Bradley v. Fisher
ERROR to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.
This was an action brought by Joseph H. Bradley, who was, in 1867, an attorney-at-law, practicing in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, against George P. Fisher, who was then one of the justices of that court, to recover damages alleged to have been sustained by the plaintiff, 'by reason of the wilful, malicious, oppressive, and tyrannical acts and conduct' of the defendant, whereby the plaintiff was deprived of his right to practice as an attorney in that court. The case was thus:
On the 10th of June, 1867, the trial of John H. Suratt, for the murder of the late President Lincoln, was begun in the Criminal Court of the District and continued until the 10th of August, when the jury, failing to agree on a verdict, was discharged. The defendant was the presiding judge in the court during the progress of the trial, and until its termination, and the plaintiff was one of the attorneys who defended the prisoner. Immediately on the discharge of the jury, the court thus held by the defendant made the following order, which with its recitals was entered of record:
'On the 2d day of July last, during the progress of the trial of John H. Suratt for the murder of Abraham Lincoln, immediately after the court had taken a recess until the following morning, as the presiding justice was descending from the bench, Joseph H. Bradley, Esq., accosted him in a rude and insulting manner, charging the judge with having offered him (Mr. Bradley) a series of insults from the bench from the commencement of the trial. The judge disclaimed any intention of passing any insult whatever, and assured Mr. Bradley that he entertained for him no other feelings than those of respect. Mr. Bradley, so far from accepting this explanation or disclaimer, threatened the judge with personal chastisement. No court can administer justice or live if its judges are to be threatened with personal chastisement on all occasions whenever the irascibility of counsel may be excited by imaginary insult. The offence of Mr. Bradley is one which even his years will not palliate. It cannot be overlooked or go unpunished.
'It is, therefore, ordered that his name be stricken from the roll of attorneys practicing in this court.
'GEORGE P. FISHER,
'Justice of the Supreme Court, D. C.'
The present suit was founded upon this order, which was treated in the declaration as an order striking the name of the plaintiff from the roll of attorneys of the Supreme Court of the District, and not as an order merely striking his name from the roll of attorneys practicing in the Criminal Court of the District. The declaration had two counts, and was entitled and filed in the Supreme Court of the District.
The first count alleged that the defendant caused the order (which was set out at length) to be recorded 'on the minutes of the Criminal Court, being one of the branches of the said Supreme Court; that the several statements, contained in the order were untrue, and were specifically denied; and that the defendant 'falsely, fraudulently, corruptly, and maliciously intended thereby to give a color of jurisdiction' for making the order that the name of the plaintiff be stricken from the roll of attorneys practicing in this court,' whereby the plaintiff had been injured, and claimed damages, $20,000.
The second count alleged that the defendant 'wantonly, corruptly, arbitrarily, and oppressively intending to remove the plaintiff' from his office as an attorney-at-law, 'caused to be entered on the records of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, Criminal Court, March Term, 1867,' the order in question, which was set forth at length, 'the same being an order removing the plaintiff from the office of an attorney-at-law in the said Supreme Court of the District of Columbia,' whereby he was greatly disturbed in the enjoyment of his office and prevented from having the use and benefit thereof, in so full and ample a manner as he otherwise might and would have had.
The declaration also averred that the order was made without notice of any kind to the plaintiff, and was summary, that there was no complaint made by him to the justice, and that he did not accost him while the court was in session, nor immediately on the court's taking a recess and as the presiding judge was descending from the bench, as was stated in the order, nor did he, the plaintiff, at the time and place mentioned in the order, address the justice at all after the court had taken the recess, until the judge had passed some time in a private room, and had left the same and gone out of the court-house; and the great body of auditors, jurors, witnesses, clerks, and officers of the court, and the jury impanelled, and the prisoner on trial had left the court-house; and so the declaration proceeded to say, 'the said judge wilfully, maliciously, corruptly, and unlawfully fabricated the said order to give color and pretence to his jurisdiction in the premises.'
By reason of which unlawful, wrongful, unjust, and oppressive acts of the defendant, the plaintiff alleged that he had been deprived of emoluments, and had lost sums of money which would otherwise have accrued to him from the enjoyment of his office and from his practice as an attorney in the courts of the county and district, &c., &c., and therefore he claimed $20,000 damages.
Pleas: 1st, the general issue, 'not guilty;' and 2d, a special plea, that before and at the time of the alleged commission, &c., the defendant was one of the justices of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, and, as such justice, was regularly and lawfully holding, by appointment of said Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, in general term, at the city of Washington, in said District, a court of record, to wit, the Criminal Court of said District, created by authority of the United States of America, and having general jurisdiction for the trial of crimes and offences arising within said District, and that the said supposed trespass consisted of an order and decree of said Criminal Court, made by said defendant in the lawful exercise and performance of his authority and duty, as the presiding justice of said Criminal Court, for official misconduct and misbehavior of said plaintiff (he being one of the attorneys of said Criminal Court), occurring in the presence of the said defendant as the justice of said Criminal Court holding the same as aforesaid and not otherwise; as appears from the record of said Criminal Court and the order or decree of the defendant so made as aforesaid.
Wherefore he prayed judgment, if the plaintiff ought to have or maintain his aforesaid action against him, &c.
The defendant joined issue on this plea.
On the trial the plaintiff produced the order entered by the Criminal Court, which was admitted to be in the handwriting of the defendant, and offered to read it in evidence, but upon objection of the defendant's counsel to its admissibility, it was excluded, and the plaintiff excepted. Subsequently the plaintiff read in evidence the order, as entered, from the records of the Criminal Court, and offered to show that the order was prepared, written, and published by the defendant with express malice against the plaintiff, to defame and injure him, and without the defendant having any jurisdiction to make the order; and that there was no altercation on the 2d July, 1867, between him and the judge, and that no words passed between them; and that they were not near each other when the Criminal Court took its recess, until the next day or immediately thereafter, and as the presiding justice thereof was descending from the bench; but upon objection of the defendant's counsel the proof was excluded, and the plaintiff excepted.