Chapter 4. Lawrence, 1936-1943

I rented a two-room suite on the second floor of the House Building in the 700 block on Massachusetts Street. We went to Kansas City and bought a set of Kansas Reports and the Kansas Statute book. Good thing Lodema had a job or we would have starved to death. I didn't have much law business, but immediately filed for the office of Justice of the Peace and spent the month of July going from door to door campaigning. I got the nomination and there was no Democratic opposition in the general election, so all I had to do was wait until January to take my office as Justice of the Peace.

In an earlier chapter I outlined the judicial jurisdiction of the Justice of the Peace. The official business was conducted in my law office and the remuneration came from fees assessed in each case heard. During the two years I was Justice of the Peace my fees probably amounted to some $50.00 per month and my fees from private practice probably did not average that much.

In the Spring of 1938 I filed for County Attorney of Douglas County. Charlie Springer was the County Attorney in office. He was a Democrat and at that time Douglas County was a Republican stronghold. Charlie had been elected because for some personal reason his Republican opponent was disliked. Charlie was also getting legal fees from some Government agency. I used that as a talking point in my campaign. In those depression days anyone getting a "double dip" was not too popular. I went to the various political meetings and told the people that I didn't have anything else against Springer except that he was a Democrat. I said I was willing to let him have his job with the government agency, but I thought I should have one of his jobs. I was elected by a comfortable margin and took the office in January 1939.

In those days the county attorney could handle some private law practice along with his duties as county attorney. Since it was considered a part-time job, the pay was $1750.00 annually. (No, I didn't leave off any zeros). My private practice was nearly negligible so my check for $145.83 from the county was about our full income. Lodema had continued to work at Topeka and commuted with some other Lawrence people, but Jane was born in 1938 so she didn't work after that until many years later.

I had no assistants and handled all criminal prosecutions in the county while I was county attorney from 1939 to 1943. I also acted as county counselor, advising the county commissioners and other county officers on legal matters and handling tax foreclosure sales. Now the county attorney (now called district attorney) has five or six assistants and there is a separate office for a county counselor.

I don't recall any very spectacular cases during my term. In one case a K.U. student was tried and convicted for setting fire to his fraternity house. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding that he had been improperly coerced by the State Fire Marshal in obtaining a confession.

At that time Kansas was "bone dry" and from time I had to prosecute bootleggers for possession, transportation and/or sale of intoxicating liquors. An automobile used for transportation of liquor could be confiscated, and I got a little extra fee for handling those cases.

Even though liquor was illegal, it was not considered as wicked as "controlled substances" are today. Everyone took a drink once in a while, even the county attorney. I recall at one time Harpers Magazine came out with a article entitled "Holy Hypocritical Kansas."

World War II started before I had completed my second term as county attorney. The activities of the county attorney's office were of not much significance in view of all the gearing up of defense and arms plants and mobilization and training of the army and navy.

The Sunflower Ordinance Plant was started in De Soto, Kansas, which is near Lawrence. Many of the people who worked there lived in Lawrence and many support facilities were located in Lawrence.

Many of the young first offenders caught up in the clutches of the law were given the option of having their cases dismissed if they joined the army, and many took advantage of that. This was acceptable to the armed forces until they finally got all the manpower they needed, then they said they were not running a reform school and discouraged the practice of sending them the law breakers. Personally, I thought then and I still believe that most of the first offenders taken into the armed forces turned out to be better citizens than they would have been otherwise.

Six months before Pearl Harbor, the Kansas National Guard was called up for active duty. In the absence of the National Guard it was thought necessary to form a Home Guard, which was done and I joined it. We met once a week and marched up and down in the basement of the community building. I guess if the Japanese navy steamed up the Kansas River we would have been ready to head off any invasion of Lawrence.

After the war started several of the Lawrence lawyers got commissions in the Army or Navy. I applied for a commission and was interviewed in Kansas City, where my application was approved. However, I later got a letter from the Chicago Naval Station stating that my services at that time were not needed. I think probably my record showing the shooting incident at the duck cabin was the reason for the rejection of my application.

Later, after we had moved to Oskaloosa, I was called up by the draft. I was ordered to Fort Leavenworth for a physical examination. They kept me there three days and finally sent me home with a 4F classification because of a skip heart beat. I went to a doctor at Lawrence and he said it was nothing to cause any trouble. I continued to have it for years, and various doctors called it by different names, including "ventricular contraction." It finally stopped when I quit smoking. Of course I was a little too old then to make a good soldier, as they figured they could win the war without me.

That ended my military career and for years I felt like a second class citizen because I had not "served my country."

After I was elected county attorney we bought our first house, with a little help from Mother, who furnished part of the down payment. We paid the total purchase price of $2500.00. Recently the same house, in about the same condition, was offered for sale at a price of $59,000.00. I guess that is about the same ratio as my salary as county attorney, $1750.00 compared to the salary of the present district attorney of around $50,000.00.

I did not run for a third term as county attorney. I planned to stay in Lawrence in private practice. Bob Oyler was elected county attorney; however by the time his term was to start he was in military service. The District Judge appointed me as acting attorney until Bob returned; however, about that time my plans were changed by a visit from Don Allen, an attorney from Oskaloosa. He told me he was moving to Wichita to practice law there with the former governor Payne Ratner, and he wanted me to take over his private practice in Oskaloosa. I was tempted by the opportunity to step into a going practice rather than start my own from scratch, so I accepted the offer. This was in the Spring of 1943, and I started riding to Oskaloosa every day with the mail man. We had sold our caras I didn't have war ration exemption to buy tires and gasoline. After a few months we sold our house in Lawrence and moved to Oskaloosa, where we lived for the next ten years.

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