San Francisco beats the world for novelties; but the inventive faculties of her people are exercised on a specialty. We don't care much about creating things other countries can supply us with. We have on hand a vast quantity of a certain kind of material and we must work it up, and we do work it up often to an alarming pitch. Controversy is our forte. Californians can raise more legal questions and do the wager of combat in more ways than have been eliminated from the arcana of civil and military jurisprudence since Justinian wrote or Agamemnon fought. Suits - why we haven't names for half of them. A man has a spite at his neighbor - and what man or man's wife hasn't - and he forthwith prosecutes him in the Police Court, for having onions for breakfast, under some ordinance or statutory provision having about as much relation to the case as the title page of Webster's Dictionary. And then, there's an array of witnesses who are well posted in everything else except the matter in controversy. And indefatigable attorneys enlighten the Court by drawing from the witnesses the whole detailed history of the last century. And then again we are in doubt about some little matter of personal or public convenience, and slap goes somebody into Court under duress of a warrant. If we want to determine the age of a child who has grown out of our knowledge, we commence a prosecution at once against some one else with children, and elicit from witnesses enough chronological information to fill a whole encyclopedia, to prove that our child of a doubtful age was contemporary with the children of defendant, and thus approximate to the period of nativity sought for. A settlement of mutual accounts is arrived at by a prosecution for obtaining goods or money under false pretenses. Partnership affairs are elucidated in a prosecution for grand larceny. A burglary simply indicates that a creditor called at the house of his debtor the night before market morning, to collect a small bill. We have nothing but a civil code. A portion of our laws are criminal in name only. We have no law for crime. Cut, slosh around with pistols and dirk knives as you will, and the worst that comes of it is a petty charge of carrying concealed weapons; and murder is but an aggravated assault and battery. We go into litigation instinctively, like a young duck goes into the water. A man can't dig a shovel full of sand out of a drift that threatens to overwhelm his property, nor put a fence around his lot that some person has once driven a wagon across, but what he is dragged before some tribunal to answer to a misdemeanor. Personal revenge, or petty jealousies and animosities, or else the pursuit of information under difficulties, keep up a heavy calendar, and the Judge of the Court spends three fourths of his time listening to old women's quarrels, and tales that ought, in many cases, to consign the witnesses themselves to the prison cell, and dismissing prosecutions that are brought without probable cause, nor the shadow of it. A prosecuting people we are, and we are getting no better every day. The census of the city can almost be taken now from the Police Court calendar; and a month's attendance on that institution will give one a familiar acquaintance with more than half of our domestic establishments.
Return to Call index
Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search