From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
It was 4 o'clock of a murky afternoon last week and Judge Arthur J. Mellott was holding a session of the federal district court in the ancient Federal Building at Fourth and Shawnee Streets.
At the windows of the courtroom on the third floor were green shades, torn in many places and dusty with age. From the ceiling were suspended half a dozen electric light with the inside of the globes painted a dark opaque.
The idea in painting the globes was to throw the light to the ceiling from whence it would be reflected back to the floor. That idea might once upon a time have had some merit, but in the years since the painters had coated the ceiling, the paint had become old and drab, so no light was reflected.
Squinting from the bench through the gloom, Judge Mellot had great difficulty in distinguishing the applicant in a habeas corpus proceeding from his lawyer. Some suggested this might still have been difficult, even in bright light of day.
Anyhow the judge sought out Postmaster Francis McAuliffe and asked him to have the shades removed from the lights.
McAuliffe took a look at the 20-foot ceiling and decided he would have to have some help. No place around the post office was there such a ladder as would reach to that dizzy height.
So the postmaster called in an electrician and he managed at the risk of a broken leg to get the shades off the ceiling lights.
The effect was rather startling as the 100-watt bulbs cast their glare over the dingy room. Streaks in the wall from a leaky roof in some long gone past showed up. The dust on the curtains stood out in greater relief and the green walls took on a more sickly hue.
Some of the older attorneys assured Judge Mellott the court room had not been entirely neglected. They pointed to the deep-napped carpet which had been spread there more than 20 years ago.
The judge, however, was far from being appeased. He declared a disgrace to ask litigants, witnesses and even lawyers to assemble in such surroundings.
He reminded that very little business in the federal court in Leavenworth had been transacted in recent years and that the condition of the courtroom was largely responsible. In his summing up of the situation there was a lurking hope that more court business might be transacted in Leavenworth were there better courtroom surroundings.
From the high-backed leather chair behind the bench one almost could imagine the shades of old Judge C. G. Foster and other famous jurists to follow him looking over the dingy courtroom with its creaking chairs and stained walls and torn curtains.
Old Judge Foster probably would have said more than Judge Mellot. And what would testy Judge G. Pollock have said as he sat in the old familiar chair?
Judge Foster was the first to occupy the bench when the new post office and federal building were completed in 1886. He was appointed in 1874 and held the position until 1899.
First judge of the district court which comprised the territory of Kansas was Samuel D. LeCompte, who served from 1854 to 1859 when he resigned to practice law. He lived on Cherokee Street in what became known as the Latta house, a stone structure demolished several years ago.
Judge LeCompte was succeeded by Judge John Pettit, who served from 1859 to 1861. Then came Judge Archibald Williams, who was on the bench from 1861 until 1863. He later became a widely known Kansas lawyer.
Mark W. Delahoy served nine years as judge from 1863 until 1874, when Judge Foster took the bench.
Following Judge Foster's retirement came Judge William C. Hook, who attracted wide attention as a jurist. He was a Leavenworth lawyer who went on from the federal district court to the circuit court of appeals, where he was a brilliant member of that body. He served from 1899 to 1903 on the Kansas bench.
Upon Judge Hook's elevation to the higher court there came Judge John C. Pollock, one of the most popular judges to occupy the bench. Judge Pollock always liked to come to Leavenworth, where he found many kindred spirits. He wasn't adverse to a quiet game of poker and a highball before dinner was his delight.
He had a way of wading through a lot of fine points of the law to get at the merits of the legal controversy. He served from 1903 to 1927, longest of any of the judges.
Following the retirement of Judge Pollock came the brilliant young George McDermott, a Topeka lawyer who was to occupy the bench only a short time before moving on. He was appointed in 1928 and served only about a year when in 1929 he was appointed to a place on the circuit court of appeals. His early death was a distinct loss to the judiciary.
From the Kansas state Supreme Court to follow McDermott there was appointed Judge Richard J. Hopkins, a former Kansas attorney general and bitter foe of liquor. He served from 1929 until his death in 1943.
The vacancy was filled by the appointment of Judge Guy C. Helvering, Salina, who left the office of federal tax commissioner in Washington to accept the place.
Judge Helvering's early death in 1945 left the bench vacant to be filled by Judge Mellott, reared in the Wallula community and a former prosecutor in Wyandotte County.
At a meeting yesterday noon of the Leavenworth County Bar Association, called by President Jesse Hall, the condition of the federal court room was discussed. The remarks of the bar members were not very flattering.
"We had quite a talk with Judge Mellott about the condition of the courtroom," said Judge Lee Bond, "and while we know Postmaster Francis McAuliffe has been advised not to spend any more money than possible on the present building in face of a future new building, we believe Leavenworth should have a decent room in which to hold federal court.
Bond went briefly into a description of the room, the condition of which is known to the bar members.
He added conditions might be improved by drafting and sending to Judge Mellott a resolution from the bar association urging that something be done. He assured members of the bar Judge Mellott would see to it that the resolution reached the proper authorities.
"I believe," added Bond, "that if we can get the courtroom cleaned up we'll stand a chance of having longer court terms here with the possibility of having both petit and grand juries called here."
President Hall appointed Judge Bond, Homer Davis and Thomas J. Brown as members of a committee to prepare a resolution to be sent to Judge Mellott. A copy of the resolution also is to be sent to Postmaster McAuliffe, who already has made a recommendation that the courtroom be improved. The WPA now has supervision over building repairs. In recent months boilers at the post office have been rebuilt, the elevator reconditioned and more radiators are to be installed.
The bar association meeting yesterday, at which considerable business in connection with the association was disposed of, was attended by President Jesse Hall, Secretary John Murray, Treasurer James Snyder and Judge Bond, Judge Sam Parisa, Humphrey Biddle, Judge Walter Biddle, William D. Reilly, Lucien Rutherford, Homer Davis, Colonel Boone, Malcolm McNaughton and Tim Bannon.
The next regular meeting of the association will be in January, when a new president will be chosen.