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July 9, 2013 > Attorneys and Counselors

Attorneys and Counselors

Walter Colton was the chief magistrate in charge of the justice system at Monterey in 1846. He administered justice under the Mexican system; lawyers were allowed to examine witnesses but were not permitted to build arguments.

Young Lawyers begged Colton to allow them plead their cases before judgement but Colton insisted that he could never finish his work if he listened to their long, eloquent arguments. He told the lawyers that after the verdict had been given, they were welcome to adjourn to another room and plead as long as they liked.

Elias Beard reported that William H. Coombs was at Mission San Jose in 1849. Coombs was the first lawyer living in Centerville when elected to be the first District Attorney of Alameda County in 1853. Coombs produced a license as Attorney and Counselor at Law from the State of Indiana and was admitted to the Court of Sessions as the Attorney and Counselor of the Court. He handled legal matters for the county. Coombs joined with Noble Hamilton to form the firm of Coombs and Hamilton with an office in Alvarado. Noble first appeared as attorney for J. J. Vallejo presenting a petition for a public highway.

Addison M. Crane was elected the first Alameda County Judge. He led the Court of Sessions in the development of Alameda County and served as County Judge until 1857. Crane became one of the best known attorneys in California and was elected State Senator in 1861.

Judge Crane was hired by local farmers who claimed land on the disputed land grant of Mission San Jose to go to Washington and help Congress pass a law to confirm their property rights. Crane succeeded and property owners were finally able to get clear title to their land by paying the government $1.25 per acre.

Court records for the year 1860 are not satisfying. There were several murder trials but as one historian noted, "as is usual in California, the result was not a satisfying of justice, but a heavy debt of expense to the county." The next year, one lawyer wrote that, "so far as litigation is concerned, the county is in a deplorably healthy condition." Lawyers didn't have much to do. A desperado prisoner was hanged by a mob at Alvarado in 1863. "The lawyer complained the next morning that he had lost a client." Lawyers who took the oath of allegiance as required by the times included A.M. Crane and Noble Hamilton.

Centerville had several other famous lawyers. John J. Riser was a volunteer in the Mormon Battalion that marched overland to California in 1846. He mined for a while but settled at Centerville in 1854 and continued to farm and practice law until his death in 1904.

Thomas C. Huxley came to Washington Township in 1875. He established his home and office at Centerville. His yard was famous for its immense pepper trees. He was the only attorney listed in the 1879 business directory and was recognized as one of the most careful lawyers in Alameda County.

Benjamin C. Mickle came to Centerville in 1894 to regain his health. He farmed, practiced law and served as justice of the peace from 1922 - 1926.

John G. Mattos came with his parents from the Azores Islands to Centerville in 1879. He began practicing law in 1897 and developed an extensive practice. He was the outstanding leader of the Portuguese people and spent his life helping them with their legal and financial problems. He was justice of the Centerville Court from 1914 - 1922, a founder of the Bank of Centerville and a devoted community worker.

Allan G. Norris was a grandson of Centerville pioneer Garrett Norris. He was a graduate of local schools and a pole vault champion at U. C. Berkeley. Awarded a law degree from Boalt Hall in 1925, he served as judge of the Centerville Court from 1927 until he was appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court in 1953. He was a leader in many community groups, a perennial master of ceremonies and was called "the most popular man in public life in Washington Township."

Joseph Antonio Silva served as judge of the Niles Justice Court from 1924 until he was replaced by Judge Edward Quaresma in 1947. Both helped many people and were described as "counselors of men."

Ezra Decoto, Jr., whose family gave Decoto its name, was another local boy who became famous. He served as our first probation officer from 1904 to 1907 and rose to become District Attorney.

Attorneys and counselors have been an important part of our legal system. Their numbers were few in pioneer days, but 13 were listed in a 1957 business directory. Several were destined to play major roles in the development of the City of Fremont.

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