Earl Roger’s Young Old Friend

Though Rogers recognized the need for organized labor and generally sympathized with their goals, he rejected violence in the name of reform. With the Times bombing, what angered him almost as much as the death and destruction, was the lack of a warning to the innocent people working the night shift. Rogers viewed it a vicious deed. The loss he suffered as result of the Times bombing was so deeply personal that his willingness to represent Darrow is a testament to Rogers’ professionalism.

Rogers was at work in his office directly across the street from the Times building when the first blast echoed throughout the city. It was common for him to work late hours and he was one of the first persons to get to the inferno. The ground was still trembling and the heat drove him back; he stared unbelieving, as one of the walls of Times building collapsed. Rogers said the worst part was the faces appearing in the windows of the office windows like “fugitives from a graveyard.” One of those fugitives was a friend, Harvey Elder, a young editor hanging from the ledge of the third floor. Harvey jumped but missed the net held by firemen and was taken to the hospital where he died from injuries caused by his fall. As result of the bedlam that followed the explosion, Rogers didn’t learn of Harvey’s condition and hoped that he had survived the inferno.

Harvey Elder was a “young old friend” of Rogers and most nights Harvey visited with his mentor in the early evening before heading across the street to the Times building. Earl Rogers’ mother and Harvey Elder’s grandmother were best friends, and their families had socialized in one another’s homes for many years. Several years earlier, Harvey had graduated from the University of Berlin and upon returning to Los Angeles, he took a job at the Times. Many years earlier, his education interrupted due to family finances, and prior to turning to the law, a young Earl Rogers had worked as a newspaper reporter. He could still recall how he developed leads, the best ways to confirm a story, and then how best to relate the details of an exciting event to his readers.

Harvey’s night off was Monday, and on occasion he and Rogers went to vaudeville shows together. On slow nights at the newspaper, it was common for Harvey to walk across the street just to visit with Rogers or possibly share a sandwich. This night, Rogers knew that Harvey was at work and left his law office immediately upon hearing the blast. Adela made it to the Times shortly after her father, and as she recalled, Rogers was “Black with soot, his clothes in ribbons, his face raw and swollen with burns, he was holding his right arm away from his body and his hand looked like a piece of raw steak on the end of it… Papa was talking to himself through clenched teeth. The murdering fiends, he kept saying. The paranoiac assassins…His underlip was bitten through, his chin was covered with dried blood.”

When Rogers learned that Harvey had jumped from the burning building, he was overcome with emotion. He and Adela walked/ran to the nearest hospital, five blocks away, only to learn of Harvey’s demise. Rogers refused to accept that someone like his “young old friend” had to become collateral damage in the war between capital and labor. The death of Harvey Elder lingered in Rogers’ thoughts for a very long time. It would loom over all his dealings with Darrow.

Job Harriman, Socialist Lawyer and Candidate for Mayor

General Otis didn’t have the public dialogue all to himself. There was vocal opposition from a small group of union activists and socialists. This group was led by Job Harriman, a young, idealistic and articulate lawyer who believed passionately that fairness in the workplace was crucial to Southern California’s future.

At the time Harriman arrived in Los Angeles in 1895, General Otis was on his way to dominating that city’s politics. Though he played only a minor role in the fight between employers and their employees, year after year, Harriman persisted, giving hope to the disenfranchised, encouraging everyone to become registered voters. Harriman understood that the reforms needed to protect workers’ rights could only come through the ballot box, and in turn, the adoption of laws more favorable to wage earners. He knew that Otis’s organization, M & M would test him every step of the way. Yet, after 15 years of struggling, as the year 1910 began, it seemed that history had smiled on Job Harriman. Help was on the way.

At the dawn of the 20th century, San Francisco was the center of the American labor movement on the West Coast. Seizing the opportunities created by the “Great Earthquake of 1906” in which nearly 3,000 people perished and 80% of the city was destroyed, the building trades’ organizers had turned the Bay City into a stronghold of unionism. Exploiting the urgent need for skilled workers to rebuild the city, “the building trades unions had taken advantage of the destruction …to fasten close-shop conditions on every phase of the construction work.” It wasn’t long before nearly every job in the city was a union job.

To the south, in Los Angeles, under the leadership of the A.F. of L., dozens of unions in Los Angeles – some with little more than a handful of workers – united themselves as the “Central Labor Council.”  The A.F. of L. was “thoroughly alarmed by the furious anti-unionism rampant in Los Angeles [and] singled out the California city for special considerations.” It created the Los Angeles Fund and encouraged its national membership to help their struggling brothers in the City of Angels. To the delight of Job Harriman and his allies, San Francisco’s Central Labor Council spear-headed the effort to expand membership in southern California.

