Table of Contents
I had to give a great deal of time and effort to my job of farming in order to make ends meet. Yet I was always able to find time to pursue my studies as well as indulge in my hobby of public speaking. For the latter, of course, I had to wait to be invited. But since there were not many Ph. D.'s in Imperial County and I had the reputation of being an educated man in a community becoming more and more intellectually minded, I got to speak on an average of once a week for some civic organization, service club, or ladies' group. Hard-pressed program chairmen of various groups came to know that Saund was always available and ready to accept a speaking invitation whether as first choice or as a pinch-hitter. I was in the enviable position of having a satisfying hobby and the opportunity to indulge in it frequently. My farm work kept me busy enough, but being my own boss I could always manage to find the time for these speaking assignments. I remember one winter in the late thirties when I spoke before nearly twenty-five evening church meetings of the Methodist Church in the Pasadena and Ontario area.
By the same token I never missed a chance to catch up on my reading. Wherever I went on my farm work there was frequently time between chores and I made it a point to carry a book or a magazine to occupy those spare moments.
The outwardly austere life on the farm in Westmorland nevertheless provided frequent opportunities for stimulating intellectual companionship. Our town druggist, a man of wide knowledge and experience, was always ready to debate and discuss political and philosophical subjects. I remember once, in the company of the druggist and several other neighbors, expressing my disapproval of the waste and pomp of the ceremonies attendant on the marriage of England's Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Whereupon the druggist with a twinkle in his eye asked me, "Doc, as an educated man conversant with the history and the political institutions of Great Britain, let me ask you, if there was a vote taken in Great Britain today on the question of the monarchy, do you believe the English people would vote in favor of it?"
I told him, definitely so.
"Then, what business have you to complain as to what they do in regard to their king and his family?" He had me there.
There was also the Current Events Club, a group of some fifteen men from Brawley and Westmorland who used to meet alternately in each member's home every two weeks to discuss current topics. The leader would introduce the topic and this was followed by free discussion, debate, and a lively interchange of opinions. A retired Chicago University professor was the spark plug of the group, and the meetings proved a very stimulating experience for all of us.
It was about this time that I became a member of the Wintergárden Toastmasters' Club of Brawley. I was fascinated with the work of that particular group and charmed by the wonderful companionship which it afforded and I became a loyal and devoted member of the Toastmasters. I served as president of the Brawley Club, as lieutenant governor of the area, and later as district governor of District No. 5, composed of twenty-seven clubs in San Diego and Imperial counties. During my nearly ten years of active membership in Toastmasters' International I had the opportunity to make many close and lasting friendships in Imperial Valley.
At our weekly meetings on Thursday nights, some thirty members of the Toastmasters' Club would gather. We began our meetings with a prayer, followed by the pledge of allegiance to the flag. Then after dinner each member would talk for two minutes impromptu on a predetermined subject. Later four members in their turn gave six-minute speeches. These extemporaneous speeches were minutely criticized and evaluated by appointed critics from among the group. This gave us all an excellent chance to learn how to speak extemporaneously on our feet. There is no doubt that for me my membership in the Toastmasters' Club comprised a unique preparation for my later work in political life. I would not permit anything to interfere with the regular Toastmasters' meetings on Thursday nights, and I always managed to plan my farm work around them. This was not difficult, for these meetings were strictly regulated in regard to time and never allowed to continue any later than nine o'clock. During those times when I was irrigating, for example, I would take my dress suit in my car to the field with me. At six o'clock I would change into my suit, set my water for three hours, go to the meeting, come back to the field, change back into my work clothes, and go on with my irrigating.
As district governor I paid official visits to the different clubs in San Diego and Imperial counties and was called upon to officiate at the opening of new clubs and present them their charters. I greatly enjoyed these chores, and they marked perhaps the beginning of my interest in seeking positions of public responsibility.
The first rule in public speaking is "know your subject," and its truth was clearly brought home to me during the annual speech contest of District No. 5 in 1945 between the Clubs of Yuma, El Centro, and Brawley. I was representing my own Brawley club and in that particular contest the judges awarded me third place. I had chosen to speak on a subject altogether new to me. I had prepared my speech very carefully and thoroughly, but when I heard the judges' decision I was disappointed but not really surprised. From the lack of audience response, I knew that my speech did not click. According to the rules of the contest, all three of us were to participate in the district contest to be held in San Diego a month later.
As I was leaving the hall, a member from El Centro pulled me aside and said: "When you go to San Diego, why don't you just talk on Gandhi and give a shorter version of the speech you made just two weeks ago in El Centro?"
I took his advice and in San Diego, speaking on Gandhi, I won the district contest hands down. The judges unanimously voted me the best speaker. I learned then and there that to make a good speech it is not only language and delivery that count, but it is equally important that the speaker know his subject and believe m what he is saying. In Brawley I could not hide my tension from my audience and my speech lacked spontaneity. But in San Diego I had assurance and confidence; the flow was natural, the feeling was honest and sincere, and the response from the audience was inevitable, and I won.
