August 14, 2007 > Hayward History
Historical Court Cases
There is an old saying, "you can't judge a book by its cover." One of the artifacts in the Hayward Area Historical Society's collection really fits this description. At first glance it's a plain, fragile black ledger with a loose cover. Inside are stained pages filled with spidery, barely legible handwriting. It takes some time to decipher the writing but eventually it becomes clear that this plain old ledger actually contains the records of court cases heard by two Justices of the Peace in Alameda County from October 1853 to March 1856. That would be just three years after California became a state.
Alameda County was incorporated in 1853 and consisted of the following townships: Oakland, Clinton (part of the current city of Oakland), Eden (San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Castro Valley, and Hayward), Washington (Union City, Newark, Fremont, Alvarado, Niles), and Murray (Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore). The Court of Sessions conducted all county business until the establishment of the Board of Supervisors in April 1856. Officers of the Court of Sessions included the County Judge, an elected official, and two Associate Judges appointed from the available Justices of the Peace in the county.
Justices of the Peace were elected judges in the individual townships who administered rulings on minor civil and petty criminal cases. They held office for one-year terms. This ledger includes the court cases and rulings from William B. Fleming and Joel Russell for disputes in the Hayward area mostly. Fleming's term ran from October 1853 to October 1854 at which time, Hayward resident Russell took over. At the time of his appointment to Justice of the Peace, Joel Russell was not actually a lawyer. After completing his term, he went on to study law and be admitted into the California state bar. He eventually became the Hayward city attorney and ran for statewide political office.
Included in the ledger are civil and petty criminal cases involving many of the early settlers of the Hayward area. The cases include charges of larceny, assault, damage to personal property, failure to pay for services, and "selling spirituous liquors in less quantities than one quart" without a license. This last charge was brought by the County against several businessmen, including William Hayward, owner of the famous Hayward's Hotel. In Hayward's case, Judge Russell ruled in favor of the County and ordered Hayward to pay a $30 fine and court costs which amounted to an additional $30. That is more than $1300 by today's standards. The other cases ranged in monetary judgments from $5 to several thousand.
One set of cases involved the Californio landowners of the area, including Guillermo Castro, owner of Rancho San Lorenzo (Hayward and Castro Valley), and Jose Jesus Vallejo, owner of the Rancho Arroyo del Alameda (Alvarado). The suits are "actions of forcible entry and unlawful detainer," which basically means the landowners sued to have individuals who were squatting on their land removed and/or pay them for the property. At this time, Californio ranchers throughout the state were fighting squatters who, when they saw all the open unfenced land here, assumed no one owned the land and started building homes and planting crops. It took years for the state and federal court system to confirm ownership of property claimed by these original Spanish residents of the state. In this ledger, generally, the court ruled in favor of the landowners.
Another set of cases involved William Blackwood, Supervisor of Roads District No. 1 of Alameda County, against various defendants. In these cases, Blackwood sued for the equivalent of $9 to be paid to the County. In 1853 and again in 1854 by County order, all able bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 were ordered to work two days on county road projects. The defendants in these cases apparently chose not to participate and Blackwood filed suits in amounts equivalent to two days labor. Some of the cases were in favor of the defendants, but not all.
Unfortunately, the actual arguments or evidence presented in each case are not listed in the ledger. However, the people involved, dates of court appearances, and final rulings are included. There are even two notations of marriages performed by Fleming and Russell, including that of John Johnson, pioneer salt maker, to Augusta Lorentz. All in all, the ledger provides a fascinating peek into the disputes and problems of Eden Township's early years.