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By the constitution of 1849 the highest judicial power in the state was vested in a supreme court, with an appellate jurisdiction of causes involving over two hundred dollars, and in all cases of tax and municipal fines, and in criminal cases amounting to a felony, in questions of law only. The court consisted of a chief justice and two associate justices, any two of whom constituted a quorum. The agreement of two of them was necessary to a decision. The term of office was fixed at six years, one justice to be elected in 1851, and one each second year thereafter. The one whose term was first to expire became the chief justice. The first justices were selected by the legislature in 1850, and they chose lots among themselves for the terms expiring January 1, 1852, 1854 and 1856, these terms falling respectively to S. C. Hastings, H. A. Lyons and Noah Bennett, thus making Justice Hastings the first chief justice. In February, 1852, Justice Heydenfeldt, by a joint resolution of the legislature, was granted leave of absence for six months. It became evident, soon after his departure, that the remainder of the court could not transact business with any facility, because a disagreement between them rendered a decision impossible. The constitution empowered the governor to fill any vacancy in the court by appointment until the next general election, but this was not a vacancy—it was simply an authorized absence. Based upon this provision, however, the legislature passed an Act, March 25, 1852, authorizing the governor to fill any temporary vacancy by appointment. The next day Hon. Peter H. Burnett was appointed, but declined to serve, deeming the Act unconstitutional. Hon. Alexander Wells was appointed on the second of April. The constitutionality of the Act was tested on an agreed case, and the members of the court were divided in their opinions, Chief Justice Murray deciding against and Justice Anderson in favor of the Act. There being no adverse decision, Justice Wells took his seat. When Justice Heydenfeldt returned he gave an opinion concurring with Chief Justice Murray against the validity of the Act, and thus it was declared unconstitutional ; not, however, until Justice Wells had retired from the bench.
The amendments to the constitution in 1863 altered the composition of the court, establishing it as it remained until the new constitution took effect, January 1, 1880. The number of justices was increased to five, with terms of ten years, one to be elected every second year. Five were elected in 1863, the length of their respective terms being decided by lot. The causes that could be carried to the supreme court were placed at those involving three hundred dollars or more. The new constitution made a radical change in the composition of the supreme court. That body now consists of a chief justice and six associate justices, elected by the people, their terms of office being fixed at twelve years.
This was the highest local tribunal of original jurisdiction, embracing chancery, civil and criminal
As at first created, it had original cognizance of all cases in equity, and its civil jurisdiction embraced all causes where the amount in question exceeded two hundred dollars, causes involving the title to real property or the validity of any tax, and issues of fact joined in the probate court. It had power to inquire into criminal offenses by means of a grand jury, and to try indictments found by that body. In 1851, the legislature took from this court its criminal jurisdiction and conferred it upon the court of sessions, leaving it the power of hearing appeals from that court in criminal matters, and the power to try all indictments for murder, manslaughter, arson, and any cases in which the members of the court of sessions were personally interested.
By the Act of March 16, 1850, dividing the state into judicial districts, Butte, Colusa, Trinity and Shasta counties were apportioned to the ninth district. Hon. Winfield Scott Sherwood was elected
judge by the legislature, and opened his court at Chico, then one of the disputed locations for the countyseat, on the first of July, 1850. No business was transacted but the qualifying of Joseph W. McCorkle, the district-attorney elected on the tenth of the preceding month. The court reassembled on Monday, the tenth of the succeeding October, at Hamilton, the new county-seat, where it held its sessions until the August term, 1853. It then moved to Bidwell's Bar, and continued there until removed permanently to Oroville in October, 1856.
After the expiration of his term of office, in 1852, Judge Sherwood lived in Butte county two years, and then moved to Sierra county, where he died, at Alleghany, June 26, 1870. Of the election of Judge Sherwood's successor, Judge Sexton says:
“ In 1852 came on the first popular election for district judge. George Adams Smith presented himself as a candidate for the position from Butte, and William P. Daingerfield as a candidate from Shasta. The convention met at the town of Tehama. J. E. N. Lewis marshaled the forces of Mr. Smith, and Mr. Watson (the immortal Col. Jack, of legislative memory) those of Mr. Daingerfield. The rooms of the hotel where the convention was held were separated by cloth partitions, and the several caucuses were held under the shade of the spreading oaks. The convention came to a deadlock, and neither candidate would give way, or their friends would not let them; and finally Watson, with the friends of Mr. Daingerfield, withdrew, formed a convention of their own and unanimously nominated Mr. Daingerfield. The other portion of the convention unanimously nominated Mr. Smith. A third party came into the field from Colusa, as a Whig -Col. G. W. Bowie. George Adams Smith was elected by a fair majority.
In 1853, he died of consumption. He was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and learned the trade of his father, a brick-mason. He was too weak physically to labor at that, and, quitting it, commenced the study of law. With only an ordinary common-school education, he made rapid advances in his profession, and, had he lived, would have attained eminence in it. He was an indefatigable student, a clear and logical thinker, and exulted in the acquisition of knowledge, especially in that of his profession. He was a good, pure, honest and high-minded man. The people of Butte lost one of their brightest ornaments, and every member of the bar a friend, when they were compelled to murmur their farewell over his grave."
