Judiciary and the Bar


History of Jo Daviess County   1904

It is exceedingly difficult to get accurate information with reference to the early courts of Jo Daviess County. The mining interests overshadowed all others, and before the organization of the county many disputes were settled by arbitration, of which no record has been preserved. When the county was first organized in 1827, Galena was named as the county seat. The territory comprised in the first bounds of the county was so vast-and the county-seat being placed in the northwest corner of this territory-it was not until several years elapsed before anything like system could be maintained. The county at first was made a part of the First Judicial Circuit and the first term of the Circuit Court ever held in the county was held in June, 1828, by three Justices of the Peace, although a County Commissioner's Court was held in Galena on the 18th of June, 1827. the names of the Justices who held the first term of the Circuit Court were John Connolly, Hugh R. Coulter and Abner Field. Another session of the court was held in October, 1828, at which five Justices presided. These Justices sat as Circuit Judges and must have been impressed with their official dignity, as the record discloses that several attorneys were fined for contempt of court, and the fines were probably just, as the lawyers unquestionably had a profound contempt for the legal ability of the Justices of the Peace before whom they were then compelled to practice. In May, 1829, the Hon. Richard M. Young presided as Circuit Judge and, in 1835, was succeeded by Stephen T. Logan, who was, in his day, one of the most profound lawyers. Logan was succeeded by Thomas Ford in 1836, who was followed by Daniel Stone. Stone was legislated out of office with the other Circuit Judges in 1841, and Judge Thomas C. Browne, of the Supreme Court, was assigned to duty on the Galena Circuit. The administration of the office of Circuit Judge by Judge Browne does not appear to have been a marked success, as many of the attorneys seemed to feel that he favored a lawyer at the bar who was his son-in-law. The late M. Y. Johnson told the writer of a witticism that Thompson Campbell got off at the expense of Judge Browne, which I will relate-not vouching for its truth, however. It seems that Judge Browne, while attempting to cross Galena River, accidentally fell into the stream and came near being drowned. He was relating the circumstance in the presence of Campbell, describing the narrow escape he had had. Campbell retorted: "Judge, you were in no danger. Corruption always floats."

Judge Browne continued to preside as Circuit Judge until the adoption of the Constitution of 1848, when he was succeeded by Benjamin R. Sheldon, who held the position of Circuit Judge until elevated to 'the Supreme Bench in 1870. He was succeeded by the Hon. William Brown, of Rockford, who was a far different man from Judge Thomas C. Browne, with whom he has sometimes been confounded. It can be said with truth that the bar of Jo Daviess County has included some of the ablest and most eloquent attorneys that Illinois or any other State can boast. Space will not permit me to name all of  the attorneys who practiced at its bar. Among them were:  John Turney, William Smith, James M. Strode, Benjamin Mills, Thomas Ford, Jesse B. Thomas, Thomas Hoyne, Thomas Drummond, Charles S. Hempstead, Joseph P. Hoge, Samuel M. Wilson, E. B. Washburn, John M. Douglass, E. D. Baker and Thompson Campbell. These may all be said to have been the more prominent among the early members of the bar of Jo Daviess County, and many of them rose to great prominence in other fields. Among them all, Thompson Campbell was probably, the most brilliant, witty and eloquent, and it is said of him that, in the trial of a criminal case, he was probably the most eloquent man At that time in the State of Illinois. Jo Daviess County has always held its position as having among its members of the bar those who were leading lawyers of the State. At a later period Wellington Weigley, Robert H. McClellan, Madison Y. Johnson and David Sheean have been among the leading lawyers in Northern Illinois. David Sheean, at this writing (1903), is still in active practice and recognized as one of the leading lawyers of the State.

COUNTY COURT-Thus far I have spoken only of the Circuit Court. Jo Daviess County also has a County Court which seems to have been somewhat of a development. In 1845 the Legislature of Illinois passed an act which may be said to have consolidated all prior acts relating to County Commissioners, which act provided that there should remain in each county of the State, and be established in each county hereafter created, a court of record to be composed of three Commissioners, which court should be styled "The County Commissioner's Court," which Commissioners should be elected by the people. Said court should have a seal and a clerk, and said court was to have jurisdiction in all matters and things concerning the county revenue, and had power to issue all kinds of writs, attachments for contempt, etc. Prior to this act several acts of the Legislature had been passed with reference to County Commissioners' Courts, the first of which was passed on the 22d of March, 1819, before Jo Daviess County was organized. An appeal from said County Commissioners' Court was allowed to the Circuit Court.

On March 4, 1837, an act was passed by the Legislature of Illinois providing for the election of Probate Justices of the Peace, and on March 3, 1845, all former acts were amended and a law passed establishing in each county of the State a Court of Probate, to be composed of one officer to be styled a Probate Justice of the Peace. Said-Probate Justice of the Peace was given all powers conferred by law on Justices of the Peace, and was given further jurisdiction in all cases of debt and assumpsit, expressed or implied, where executors or administrators should be parties to the extent of $1,000. He had power to administer oaths, to issue and grant letters of administration, letters testamentary, letters of guardianship, to *fake (*I do not know if this is the right word to be used here though that is what is in the book) probate of wills, to receive and file inventories, and generally to do all acts necessary to settlement of estates.

On the 12th of February, 1849, an act was passed by the Legislature of the State of Illinois establishing in each of the organized counties of the State a Court of Record, to be styled the County Court of the proper county to be held by and consist of one Judge to be styled the County Judge of the proper county. The same act provided for the election of a Clerk of said County Court. The same act provided for the election of two Justices of the Peace, who should sit with the County Judge as members of the Court for the transaction of county business only, and should have an equal vote with the County Judge on all questions, as the law puts it, "legally and properly before said court." Any two of the three Judges should constitute a quorum to do business. It is related that one of the witty members of the bar of Jo Daviess County, when that act was passed, said that "hereafter the County Court of Jo Daviess County would be composed of 100 Judges, there being one Judge and two ciphers on the bench."

From these acts much confusion arose, and the records do not give us much information that is reliable. Wm. C. Bostwick acted as County Judge from 1849 to 1853; before him Hugh S. Dickey presided. George M. Mitchell was elected County Judge in 1853'and Richard Seal, County Clerk. Mitchell was followed as County Judge by John D. Platt, who held the office until 1861, when Matthew Marvin was elected, he holding the office until 1869, when Richard Seal became County Judge. The pay of the County Judge was $2.50 per day for every day he held court; and this remained the law until the adoption of our present Constitution in 1870, when by that instrument the Board of Supervisors were required to fix the compensation of the County Judge. It may not be improper, in passing, to say that, by the action of the Board of Supervisors, the office of County Judge is not as remunerative as it was thirty years ago--strange as such a statement may be--because prior to 1870, the County Judge was almost continually being allowed compensation for extra service. In 1828, in the month of July, Auburn Field was elected Judge of Probate for the County. He died in June, 1830, and was succeeded by John Turney, who held the office until 1837, when Elijah Charles was elected Judge of Probate. It is uncertain just how long he held the office.

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