The Judiciary of Solano County, California
From: History of Solano County, California
By: Marguerite Hunt
And Napa County, California.
By: Harry Lawrence Gunn
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago 1926


The early history of the Judicial system of Solano County was similar to that of all other counties, being that of District Judge and County Judges with defined limitations, succeeded in 1879, under the new constitution of that year, by Superior Judges of the Superior Court with jurisdiction over all kinds of actions in courts that were always open.

The first Superior Judge elected was John M. Gregory of Vallejo. He first ran a tie with O. B. Powers of Suisun, but at a second election because of the tie, was chosen.

Judge Gregory was of a distinguished Virginia family, his father having been governor of that state and also upon its Supreme Court. As a young man he served during the whole period of the Civil war and was a member of General Lee's staff. During the period of reconstruction he remained at home until matters were quieted down and then came to California and found a position in the Vallejo Public Schools. He then entered upon the practice of law in Vallejo. He married Eva, the daughter of Rear Admiral Craven, who had been active during the war on the Union side, and a lifelong armistice followed. Judge Gregory was an honest and capable Judge and served until succeeded by A. J. Buckles, a Union veteran.

Judge Buckles' was a long career on the Superior bench from 1885 to 1905, when he was appointed Judge of the Appellate Court. His successor named at the same time by Governor Pardee, was L. G. Harrier of Vallejo, a Native Son of Solano County. Judge Harrier was re-elected to the position, and retired of his own wish at the end of his term, to resume active practice.

The Superior Judges since have been Frank It. Devlin, who returned to regular practice after a short term, and William T. O'Donnell, who is still Judge, and very satisfactory to the people in every way. It will thus be seen that Solano County has had few Superior Judges in its history, and all of the highest degree of ability and probity.

Of course, when treating of the Judiciary of Solano County there is one person who overshadows all others and is the special pride of the whole state of California. It is the Hon. Joseph McKenna, who started in Solano County as a struggling attorney at the county seat, a town of six hundred inhabitants and has but recently retired from the position of Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States at the age of eighty years.

McKenna was a graduate of St. Augustine's College at Benicia, Cal., an institution maintained by the Protestant Episcopal Church and having the only law course in the state at that time. George A. Lamont, for a long time the leading attorney of Solano County, graduated in the same class and became the law partner of Mr. McKenna under the firm of McKenna and Lamont, with offices at Fairfield.

McKenna was ambitious politically and became the District Attorney of the county. He then ran for Congress several times as a republican in a district strongly democratic and extending as far north as Humboldt County. He was regularly defeated but persistency finally won and he was elected Congressman. Here he became a member of the Ways and Means committee and attracted the attention of Congressman McKinley, who made him his attorney general when elected to the Presidency, and later appointed him to the Supreme Bench.

McKenna's success was founded on his natural ability and innate integrity. His record is one of which Solano County is naturally proud.

A man who cannot be left out of the Solano Judiciary story is Judge John Lynch of Benicia. He came to California from the South and those who know the kind and courtly old gentleman would not suspect him of having been the head and centre of political strife during the contest for the presidency between Hayes and Tilden. He was a Republican member of one of the returning boards from the South which made Hayes the winner of that historical struggle. After that he sought a peaceful life in California and by reason of marriage became the principal of the Benicia Ladies Seminary at the time when Benicia was the "Athens of the Pacific" because of its many institutions of learning. Judge Lynch sought no extensive law practice, but took it easily as it came to him.

Of the inferior members of the Solano Judiciary there is little known except by tradition. The name of Squire Hook Justice of the Peace of Vallejo, is remembered by those whose memory goes back to the fifties. A preeminent local Justice was Paul K. Hubbs, who was born in New Jersey in 1800. He came to California in 1849. In 1850 he was a Justice of the Peace in Tuolumne County and became State Senator from that County in 1851. He ultimately located in Vallejo in 1866 and died here in 1874.

Another man of peculiar worth was Justice of the Peace Charles W. Riley. He was a man of strong and sterling qualities and had been pretty well shot to pieces in the frontier Indian Wars in which he lost his right arm and his right eye. He was Justice of the Peace of Vallejo for many years and had his own ideas of how a Justice Court ought to be run. He went straight to the facts in a local disagreement and did what he considered justice without very strong adherement to the law. This method seemed to please the people, for he was elected year after year. He married three times and has three branches of descendants in different parts of the state. He finally moved to Calistoga in Napa County and there died many years ago.

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