This period of my life in Imperial County was full of strife and struggle, but it was not without its compensations. We enjoyed all the advantages of a lively intellectual atmosphere around us and I had besides the good fortune to have a wife who stuck by me and was willing to share alike the joys and sorrows of the hard life on a farm in Imperial Valley. This was the time when our children were growing up. My wife and I belonged to the tennis club in Westmorland. The members had refurbished the old tennis court at the school grounds and collectively installed lights for evening play. Both children and grownups enjoyed the facilities of the club, and our regular tennis tournaments drew large and enthusiastic crowds. Another activity our family shared together was our month-long summer vacations in Yosemite Valley. There we took long hikes together to such spots as the Half Dome, Merced Lake, and Nevada Falls.
I had become a close part of the American life. I had married an American girl, and was the father of three American children. I was making America my home. Thus it was only natural that I felt very uncomfortable not being able to become a citizen of the United States. My social life may have been full and rewarding, but the political desire in me was sorely frustrated. And I wanted to be a part of all American life, both social and political. I was every bit as aware of the political happenings on the American scene as anyone around me, and was acquainted with the history of America and the lives of its great men. I was dedicated to what is called the American way of life and yet when I looked in front of me I saw that the bars of citizenship were shut tight against me. I knew if these bars were lifted I would see much wider gates of opportunity open to me, opportunity as existed for everybody else in the United States of America. Instead of crying or complaining about the situation I decided to do something about it. The lives of the great Americans in the past and the examples of my neighbors who had started life in the desert against serious handicaps and made good were a strong source of inspiration. I decided to take counsel with some of the other members of the board of directors of the Hindustan Association of America in Imperial County and suggested to them that we do something to gain eligibility rights to American citizenship. This would not only afford us our cherished political rights, but would also nullify the effect of California's Alien Land Law, and thus eliminate one of the most oppressive handicaps to our workaday business life. The result of our discussion in Imperial County was an organization that became known as the India Association of America. I was honored to be elected its first president. We established headquarters in Los Angeles and decided to enlist the cooperation of the nearly two thousand Indian-born residents in the state of California.
We faced a big task. Two courses were open to us. One was to obtain a reversal of a former decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, which had declared natives of India as ineligible to citizenship; and the other was to have a special bill passed in the Congress of the United States of America. I strongly urged the latter course. I felt certain that if only we could present our story to the representatives of the American people in the Congress of the United States there could never be a "no" answer to our simple plea for rights to apply for American citizenship.
Some very sincere and able friends tried to dissuade me from this struggle, and I remember in particular a dialogue I had with a good American friend of mine who asked me how many India-born residents were there in America. I told him 2,000 or possibly 2,500.
Then in a very solemn and serious manner he said Doc, I'd like to give you some advice. Before you try to get a bill passed by the Congress of the United States during wartime for the relief of 2,000 poor Hindus, where minorities in the millions can't get to first base, you ought to have your head examined."
I laughed, but told my friend that I had great faith in the American sense of justice and fair play and the righteousness of my cause.
I proposed to present our story to the elected representatives of American people in Congress and I felt positive in my own mind that we would never be refused our request. So we formed our organization and I started editing a news bulletin. Strangely enough, it took a great deal of work to convince the India-born residents of California. It wasn't that they didn't want citizenship rights, but they had suffered so many hardships and had been knocked about so much that it was very difficult for them to believe that there was a chance of our winning.
Neither my American friends nor associates in the India Association questioned the need or the justice of our program. They just couldn't believe that a hard-pressed, struggling farmer in Imperial County should be convinced that a major bill aimed at upsetting a historic decision of the United States Supreme Court could be passed in the United States Congress. My friends were sincere and meant well for me when they urged me not to get myself involved in such a task. Happily, I found from the very beginning a fast and dedicated ally in a close personal friend and associate, Mr. B. S. Sunga of Brawley. He and I had worked together successfully before in launching and directing war-bond drives among Indians in California, activities which had helped earn us the confidence of those people.
Part of our plan was to furnish financial assistance to some leading Indians in New York urging them to make contacts with the members of Congress and other officials and friends of India to rally support for our cause. We started raising a fund, Mr. Sunga and I each contributing both money and time. We made several trips to all parts of California and wrote and mailed out thousands of circular letters. These all had to be carefully and patiently lettered by hand with black ink in the Punjabi language and then printed by offset. I undertook the lettering which called for hours and hours of work all of which I had to do at night after I had finished my workaday tasks. However, soon after we got started support began to come in from all quarters.
