D. A. John Fredericks & his Deputy, Joe Ford

District Attorney John Fredericks was a man of pride, energy, and conviction. Tall, thin and almost precariously erect, there was nothing graceful about his appearance. Generally well-groomed and attired, he had very fair skin and a wedge-shaped face, accented by round, wire-rimmed spectacles and dark, closely-cropped hair. John Fredericks was the incarnation of intensity. Though generally a buttoned-down sort of person, when an angry nerve impulse struck the wrong synapse in his brain, his rage was uncontrollable.

Fredericks was politically ambitious. Politicians are forever looking to the next election, and in 1911 Fredericks was gearing up for the California gubernatorial campaign of 1914. He had won his third four-year term as District Attorney in 1910. With all his campaigns for that office behind him, and the governor’s race two years hence, Fredericks had a new opponent to pummel. He wanted to crush organized labor in Los Angeles. Fredericks knew that the trial of the McNamara brothers had the potential to launch his campaign with a potent thrust. The current Governor Hiram Johnson, was too sympathetic to labor and no friend of the Times’ publisher, General Otis.  Fredericks was hoping to gain the support of the General for his gubernatorial campaign.

When the trial of the McNamara Brothers ended in a plea bargain agreement, Fredericks set his sights on Clarence Darrow. Within weeks of the brothers’ guilty pleas, Darrow was indicted for attempting to bribe a jury for a trial that never occurred.

Deputy D.A., Joe Ford was a better educated, more capable trial attorney, but he too had anger issues. Ford had –totally– bought into General Otis’s mindset that anyone connected to the American Labor Movement was evil; of necessity, that included Clarence Darrow. Ford’s disdain and contempt for the lawyer from Chicago was palpable. Though he didn’t dare show disrespect to Earl Rogers, from start of the trial, Ford had one snide remark after another for Darrow. His closing argument to the jury at the end of Darrow’s twelve-week bribery trial was incendiary, hurling insults that were “over the top” by any age’s standards.

Joe Ford’s decision to play a major role in Darrow’s bribery trial was ill-advised. Fredericks wasn’t much help in the courtroom; he was only there to make headlines. Even worse for Ford, there were times when Fredericks simply got in the way. The weight of the trial fell squarely upon the 33-year-old lawyer who had been practicing law little more than l0 years, versus the nearly 70 years combined of Rogers, Darrow and co-counsel, Horace Appel. Ford had lost his wife several months earlier and had to contend with the stress of insuring that his two infant children were properly cared for while he was in trial. Despite all that, Joe Ford volunteered to bite off more than he could chew.

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