. He ran unopposed in the general election in April and was sworn into office in May, becoming the first governor to have access to the significant executive powers the legislature bestowed upon the office after Long's death.

During his term, Leche kept up some of Long's initiatives to improve state infrastructure but also worked to improve Louisiana's relations with the federal government through stronger support of New Deal programs. He oversaw improvements to roads, bridges, and schools as well as the construction of new hospitals. Leche's term included the establishment of a department of commerce and industry, the passing of a state conservation bill, and the organization of a state mineral board. Leche also took some steps that Long had strongly opposed, including a 10-year tax exemption for new businesses and a one percent sales tax to support welfare programs.

Leche may have sought to abandon his role as governor before the completion of his term, as he had his eye on one of two new federal district court judge's positions created in Louisiana in 1938. By this time, however, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into possible financial wrongdoing and improper relations among state departments in Louisiana. Leche made only $7,500 a year as governor, but he had managed to purchase a yacht, country estate, and private hunting reserve during his short  time in office. Leche had also made the questionable decision to fund a lavish, air-conditioned cage for the Louisiana State University tiger mascot as the state's residents suffered the hardships of the Great Depression.

The Times-Picayune and its afternoon paper, States, joined in the offensive against state corruption. Articles exposed misdeeds among state officials, including a practice among Long stalwarts to force supporters in the state government to deduct from their salaries to support political causes. The coverage did not gain much traction until an article in 1939 which included a photo of an LSU truck delivering windows to a house construction site of Leche's close friends, James and Catherine McLachlan.

Leche resigned later in the month, citing poor health. He was succeeded by Earl K. Long, Huey Long's son. The resignation came just as the widespread state corruption was exposed in a torrent of criminal charges that came to be known as the Louisiana Scandals. Some 250 people were indicted. Several Long supporters committed suicide, and LSU president James Monroe Smith fled to Canada in an unsuccessful effort to avoid punishment. Prosecutors estimated that about $100 million had been swindled from the state in the course of the scandals. The revelation of this corruption also allowed the anti-Long faction to break the machine's extended hold on the governor's office; though Earl K. Long would return for two non-consecutive terms in the late 1940s and 1950s, anti-Long Democrat Sam H. Jones defeated him in the 1940 gubernatorial election.

Leche was indicted later in 1939 and accused of complicity in a number of schemes. One charged that he conspired with businessmen Freeman Burford and Seymour Weiss to step up oil production and pipe the excess into Texas in violation of interstate commerce law, netting a $67,000 profit by dodging oil regulations. Leche was also accused of misusing money intended for LSU and using money from the Works Progress Administration, a federal program of the New Deal, to build his house. Another scheme involved the sale of 233 trucks to the State Highway Commission at inflated prices between 1937 and 1938; prosecutors charged that Leche's political allies had managed the sales and defrauded the state of $111,370, with the governor receiving $31,000 in kickbacks for his role.

Leche admitted to making money on the oil deal, paying only $10,000 for a house worth $75,000, and netting an income of $450,000 while in office. However, he argued that he had made this money through legal means. He said he had made a profit from oil and gas commissions as well as the sale of a Long-friendly newspaper called American Progress.

Though a jury acquitted Leche on bribery charges, he was convicted of mail fraud related to the truck scheme in June of 1940. Sentenced to 10 years in prison and disbarment, he began serving his jail time in December of 1941. Released on parole in 1945, Leche turned to agriculture and began running the Bayou Gardens, a nursery that still exists today. President Harry Truman, shortly before leaving office in January of 1953, granted Leche a pardon.

The presidential action allowed Leche to be readmitted to the bar, and he resumed his legal practice. He also began serving as a construction lobbyist in the 1960s. Leche died on February 22, 1965.

Sources: National Governors Association, Louisiana Secretary of State, The Encyclopedia of Louisiana, "Federal Jury Indicts Leche of Louisiana" in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 7 1939, "Leche in Penitentiary" in the Times Daily on Dec. 31 1941, "1939: Political Scandals Capture New Orleans Headlines" in the Times-Picayune on Nov. 12 2011, Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power, and Greed by Mark Grossman, The Governors of Louisiana by Miriam G. Reeves, Louisiana Governors: Rulers, Rascals, and Reformers by Walter Greaves-Cowan and Jack B. McGuire, I Called Him Grand Dad by Thomas T. Fields Jr.