Hugh Baillie, Newspaper Reporter

During the two years that Clarence and Ruby were in Los Angeles they had few friendly acquaintances with whom they could spend time in a casual manner.

In addition to spies, each side had newspaper reporters upon whom they relied for confidential tidbits, as well as favorable news stories telling their side of the battle between organized capital and organized labor. At the time, Los Angeles had seven daily newspapers and three weeklies. Their role could be important in defending the brothers.

Because of Ruby’s former career as a newspaper columnist and Clarence’s love for being quoted in newspapers, the two of them easily struck up acquaintances with reporters. One young reporter with whom Darrow made a fruitful relationship shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles was Hugh Baillie of the Record. Though he was not a puppet for the defense, Baillie’s news stories proved to be valuable “first drafts of history” and his reporting reads as someone simply recounting events he had observed. Baillie was just one of several reporters Darrow wooed.

Early on, even before he had relented to Gompers’ pressure tactics back in Chicago, Darrow had advised people in the labor movement that they had to stay on message. He believed that the trial of the McNamara brothers would be a public relations battle, almost as much it would be a fight in the courtroom.  Darrow and labor had learned that truism during the Bill Haywood trial and hoped to put the lesson to use in developing the most effective public mind-set as they prepared for trial. But they weren’t in Idaho. General Otis and the Times were determined to dominate the public discussion.

It appears that Darrow not only tried to use Baillie but on occasion, let his guard down. Baillie was no ordinary “cub reporter” but rather a third-generation reporter with “ink in his veins.” By age 29, Baillie headed the Washington bureau of the United Press, and two decades later became president of that international news agency. In his memoir on a 50-year career, Baillie spoke candidly. “My impression was that he [Darrow] had few scruples about the procedure to be used in winning, so long as he personally believed that the cause was just…[.] In my opinion Darrow was guilty – on the evidence, which included his presence across the street, as a spectator, while Franklin was passing the money to Lockwood; on his attitude and appearance during the trials; and on the basis of my private conversations with him.”

Baillie also discussed the quickness of the Lockwood verdict. Shortly after the trial, “I ran into juror Golding. Who grabbed my hand and asked excitedly, ‘did you get my signal, little cub?’ I told him that I had indeed, and he went on to say that the verdict had been generally agreed on, a week before. Foreman Manly Williams said the jury had not debated the testimony at all, merely taken their vote and come back to report the results.” Finally, there is Baillie’s assessment of the two trials: “Only Earl Rogers in 1912 and four jurors in 1913 saved the Great Defender from ending his career prematurely.”

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.”

Invoking My Youth

At the age of five I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. Seated between my father and grandfather, I was chattering away when my grandfather said, “Puggy, you talk so much you should be a lawyer.” When I asked what lawyers did, Grandpop Johnson replied, “A lawyer is someone who helps people when they’re in trouble.” From very early, my mother taught me that the only reason we exist is to help one another. Thus, becoming a lawyer sounded like a good thing. My path was set.

Soon, I learned of legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow from my mother who introduced me to Irving Stone’s biography, “Clarence Darrow for the Defense.” For me, Darrow represented all things noble about the law. The John Scopes “Monkey” trial (dramatized in “Inherent the Wind” starring Spencer Tracy), Ossian Sweet (African-American physician unjustly charged with murder), and Leopold and Loeb (deranged teenage murderers), were all trials I learned of in my youth.

By age thirteen, Darrow was my polestar. He possessed two attributes I admire: compassion for his fellow human beings and courage of his convictions. I had an uncomplicated youth. There were few hard choices and no anxiety over my education and career. The pieces fell neatly together.

Following thirty-one years as a lawyer, thirteen years as a trial judge (presiding over 200+ jury trials) and as a byproduct of Boardwalk Empire, I have a parallel profession for my passion of trying to make sense of things in the past that capture my imagination. I needed to revisit Darrow, particularly the worst two years of his life.

Recent historical works have suggested doubts about Darrow, questioning his integrity and debasing his marriage to Ruby. Darrow’s critics are particularly harsh with regard to his time in Los Angeles, 1911-1913, when he represented the McNamara brothers, charged with murder for bombing the Los Angeles Times – 20 people dead.

Within a short time following his arrival in Los Angeles, Darrow became mired in circumstances that threatened his career and haunted him the remainder of his life; circumstances not fully accounted for in his biography, upon which his detractors have feasted. Yet none of Darrow’s critics have placed those two years, nor his marriage to Ruby in their proper context, not to mention the indispensable role of the phenomenal lawyer who defended him, Earl Rogers. The two years in Los Angeles were far more complicated than have been previously recounted. I try to remedy that situation.

My book “Darrow’s Nightmare” is not a biography, nor historical novel, but rather the true story of the most challenging chapter in Clarence and Ruby’s life together. I leave it to you the reader to judge Clarence Darrow.

(note: featured photo from the Library of Congress)