It was not long before a bill was introduced in Congress, jointly by Mrs. Clare Booth Luce, congresswoman from Connecticut, later United States ambassador to Italy, and the Honorable Emanuel Celler, congressman from New York, now the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Luce-Celler bill received support from several liberal internationally minded groups as well as from several powerful American churchmen. Nevertheless, it became quickly evident that selling the bill to Congress was not going to be an easy task. It was a major piece of legislation whose effect would be to upset a historic American attitude toward immigration and naturalization. The law, as it had been interpreted by the Supreme Court, prohibited not only natives of India, but natives of all countries in Asia, from becoming American citizens. Opponents of the bill feared the reaction in other countries in Asia, particularly the Philippine Islands, if the ban was lifted for the natives of India only. These questions raised serious matters of policy and there was a sharp division over the Luce-Celler bill in congressional circles. Chances for its passage were further handicapped because there was no one particularly powerful force to push it through. Suddenly the chances for our success brightened when, at the beginning of 1946, President Truman took a special interest in its passage. After four years of long waiting and hard effort the Luce-Celler bill was finally passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Truman on July 3, 1946.
It was a great triumph for us all. For my part, I was now free to become a citizen of the United States, but I learned that this was not an easy matter even with the permission to apply. The Department of Immigration and Naturalization very carefully analyzes the past behavior and character of each individual applicant. I soon found out that the Department knew a great deal about me. Because I had been active in the support of the nationalist movement of India ever since my arrival in America in 1920 the Department had quite a file on me, and when I was called in Los Angeles to appear before an inspector, I was examined under oath in minute detail. The inspector knew of all the speeches that I had made during the past ten years, where I'd made them, and when.
"You made a speech in the Philharmonic Auditorium on March 15, 1942," he told me. "Do you have a copy of that speech?"
"No," I said. "I don't keep copies of my speeches. However, at that time we were agitating against the continuance of British dominance over India. I must have elaborated on the justice of India's demands for self-rule and ended up by damning the British rule in India."
Then he said: "You spoke in the Embassy Auditorium on October 2, 1945. Do you have a copy of that speech?"
"No, sir," I answered. "But October 2 is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. I must have talked on Gandhi's life and explained his teachings. Then, as usual, I must have ended by again damning British rule in India."
The inspector laughed. He was Irish. I received my naturalization papers on December 16, 1949, from the Superior Court of the county of imperial in El Centro, California.
The local judge in the town of Westmorland was Mr. Glen Killingsworth, a close and beloved friend of mine for many years and a leader in the Democratic party circles of Imperial County. At that time he was vice-chairman of the Imperial County Democratic Central Committee and was expected to be elected chairman for the next year. I had worked unofficially with him for many years in Democratic party affairs, and I was understandably flattered when he invited me to be his running mate as a member of the Imperial County Democratic Central Committee at the next primary election in June, 1950. He wanted me to be a member of the County Central Committee so that when he became chairman, he could appoint me the committee's secretary. So my name was placed on the ballot and without opposition I was elected to the Imperial County Democratic Central Committee at the first election after my citizenship. Unfortunately, and to my great sorrow, a few weeks after the election my beloved friend died suddenly of a heart attack.
I had watched him closely in his work as judge in Westmorland for many years. I admired the office and the way he filled it and now that I was an American citizen I decided that I wanted to be the judge in Westmorland. Accordingly, I became a candidate for that office at the next general election in November, 1950. At first it did not appear that I had much chance. No Hindu or foreigner had ever been elected to any high office in Imperial County before that time. But the judicial district was a small one and I personally knew nearly all the voters in it. I immediately began my campaign by ringing doorbells, meeting people, and asking them for support in my bid for the judgeship. Slowly, week by week, my chances seemed to brighten, and to my delight and surprise on election night I found out that I had won.
Then began a series of events in rapid succession which were to teach me practical lessons in politics and test my mettle as a new American. When I filed my nominating papers for judge, the county clerk and I had studied together the question of my eligibility for that office. He said he would have to take the matter up with the district attorney before he could formally put my name on the ballot. The difficulty lay in the law that specified that a person must be a citizen for at least one year before he could hold that particular office.
The complication arose from the fact that I would not be a citizen of the United States a full year by election day in November, but I would be a citizen for more than one year on the date when I would take office, should I win. After I was elected, my opponents immediately started a move to block me from taking office. A petition was filed in the Superior Court of Imperial County to void my election on the grounds that I had not fulfilled the citizenship requirements. I immediately announced that I would not contest the case in court. I took the position that the question of my eligibility to that office and the legality of the election had to be decided by the court. For my part, I would not contest it.
