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A Close Bench-Bar Relationship That Spans 137 Years

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

1800-county-courthouse[Editor’s Note:  A copy of the original handwritten minutes of the formation of the San Jose Legal Club of 1877 can be viewed here.]

One of the pleasures of being SCCBA President is the willingness of our members to share with me their experiences, concerns, and suggestions regarding our Association.  Recently, I had an unexpected conversation with Henry Rendler, a San Jose debtor’s rights attorney. Our conversation concerned the initial efforts of the San Jose legal community to form an association in the 1870s.  (Yes, you read that correctly, the 1870s.)

Henry related that his father, Eugene Rendler, was an attorney who had practiced in San Jose.  According to the State Bar website, Eugene Rendler was admitted to the Bar in October 1935, and was assigned State Bar ID number 15015.  (Henry, by contrast, was admitted to the Bar in November, 1978, and is the proud holder of State Bar ID 83704.)  Henry’s recollection is that his father was active in the SCCBA, and served as SCCBA Secretary in 1937.

Somewhere along the line, Eugene came into possession of a Minute Book belonging to a William G. Songau, dating back to the 1870s & 1880s.  The book itself is a treasure trove of handwritten minutes of court proceedings, poetry, pressed flowers, and sketches.  Of interest to this month’s column is an entry for August 4, 1877, which relates the minutes of the formation of the San Jose Legal Club, the precursor to the SCCBA, set down in a florid, cursive handwriting style.   Below is a reconstruction of the minutes dated August 4, 1877 (subject to the proviso that the spellings of the names are educated interpretations of the handwritten entry).

Formation of A Legal Club Pursuant to a notice a number of the attorneys of the San Jose Bar met at the County Court room Tuesday July 31st for the purpose of making the preliminary arrangements for the organization of a legal association.

On motion - J. H. Campbell was chosen Chairman and Wm. G. Songau Secretary.  Mr. Hinds stated the purpose of the meeting and the object of the proposed society.  The proposition was then generally discussed by the various members present and in motion a committee consisting of Messrs. D. S. Payne, Judge Collins, J.N. Stephenson and G. Shaw was appointed to submit a plan of organization.  On motion to chairman J.H. Campbell was added to that committee.  A committee consisting of Messrs. W. L. Lovell, W.S. Gill and S.J. Hinds was appointed to confer with the Board of Supervisors for the use of the County Court room as a place of meeting for the present should any question of occupancy arise.  The secretary was instructed to obtain a copy of the rules and regulations of the Bar Association of San Francisco.   No further business requiring the attention of the meeting it adjourned to meet Thursday, August 7th at 7 o’clock at the County Court Room.

Wm. G. Songau Secretary

Approved August 4, 1877.

This document is of interest on several different levels.  First, it is interesting to note that, even in the 1870s, attorneys felt the necessity of forming an association for the purpose of sharing matters of common interest and concern.

The second point of interest is the fact that this initial, formative meeting of the San Jose Law Club was conducted in ‘the’ County Court Room.  No doubt the Court Room seemed to be the logical location for such a meeting and that Judge David Belden, the local judge at the time, sanctioned the meeting.  It illustrates that, even as long as 137 years ago, the members of the legal community, i.e., the judiciary and the local attorneys, recognized the value of developing and maintaining a strong Bench-Bar relationship.

To this day, our Bar Association values its close working relationship with the local Bench.  Our Bench –Bar relationship manifests itself in many different areas.

One of the most visible examples of this close relationship is the participation of the members of the Bench in our continuing legal education seminars.  Many members of the Santa Clara County Superior Court bench willingly volunteer to be members of CLE panels in a broad variety of practice areas, such as:  Federal courts; appellate courts; ethics; civil practice; eDiscovery; and Law & Motion practice, to name a few.  The judges actively participate in the planning and preparation for the presentations.  Former attorneys themselves, they recognize the value that the joint efforts of the Bench and Bar contribute to maintaining the high standards of practice within this County.

Our close Bench-Bar relationship is also reflected in the Court’s Temporary Judge Program.  Attorneys volunteer their professional training and experience and thousands of hours of their time as temporary judges in traffic court, small claims court and family court.  Attorneys also volunteer at mandatory settlement conference proceedings throughout the court system.  This program represents a joint effort on the part of our legal community to provide a significant benefit to the members of the public in this County.

There are other examples of the breadth of the close Bench-Bar relationship in Santa Clara County.  The SCCBA adopted its Code of Professionalism in 1992, and updated it in 2007. The Code represents a guideline for the professionalism and civility expected of counsel practicing in this legal community, whether in litigation matters or in transactional matters.  The Santa Clara County Superior Court adopted the Code of Professionalism as a Standing Order in September 1992, and it remains in full force and effect.

The SCCBA Judiciary Committee responds to the Governor’s requests to evaluate individuals under consideration for a judicial appointment.  The SCCBA Fair Election Practices Commission provides a confidential forum for judicial candidates to raise concerns or grievances regarding the conduct of contested judicial elections, in order to avoid inappropriate public campaign behavior.

The on-going Court Funding Crisis provides another clear illustration of the close working relationship between the Bench and the Bar in this County.  2012 SCCBA President Mindy Morton was a member of the statewide Open Courts Coalition, formed to advance the purpose of educating the legislature and the public as to the necessity for adequate funding of the judicial system, the third branch of government.  In 2012, she lead a delegation of SCCBA members to San Francisco in order to participate in the Access to Justice event involving attorneys from all over Northern California.

The formation of the San Jose Legal Club in July 1877, provides us with a rare glimpse into the beginning of the close Bench-Bar relationship that existed at that time, and which is still enjoyed between the members of Bar and the members of the Bench in Santa Clara County. It is an integral part of the fabric of our legal community.  I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Henry Rendler for sharing with us this unique insight into our professional antecedents.

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