The vacancy was filled by the appointment of Hon. Joseph W. McCorkle by the governor. He was succeeded by William P. Daingerfield, elected the following year for the unexpired term. In 1857, the legislature created a new judicial district, called the fifteenth, with Butte, Colusa, Tehama and Plumas counties, and Hon. C. E. Williams was appointed judge until the election that fall. This was a hard-fought struggle between Hon. Warren T. Sexton and Hon. J. E. N. Lewis. They were both democrats, but Mr. Sexton had been successful in securing the nomination, and Mr. Lewis ran independently. It is said that $15,000 were spent in conducting this exciting contest, which resulted in the election of Judge Sexton. In 1863, Butte, Plumas, Tehama and Lassen were formed into the second judicial district, and Mr. Sexton was again chosen judge. In 1869, Hon. Charles F. Lott was elected judge. J. E. N. Lewis, who had received the nomination of the democratic party, died of heart disease the night after securing it. Of his death Mr. Sexton says: “He died sitting in his chair, enjoying a beautiful summer eve, in front of the house, so quietly, so noiselessly, that a lady, sitting near enough to touch him, continued her conversation to him a few minutes after his death, until finding he did not answer some question, she touched him and discovered that life was extinct.” Judge Lott held the position until 1875, when he was again succeeded by Mr. Sexton, who presided until his death, August 11, 1878. Hon. P. O. Hundley, the present superior judge, was appointed to succeed to the vacancy, and held the position until the abolition of the court, January 1, 1880.
When the constitutional changes were made in 1863, the jurisdiction of this court was made to embrace causes involving amounts over three hundred dollars, instead of two hundred as formerly, and in criminal matters it was given the exclusive power to try all indictments for treason, misprision of treason, murder and manslaughter, as well as those which the county judge was incapacitated from trying by reason of personal interest. But little change was made in the powers of the district court after 1863. A district judge had the authority to hold court in any district in the State, when so requested by the judge of that district, or upon designation by the governor.
By virtue of the new constitution of 1879, the court was abolished and all the papers and records transferred to the superior court, and December 31, 1879, Judge Hundley adjourned the court sine die, and its life of thirty years came to a close.
The judges who have presided over the district court in Butte county are : Winfield Scott Sherwood, 1850 to 1852 ; George Adams Smith, 1852 to 1853 ; Joseph W. McCorkle, 1853 to 1854; William P. Daingerfield, 1854 to 1857; C. E. Williams, 1857; Warren T. Sexton, 1857 to 1869 ; Charles F. Lott, 1869 to 1875 ; Warren T. Sexton, 1875 to 1878; Patrick 0. Hundley, 1878 to 1879. Judge McCorkle served a term in congress from this district, and is now following the practice of his profession at the capital of the nation. Judge Daingerfield remained on the bench of the district to which Shasta county was attached for many years. He then moved to San Francisco, became eminent in his profession, and died in 1880, while holding the position of superior judge in that county. Judge Lott is still residing in Oroville and enjoying a lucrative practice of his profession. Judge Hundley now holds the position of superior judge of Butte county.
Judge Sexton was a man of great ability and high attainments, not only in the scope of his profession, but in the field of general literature and classics. He was a genial, courteous gentleman, ever willing to aid others in their struggles for advancement. He was counted one of the best jurists in the state, and was a clear and logical thinker, and expressed his opinions in forcible and convincing language. He died in Oroville April 10, 1878, surrounded by his friends, and mourned by thousands who had known him for years. In him the profession lost one of its brightest lights, and one who had done much in these degenerate days to maintain the purity and dignity of the bench.
The county court was held by the county judge, whose term of office was fixed by the constitution at four years.
An appeal lay to this court in civil cases from a justice of the peace. The business transacted prior to 1863 was very small, but at that time it was given jurisdiction of cases in forcible entry and detainer, and the criminal jurisdiction theretofore exercised by the court of sessions was conferred
Thereafter it had the power to inquire into criminal offenses by means of a grand jury, and try all indictments except those for treason, misprision of treason, murder and manslaughter, which indictments were certified to the district court for trial.
At the election of June 10, 1850, Hon. Moses Bean was chosen the first county judge of Butte county. He opened court at Chico, the disputed county-seat, on the seventeenth of July, but transacted no business, except to open court and make the following order : “Ordered that the court adjourn, to meet at Bidwell's bar on the twenty-second inst., and that all courts for the future will meet at that place till otherwise provided for.” On the day appointed, the court assembled at Bidwell. Judge Bean resigned in 1852. Of him Mr. Sexton says : “Judge Bean had a rather over-weening consciousness of the power and dignity of his own court, and had given it, in his own mind, ample jurisdiction.' A A question as to the right of a ferry purchase had been contested in his court, and decided by him, when an appeal was taken to the district court, and the judgment of his honor reversed. At the next term of the county court a similar question arose, and the judge was about to decide the matter as he had the