The court granted the petition, declared my election null and void, and ordered the certification of election which had been issued to me by the county clerk to be returned. This created a vacancy for the post which would have to be filled by appointment by the County Board of Supervisors. My friends in Westmorland immediately began circulating a petition addressed to the Board of Supervisors requesting that I be appointed to the position from which I had been barred by the court order on a legal technicality. To my great delight more than twice as many voters in my judicial district signed this petition than had originally voted for me in the election. A similar petition was signed by most of the mayors of cities in Imperial County, the presidents and leaders of different civic and professional organizations, including the chairmen of both the Democratic and Republican county central committees of Imperial County. My election and the subsequent court action against it had become the talk of the county and I discovered that most of the people were on my side. But the supervisor representing my own district was the person who was to make the recommendation to the board and he was opposed to my appointment. On the day set for making the appointment, the formalities of reading the petitions were followed, but it was quite apparent that the cards were stacked against me. I was passed over and a well-respected businessman in the community was appointed to fill the vacancy. Both of the daily newspapers in the county came out with editorials in support of my cause, urging the Board of Supervisors to appoint me. At the time the appointment was made I had already been a citizen for more than one year and I was definitely eligible to hold that office. I was disappointed but by no means discouraged. It was my first political battle, and victory had turned into a defeat. My opponents were more powerful than I.
But I remembered the fight that I had seen between two boys at the Berkeley High School grounds in 1920 and decided that this was the time for me to practice a little good sportsmanship of my own. When the case was filed in the Superior Court, I figured it was up to the court to decide on the legal merits of the issue. I had no money to hire an attorney and did not think it necessary or proper to do so. After the court declared the election null and void, it was the privilege of the Board of Supervisors to make the appointment. I thought I deserved the appointment but the board did not. The board had made their decision under their legal authority and I should have no basis for complaint.
Besides, I knew there was another election coming in 1952. In 1950 an amendment to the state constitution was passed reorganizing the lower courts in the state of California. It provided for elections to be held for justice court judges throughout the state for 1952 and required any new candidates for the office of justice court judge to pass a special law examination to be set by the State's Judicial Council. I had decided to be a candidate in 1952 so I immediately ordered the necessary lawbooks and began preparing myself. The examination was not hard as I had expected and I passed very easily and filed as a candidate for judge of Westmorland Justice Court.
Mr. C. F. Boarts, a highly respected, colorful old resident of Westmorland for more than forty years, had served honorably and with distinction for many years as chairman of the school board. He was a very close friend of mine and a welcome companion. He and I never did agree on political matters but our arguments were always friendly. I remember him saying to me after my ill-starred election in 1950, "Saund, I like you. You know we've been friends a long time, but I don't want you to be judge in Westmorland."
When I asked why, he said: "I'll be frank with you, Saund. I want an American to be the judge in Westmorland."
Then I asked him what fault he found in my Americanism and his answer was: "Well, you're a kind of an American, I suppose, but I can trace my own origin to a family that came over on the Mayflower."
I congratulated him on his ancestry and then asked him what precinct he voted in and whether he'd voted in the last election.
"What a strange question. I vote in the Spruce precinct and I've never missed voting in an election since I became twenty-one years old."
Then I asked him how many ballots he had been given.
"What a foolish question for an educated man to ask," he said testily. "They gave me one ballot."
"Well, Mr. Boarts," I said. "Isn't that a strange coincidence. I just got one ballot, too."
Another man, someone I had known for more than fifteen years and who had at times worked for me, said to a friend during the fifty campaign, "I agree that Saund would make a good judge, but I just can't go for a Hindu for judge."
As it happened this man had a large family and I found out that while he voted against me, ten younger members of his family voted for me. And that generally was the pattern--most of the young people voted for me, while the older ones, my generation or older, on whom I thought I could depend for support, went against me. Prejudice and discrimination against the Hindus and Orientals were to be found largely among the older people but there was little or no trace of it among the younger generation.
I had failed in my objective to become a judge in 1950, but I harbored no bitterness against my opponents. Throughout 1951 and 1952 I continued my activities in support of Community Chest drives, the Boy Scouts, and particularly the March of Dimes, for which I acted as chairman for two years. Also during 1951 I had been appointed chairman of a drive to raise funds to complete work on a swimming pool built some twenty years earlier by the WPA but which, because of a lack of proper facilities, had never been opened. This big project was sponsored by the Lions Club. It happened that the president of the club who appointed me chairman of the drive was the same man who had filed the suit against me and was mainly responsible for blocking me from taking over the judgeship.
I worked hard on that and the other various campaigns. The swimming pool, I'm happy to say, was completed, and Westmorland led all the towns in Imperial County with the largest per-capita collection in the March of Dimes drive. These various community-wide efforts kept me in very close contact with the people of my district.
When the 1952 election came, the bitterness of 1950 was revived again. However, the people had not forgotten what had happened then. Most of them felt I had been done an injustice and this was an opportunity to correct it. It was a very bitter campaign. The incumbent judge was highly respected as an established businessman in the community, a member of the church board, and the head of a fine family.
Since there were no issues of substance, the campaign reduced itself to a question of personalities. I never said a word against my opponent. My campaign slogan was, "I am not running against anybody; all I'm asking for is a job, and it's up to you to judge whether I deserve your support or not."