Harriman saw a door open. Maybe General Otis and his business allies had met their match. Union support for Harriman’s mayoral candidacy was immeasurable. Though only nominally a member of the defense team for the McNamara Brothers, Harriman played that role for all it was worth. At the November election of 1911 Harriman came in first in a three-person race, requiring him to square off against incumbent Mayor Alexander in a special run-off election in December. What he could never have imagined was just how tightly his fortunes were tied to those of the two brothers charged with murder of 20 people. In between the November and December elections, upon the recommendation of Darrow, the McNamara Brothers pled guilty. Labor was no longer excited about his candidacy. All the air went out of Harriman’s campaign and he lost his election to Mayor Alexander.

Understanding Labor, Capital & Violence

Less than two weeks after his arrival in Los Angeles, and having met with dozens of people, plus several times with Darrow, Lincoln Steffens had a better feel for the situation in Los Angeles, and understood that conviction of the McNamara brothers followed by a public hanging would do little to find peace between organized labor and organized capital. Steffens also saw that his friend was deeply discouraged and decided that the two of them needed the advice of someone they both admired.

Edward Willis “E.W.” Scripps was the person who introduced mass production into journalism, starting a chain of newspapers at about the same time Henry Ford was creating assembly lines for cars. Born in 1854, Scripps got his start in the newspaper business while still in his teens, working as an office boy at the Detroit News. Eventually, he owned more than 25 daily newspapers. In the process, he became wealthy at the level of a robber baron, yet his views on capital versus labor were a far cry from those of General Otis. Scripps had carefully followed the events in Los Angeles through several of his daily newspapers from his 2,000-acre ranch outside of San Diego.

Though they hadn’t spoken, Scripps’ views on the McNamara brothers were equivalent to those of Steffens. He assumed they were guilty. Yet as Scripps saw things, given the brutish behavior of organized capital over the prior two decades, the brothers’ bombing campaign was an understandable response. To Scripps’ way of thinking, capital had started the war and labor had counter-attacked. Although “unlawful” by conventional legal standards, Scripps believed that the brothers’ deeds were morally justified.

Steffens and Darrow left Los Angeles at the end of the court’s week and took a sleeper car to San Diego, arriving on a Saturday morning. They were greeted at the train station by Scripps himself. Once settled into his grand ranch house, among friends of like mind, they were presented with a dissertation by Scripps entitled Rights of Belligerents.

According to Scripps, “There is actual war going on for the purpose of destroying one government and setting up another…the government being attacked is the government of plutocracy which at present governs the government…the warfare is between the employees of capitalistic institutions and capitalists and their institutions.” Continuing, he argued that “in the narrow political sense, this warfare is neither legal nor illegal; it is extralegal,” that is, rightly beyond the province of the U.S. legal system according to Scripps.

Scripps’ assessment was that the individual players in the “war” were acting in furtherance of their own financial interests as they saw them, without regard to society’s law. Yet because the robber barons controlled the legislators, judges and police, employers knew that when the law was enforced, it would be to their favor. Workers on the other hand were at a severe disadvantage. They correctly viewed police, judges and legislators as interlopers to their battle who always took the side of employers. Scripps equated lock-outs and refusal to negotiate with strikers as akin to a “siege” of a city by an army, which knew that people would die as a consequence. The same was true for the manufacturers, contractors, and railroads that refused to make safety upgrades, resulting in dead and crippled workers.

Despite denouncing dynamite as a “holy horror,” the leaders of the organized labor knew that their members engaged in all sorts of violent tactics.  This included everything from sucker-punching scabs, breaking windows, and petty theft, to arson, bombings and assassinations. As for the McNamara Brothers, Scripps saw them as “soldiers” of organized labor. They “had nothing to gain personally” by dynamiting the Times’ building. It could not be said that they were “malicious criminals committing murder.” They were not deranged bombers or arsonists.  They were acting on behalf of thousands of other people who supported what they did. The employees of General Otis “that were killed should be considered what they really were – soldiers enlisted under a capitalist employer whose main purpose in life was warfare against the unions.”

Adela Rogers

As the daughter of Earl Rogers, who at the height of his legal career was a Los Angeles celebrity, Adela Rogers got used to the limelight at a young age. In that era, it was uncommon for young women to attend college. Adela was educated by tutors, with brief stays in private schools, and studied music in Germany. Yet the most serious portion of her education was received in her father’s law office and watching him in the courtroom.  As a result, Adela was mature beyond her years.

