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Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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The usual process for becoming a lawyer was to basically serve an internship with a practicing attorney until one felt ready to take on the job; then, an examination would be conducted by representatives of the bar. That examination could be extremely rigorous, or ... not. Historian Bromberg cites an article in the Washington Law Review (April 1942) that tells the story of Winfred S. Ebey, a customs clerk in Port Townsend, in 1855, who was examined by three respected attorneys.
“The only examination I passed,” Ebey said, “consisted of a single question by Mr. (Frank) Clark, who asked me if I had any good brandy in the Customs House!”
Ebey replied that he did, and broke it out; and everyone presumably drank a toast to the future success of the new attorney, whose request for admission to the bar had just been promptly and unanimously approved.
ANOTHER CREATIVE WORK-AROUND for lack of jail facilities — one that would be unconstitutional today, thanks to the 14th Amendment — came out of Polk County in 1852. A man named Hiram Everman was convicted of being an accessory to a murder committed by his brother William.
William was sentenced to be hanged, and Hiram was sentenced to three years in prison. The only problem was, Polk County had no access to a prison — the Oregon State Penitentiary had just opened the year before in Portland, but apparently wasn’t available for Hiram to move into.
So on the day of William’s hanging, Hiram was literally auctioned off as an indentured servant — literally a temporary slave.
His contract was bought by a farmer named Theodore Prather. Hiram worked his three years, at the end of which Prather gave him (per the terms of the agreement, apparently) a horse and $20. With the aid of these he journeyed to Douglas County, settled down, raised a family, and had no further trouble with the law.
ANOTHER TWIST ON the “prison labor” theme — an ironic one — comes from Bellingham, up at the north end of what was then the Washington Territory, in 1884. One of the local banks had just installed a vault with a special time-clock door lock, new and gleaming and state-of-the-art.
The vault lock promptly failed, and nothing the banker or anyone he knew tried could get it to open.
Of course, a bank that has no access to its vault isn’t of much use, so the banker was very worried. He asked the Whatcom County Sheriff if he had any ideas or advice.
“I have a prisoner up in the brick building that I haven’t been able to keep locked up,” the sheriff replied. “He picks the locks and goes in and out as he pleases. I’ll go up to the jail and pick him up — if he’s still in.”
The prisoner was soon on the scene and looking the lock over. Sure, he told the banker; he could pick the lock. But he wouldn’t do it unless the banker and sheriff left the room while he did so. He didn’t intend to reveal his professional secrets.
Reluctantly, both men did; and a few minutes later, the prisoner emerged and told them the door was open.
The next morning, the sheriff found the prisoner was gone from the county jail, and apparently gone for good — he’d taken all his things with him. And over at the bank, when the vault was opened for the day’s business, the banker found a note in it.
It was an invoice for the previous day’s lock-picking services, for $7.50 — and it was marked as paid.
No one ever saw the lock picker again. But, given the size of the wad he could have lifted from the bank vault while he was in there collecting his $7.50 fee, apparently everyone was impressed enough with his honesty and restraint that he was not pursued.