Not only was there opposition to me again on racial grounds; I suffered an additional handicap. In late 1950 there was a vacancy for the position of postmaster in Westmorland, and because I was a member of the Democratic County Central Committee, it was up to me to make the recommendation for that appointment. I had recommended a man who had been a thirty-year resident of the district, a man widely respected and admired. But another strong and powerful group within the Democratic party, one of them the second member from the town on the county Central Committee, was backing another candidate. My only objection to this new candidate was that he had been in Westmorland only a short time. There was a big fight over this appointment in the Imperial County Central Committee and I had won out. Among those I had defeated on this question were some powerful local Democrats. The bitter feelings they harbored against me carried over to the 1952 campaign, and these people were active and vocal in their opposition to my candidacy.
One day, just three days before the election, a prominent citizen who was opposing me bitterly saw me one morning in the town restaurant. There must have been some fifty people in there having their breakfast when he came up to me and said in a loud voice: "Doc, tell us, if you're elected, will you furnish the turbans or will we have to buy them ourselves in, order to come into your court?"
"My friend," I answered, "you know me for a tolerant man. I don't care what a man has on top of his head. All I'm interested in is what he's got inside of it."
All the customers had a good laugh at that and the story became the talk of the town during the next few days.
I won the election and took office in January, 1953, and served as judge for four years until my election to the Congress of the United States in 1956.
When I was sworn in as judge, the people of Westmorland were facing a big and serious challenge. The back street of Westmorland, just one block north from the main Highway 99, had become a den of vice. It was known everywhere that for all practical purposes the street was wide open and that prostitutes and gamblers drew patrons from as far as one hundred or more miles away. One had only to drive through the street at any time of night to see hundreds of new out-of-town automobiles parked, jammed one against the other, on both sides. It was generally believed by the citizens of the town that the operators of the back-street establishments were getting protection from the town police. I had resolved that if elected I would bend every effort to clean the town of these conditions. But before moving ahead I wanted to make sure I would have the solid support of the townspeople. To that end I sought the advice and assistance of the minister of the Community Church. We then jointly prepared a petition addressed to the City Council of Westmorland asking that the back street be cleaned up. The petition was circulated by the minister and was signed by all the leading citizens of Westmorland, including my predecessor as well as some of my most bitter opponents in the election. Those who opposed the clean-up drive immediately threatened me with a recall petition, hoping to capitalize on the fact that I had been elected by the very narrow margin of thirteen votes. However, by this time any bitterness the campaign might have engendered had disappeared, and the majority of the voters thought of me as a fellow citizen who had the community's best interests at heart.
The knowledge that I had most of the people of Westmorland solidly behind me was most encouraging, but despite this heartening support, I soon learned that I could hope for little help from either the city council or the police department of the town.
In realistic terms, the problem came down to ridding the community of the criminal element which owned and operated the gambling houses and bordellos. Most of these men and women were well-heeled and well-informed criminals. They knew how to get police protection, and as insurance against further trouble, they always maintained close contact with expensive and able criminal lawyers. In addition to gambling and prostitution, the back street was becoming a center for the peddling of dope. It seemed clear to me the best way to get at those running these filthy businesses was to bring them to book on minor misdemeanor charges.
My readers will recall that when the federal authorities finally succeeded in putting Al Capone behind bars in a federal prison it was on the comparatively minor charge of evading payment of federal income tax. Long-drawn-out and expensive lawsuits have never held any awe for hardened criminals, but they always tremble in fear of a jail sentence.
In 1950 the district attorney had tried seven separate cases for misdemeanor charges in the Westmorland Justice Court, but each case ended in a hung jury and no conviction. This had left the district attorney with the feeling that it was impossible to obtain a conviction in Westmorland against any of the operators on the back street. This, however, was wrong. The trouble lay elsewhere, and it became clear soon after the citizens' committee to rid the town of vice was formed in 1953.
In California courts during misdemeanor trials both the prosecution and the defense not only have the privilege of challenging jurors for cause, but, in addition, both prosecution and defense are allowed ten peremptory challenges without cause. This gives ample opportunity for both sides to rid the jury of any objectionable persons who may be prejudiced one way or the other. In a small community like Westmorland, where the jury list is normally small and where the relationships of the residents are quite intimate and everybody is everybody else's neighbor, the task of getting an impartial jury for the trial of a local resident is normally difficult. Under those circumstances, it is not difficult to understand why most of the cases had ended in hung juries. A defense attorney had only to be certain of one person on the jury who would hold out to the end for acquittal in order to get a hung jury.
Before the 1953 trials in the justice court had started the citizens of the town were beginning to smart under the epithets that were being applied to Westmorland throughout Imperial County. It had reached a point where the children from Westmorland going to school in Brawley were subject to jeers and jokes about their home town from their fellow students in other towns of the county.