Rogers’ had confidence in his daughter and while still in her teens, she was frequently present in court during his trials, and sat in on meetings with many of his clients. One of those occasions was the Darrow bribery trial. Adela recalled the first time that she and her father met with Ruby and Clarence Darrow. It was following conclusion of a dramatic courtroom hearing during a trial in Northern California involving a dispute between heirs to an estate. Such matters can become intense and emotions run high.  Ruby and Clarence were in attendance at this trial, observing Rogers cross-examining a witness before a jury.  Following the trial’s conclusion, the four of them met in a hotel where they all were staying.

As recalled by Adela, “That night Clarence Darrow, like many another desperate man before him, came to discuss the possibility of Earl Rogers for the defense.” The four of them -Clarence, Ruby, Rogers and Adela- met late into the evening in the small hotel in Hanford where everyone was staying. “Later Ruby Darrow said she never wanted Rogers from the start.”  Adela believed that Ruby’s dislike of Rogers was two-fold; she thought Clarence was the only great lawyer in the country, and that Rogers “…was too theatrical… He wasn’t a lawyer; he was just an actor.” Ruby believed that there was no equal to her husband in a courtroom and worried that Rogers’ ego might interfere with the defense Clarence was planning. Despite Ruby’s visceral opposition, Darrow and Rogers met late into the night.

Morning came, and as Adela Rogers put it, “…when the chips were down, Clarence wore the pants.” Upon awakening, Darrow went to the hotel lobby looking for Rogers, only to be greeted by Adela. When he asked for Rogers, she told him that her father had been called back to Los Angeles in the early morning hours, and that Darrow would have to meet with him at the office the next morning. Regarding her father’s whereabouts that morning Adela “knew no more than Darrow did,” and had lied to protect her father. As he was wont to do, Rogers was inexplicably missing, in parts unknown to his daughter, or anyone else, tending to his unspoken demons. Rogers was on one of his unseemly drinking binges which often ended at Pearl Morton’s bordello. Adela was one of the few people who knew where to find her father and helped get him ready for meeting with his new client.

(Note: featured photo from Women Film Pioneers Project https://wfpp.columbia.edu/pioneer/ccp-adela-rogers-st-johns/)

Horace Appel

Horace Appel was a very capable attorney and like Earl Rogers, a tortured soul who wrestled with personal demons and struggled to stay grounded in his personal life.

Appel was actively involved, on his feet, throughout the entire trial, ready to do battle on every legal issue, armed with the controlling case law. As originally contemplated by Rogers and Darrow, “cocounsel” was to have been Cyrus McNutt who was part of the McNamara defense team. The 79-year-old retired judge was a quiet and unassuming person, who was respected enormously in the Los Angeles legal community. He was the archetypal retired judge: thoughtful in all his words and deeds; generous to everyone in dispensing wisdom; and, above the fray, interested only in justice. Judge McNutt’s arguments in court were earnest, engaging and highly persuasive with the California bench. His unexpected illness (he died during jury selection) was a loss to the Darrow defense team and delayed the start of trial to permit the selection of substitute co-counsel. Rogers reached out to his colleague, Horace Appel. Despite their many personal and life-style differences, Rogers and Appel shared a trait that mattered greatly; once retained by a criminal defendant, their commitment to gaining an acquittal was total.

Horace Appel was a pro. Nine years younger than Darrow and several years older than Rogers, Appel knew his way around the courtrooms of Los Angeles and had been involved in a fair number of high-profile trials with the district attorney’s office. Appel and D.A. Fredericks weren’t friends, nor were they friendly adversaries. Also, like Rogers, the law was not his first choice. Upon graduating from high school in Tucson, Arizona, Appel’s credentials earned him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point: the first person from Arizona to matriculate there. Within days of his arrival in New York, Appel learned that his father had passed away and was forced to return home. He abandoned a military career and enrolled in St. Mary’s College in San Jose.

As described by news reporter Hugh Baillie who was present throughout the entire trial, “Appel was an entirely different sort [from the eloquent Rogers], a Mexican Jew with a vast command of accented English, who could goad the district attorney and his staff almost beyond endurance with his easy contempt.”

It’s likely Appel was selected as co-counsel not only for his brilliance but because of his knack for disrupting the district attorney’s office. As was learned during the trial, Judge Hutton’s inability to control his courtroom combined with the volatile relationship between Fredericks and Appel ultimately produced violence in the presence of the jurors.

(Note: Featured photo from Ashley Van Haeften on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/wikimediacommons/16449246407)