The Westmorland citizens' committee, among its other duties, was fully prepared to assist the district attorney in the selection of impartial juries. At the same time, thanks to the drive to improve conditions in the town, more citizens were ready and willing to serve as jurors. The result was quickly evident. The defendants received fair trials, there was no fixing of the juries, and those clearly guilty began to receive guilty verdicts.
It had become the custom in our city court for the police to haul the prostitutes in once a month and charge them with vagrancy, whereupon they were fined $100 apiece and let go. After my election, when the first batch was hauled mto my court, instead of a $100 fine they each got a ninety-day sentence in the county jail, something neither the defendants nor the police were prepared for. That was the beginning and the end of that kind of vagrancy case being brought into my court by the city police.
Together with a committee of the townspeople, I sought the help of the district attorney and the United States Department of Immigration in this work. Most of the girls on the back street had been brought into the country illegally from across the border in Mexicali. The Immigration Department, knowing this, would raid the houses and then haul the girls into my court on vagrancy charges. I would then give the girls a stern and scarifying lecture, sentence them to ninety days in the county jail, suspend the sentence, and put them on probation for two years on condition that they not violate any federal, state, or local laws. And I made it clear that if they were ever again caught in Westmorland, they would have to spend a great deal of time in the jail in El Centro. The girls were then turned over to the immigration authorities who deported them to Mexicali.
For a time this worked very well, for word spread quickly all through Mexicali about the tough new judge in Westmorland, and the girls were unwilling to risk a lengthy jail sentence. However, their bosses in Westmorland were not to be so easily cowed. Some of them searched out the deported girls in Mexicali, promised them full police protection, and brought them back to Westmorland. As soon as these girls were arrested for the second time, they were made to serve their sentences in the county jail. We had a few criminal cases against some of the owners of the establishments in the back street. However, the final showdown came when the big vice king and his wife, the queen of the back street, were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor in their combination gambling house and bordello.
The vice queen of Westmorland was a notorious character who had been previously convicted in federal court on a narcotics charge and had served a prison sentence in a federal penitentiary. When she appeared before me she was charged with two counts of misdemeanor and one of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In each case a seventeen-year old Mexican girl whom she had allegedly smuggled into Westmorland was involved. I bound her over to the Superior Court on the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and she was tried before a jury in my court on the two misdemeanor charges. She retained the best-known criminal lawyer in Imperial County. It was a long and tiring trial, for I was charged with deciding many important questions relating to procedure and the admissibility of evidence.
The defendant was found guilty as charged, and when she came before me for sentencing, she tearfully pleaded for mercy. She brought out the fact that she was sick, that if I gave her a jail sentence she would be in danger of having her probation from a previous federal prison sentence revoked.
I told her: "When you came to me at the time this case was flied against you, you begged me to keep the name of your daughter out of the case and I acceded to your request. Then, I had some respect for you, but I am not going to show you any mercy at this time, because you should have known that this girl, to whose delinquency you have contributed so flagrantly and without compassion, also has a mother."
I therefore gave her the full penalty of the law, one year in the county jail and a $1,000 fine.
The case against her husband was to come up for trial a week later, but he forfeited his bail and fled into Mexico. This man was a braggart. He openly declared he was ruler of the back street and liked to be called "Maestro." No effort was made by the district attorney or the sheriff to have the man extradited and brought to trial in Imperial County. All the law-enforcement officers, including myself, were glad and happy to be rid of that notorious character for good.
After the vice queen had been lodged in the county jail and her husband had fled the country, the back of the resistance against our move to clean up the back street was broken. We had several minor cases against the hold outs, but each time I held to my pattern of meting out stiff jail sentences. Finally, it was brought home to the old-time purveyors of vice and the owners of the different joints on the back street that there was no mercy to be had in the Westmorland Justice Court. They gave up in desperation. The net result was that within a year from the beginning of the people's campaign to rid Westmorland of vice, the doors of these evil establishments were locked and boarded for good.
The district attorney and I had worked hard, but without the solid backing of the community as a whole and the willingness of the citizens to serve as jurors it would not have been possible for me or the district attorney to have succeeded in our drive.
Before the crackdown, the clientele of the back-street joints in Westmorland consisted of two separate and distinct groups. One was made up of Americans from nearby communities and from towns as distant as one hundred miles away. This group began to thin out rather quickly as word of the trials and my attitude toward the defendants spread. The second group was made up in large number of Mexican nationals who had come to Imperial Valley illegally or on contracts to work on the farms in the area, who came to Westmorland to drink, gamble, and visit the prostitutes. This group was kept away by the mere presence of immigration officials in the town. Before long the proprietors of the gambling houses, bars, and bordellos found out that they were not making the sort of money they used to. Besides, there was the constant danger of their being ordered to my court for trial on various charges. Since those men were there to make money, they began to decamp and soon the back street was all but an empty and desolate ghost street.
In the early part of 1953, in addition to my duties as judge in Westmorland, I had also to preside regularly at the justice court in the county seat of El Centro, where I had been assigned as acting judge by order of the State's Judicial Council. The local judge was sick and I was assigned to act in his place. In El Centro as in Westmorland I had to decide many important cases.
One I recall particularly was a charge against the wealthy owner of a food market for doctoring his hamburger. He had been charged with a similar offense a year before and, on a plea of guilty, had gotten off with a small fine. This time he made a deal with the district attorney to plead guilty if the district attorney would recommend that no jail sentence be imposed. I heard the case and the recommendation of the district attorney. The man pleaded guilty, and I forthwith fined him $250, gave him a suspended jail sentence of one year, and placed him on probation for two years on condition that he appear before my court every two weeks and sign an affidavit under oath that during the previous two weeks he had not violated any of the Pure Food laws. In imposing sentence I said: "It's bad enough for a housewife in this period of rising costs to pay the high prices for the food she buys, but it is a shame that in the United States of America she should be paying money to buy poison in our local markets." My remarks were picked up and quoted widely and I was happy to learn they had particular impact on other local food markets.
Another case that was given wide publicity in law-enforcement circles throughout California involved a Westmorland traffic officer. At four-thirty one morning he had stopped a driver of a car on the charge that he was exceeding the Westmorland town speed limit. When he started writing his ticket, the driver complained that he was being treated unfairly, that he had not in fact exceeded the twenty-five-mile speed limit. At this the officer became furious and used abusive language in front of the man, his wife, and his daughter. When this motorist appeared in my court to answer the speeding charge, he told me the story and later asked permission to file a complaint against the officer of disturbing the peace. I accepted the complaint, and the officer was brought to trial on the charge of disturbing the peace, which includes in its broad definition the use of abusive language in front of women or children. I found the officer guilty of the charge and gave him a thirty-day suspended jail sentence and a $100 fine. In pronouncing sentence, I said, "It is not an even contest when an armed policeman starts cussing an unarmed citizen."
In the larger courts of El Centro and Brawley one afternoon each week was set aside for the convening of the small claims court. These courts were designed to facilitate the adjudication of claims up to one hundred dollars without the delay and expense of regular civil action. Four special provisions in the law deserve mention. First, no attorney was permitted to participate in any actions before the small-claims court. Second, no action in the court could be filed by an assignee which kept all professional collection agencies out of the picture. Third, the decision of the court was final and binding on the plaintiff and not subject to appeal. Finally, the plaintiff was obligated to accept not only the amount of judgment, but the manner of payment which might be set up by the court. For a fee of fifty cents a plaintiff could have a case filed in the court.
I understood the necessity of the small-claims court and believed in the necessity of adhering to the letter and spirit of its provisions. A majority of the cases were uncontested or unchallenged because they involved mostly current delinquent accounts of merchants or fees for professional services rendered.
The court was authorized to gather testimony on small claims court cases outside of the regular court proceedings. Whenever there was any doubt, I used to take advantage of the services of the court constable to go out and gather evidence for me. Quite often the defendants did not appear. Yet in doubtful cases before I rendered a default judgment, I would send the constable out and collect any testimony that might be available. Besides, I always hesitated to give a judgment to the plaintiff without allowing the defendant an opportunity to set up a schedule of small payments by which to liquidate his debt. I would take time, sometimes to the annoyance of the functionaries in the court, with each defendant, explaining to him the dangers of having a judgment rendered against him. I would point out that judgment could be used against a workingman to garnishee his salary and could cause a great deal of annoyance. I would always urge the defendants to make every effort to set up a schedule which they could safely meet. This worked quite well in most cases, and the real purpose of the law was thus well served without undue hardship to the debtors.
The small-claims actions afforded an excellent opportunity without expense for creditors to obtain judgment against their debtors. Since the creditors were always well informed as to the provisions of the law, the only way the full protection of the law could be guaranteed to the debtors was for the judge to use his authority to set up for them a reasonable schedule of payments. I found this to be extremely helpful in saving many a careless debtor from serious embarrassment later on. I knew of cases where good workers, because of their negligence in paying certain bills, had had judgments rendered against them and, because of garnishments of their wages afterward by unscrupulous professional collection agencies, had lost their jobs.
My judicial abilities were most severely tested, however, by the family quarrels that occasionally came before my court. It sometimes happened that a citizen, under the influence of liquor, would, in the course of a family fight, become violent. These cases were invariably brought to my notice by the wife complaining of her husband. It was the custom in my court to have the wife sign a formal complaint. This gave me the authority to have the offending spouse brought before me. There was never any intention on my part to prosecute the husband and in most of the cases the man would still be drunk when he was brought into court. I would let him sleep it off in jail overnight. The next morning in court he was not only hung over, but sincerely repentant. By that time the wife would also have been moved somewhat toward forgiveness. My tactic was to give the man in question a good stiff lecture and threaten him with jail for six months. At this he would wail about his job and his family. I'd tell him he needn't worry about that.
"The county of Imperial will take care of your family," I'd say, "and, in the meantime, we'll put you in jail so you can sober up for about six months. I want you to understand that I will not countenance any violence toward any women in my judicial district."
Tears of sorrow and remorse would then begin to issue from both husband and wife. After a bit I would tell the man (in many instances someone I had known for many years), "I'll let you go this time if you will promise me never again to strike your wife. I shall let you go this time on probation and if you ever strike your wife again, I'm going to have you picked up and thrown in jail." This always seemed to work very well and the husband and wife would be in each other's arms as they left the court. When word got around how tough I was in these cases they began to diminish in number. And as far as I know none of the men who were released on probation ever has broken it.
In 1954, for the first time, the Democratic party entered a candidate in the general election for the position of congressman for the 29th Congressional District. Up to that time, under the cross-filing system of California, the incumbent congressman had succeeded in winning the election in the primary by winning both the Democratic and Republican nominations. In 1954 I had been elected chairman of the Imperial County Democratic Central Committee. The 29th Congressional District is composed of Riverside and Imperial counties. Riverside County is the larger of the two and contains more than 80 per cent of the voters of the district. Mr. Bruce Shangle, the nominee of the Democratic party, was a resident of Riverside County and had to spend most of his time campaigning there, and thus it was not easy for him to pay much attention to Imperial County. He knew the election would be decided in Riverside County and so it fell on my shoulders to manage his campaign in the county of Imperial. In this capacity I had the opportunity to represent him in public meetings and at one time I had to appear on the same platform with his opponent, the incumbent Republican congressman, Mr. John Phillips. It was his habit to make a tour of Imperial County each election year and speak before all the service clubs. During this particular campaign year, with the help of the Democratic members in the service clubs, I arranged to follow Mr. Phillips during his tour. This gave me a chance to talk on behalf of the Democratic nominee. To do this I had to make a study of the national issues in the campaign. This, in turn, gave me a good insight into the workings of a congressional office and the duties a congressman has to perform. The Democratic candidate was not successful, and indeed was easily defeated by the Republican congressman.
However, he did so well under the difficult circumstances facing him that it gave encouragement to the leaders of the Democratic party in the 29th Congressional District. From the day of our candidate's defeat in 1954 there was talk of putting up a strong candidate, with united support behind him from both Riverside and Imperial counties in the 1956 congressional elections.
At the beginning I never thought of becoming a candidate myself. After several conferences between the Riverside and Imperial County Democratic party leaders it became evident that there wasn't any outstanding candidate from Democratic party ranks who would have the support of the party organization and at the same time be willing to spend the time and the effort required to make a successful campaign.
As chairman of the Imperial County Democratic Central Committee I automatically became a member of the Democratic Executive Committee of the state of California. In addition I was elected as one of the members of the twenty-nine-member steering committee during the years 1955 and 1956. The steering committee was composed of representatives of the different elements in the full executive committee. I was elected by the chairmen of the different southern California county committees. This gave me a splendid opportunity to become personally acquainted with the leaders of the Democratic party in the state of California and at the national level as well.
By about September, 1955, I began receiving assurances of support from important Democratic leaders in Riverside County should I ever decide to become a candidate for Congress. Then Mr. Shangle, our candidate in 1954, assured me that if I decided to run in 1956 he would give me his full support. This endorsement was most significant because of the high regard in which Mr. Shangle was held personally throughout the 29th Congressional District to say nothing of his prestige as titular head of the party in the district. That is when I first started entertaining the thought of running for Congress in 1956.
I had lived in Imperial County for many years and, as judge of the justice court, had presided over the courts in the different cities of the county. My name had become quite well known and during the 1954 campaign my activities on behalf of the party nominee had attracted sufficient notice so that I felt confident of loyal support from my party in Imperial County. But in Riverside County I was an utter stranger except for my acquaintance with the members of the Democratic County Central Committee there and other prominent party leaders.
By the end of October, 1955 I had definitely made up my mind to become a candidate. To a considerable extent latent ambitions in me to become a public official might have been aroused by my close association and day-to-day work with the leaders of the Democratic party in California. The two petitions that were circulated and signed by most of the members of the Democratic County Central Committee of Riverside and Imperial urging me to run had helped nourish those ambitions. There was at no time any question in my mind as to the support from the Imperial County leadership of the party, but in Riverside, while I had the support of a significant and large number of the party leaders, there were a considerable number of active party workers who were very dubious about my chances for election. Under those circumstances they did not and could not conscientiously give me their support.
V. CANDIDATE SAUND
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