There Went The Judge
by Bob Dempel, May 18, 2016
Just north of Hopland on the west side of Highway 101 is a nice White House. It has always been known as The Manning House. As I was growing up in the 1950s it was also known as the home of the Hopland (Sanel) Justice Court. The judge was a Mr. Manning who was also a local pare and prune (plum) grower. His official name was J.F. Manning, however, all of his friends called him Pat. Judge Manning was from Lake County where I believe his family still owns a large ranch. His brother Tom raised sheep on the ranch. His daughter Mary still lives on the ranch. I was a neighbor next to the Manning Ranch for a few years in the 2010 timeframe.
I almost escaped having to know more about the local judicial system until I received a traffic ticket from the CHP after I bought my first car at age 17. Sure enough, I had to appear at the Hopland Justice Court.
Judge Manning had regular hours that he stopped being a farmer and became a sitting justice court judge. In research for this article I called the only retired judge that I know of, Judge Tim O'Brien. Tim was a Superior Court judge for many years in Mendocino County. He also has a world of memory on local history. As soon as I asked him about Pat Manning he told me the story that Judge Manning would not hold court in Hopland during the pear harvest season. Justice would have to wait until the crop was in. He also confirmed to me that Judge Manning was known for his long oratory to those people who appeared before him. I found this out when I was to appear in front of Judge Manning. I gallantly knocked on the front door and was shown a room inside the house just to the right. This room became a real courtroom. What I did not know at the time was that Judge Manning was not a listener. After formal introduction I appealed to him to reduce my fine for speeding. What I got was a two-hour lecture on safe driving. But in the end he did reduce the fine.
The mistake I made was not paying the reduced fine right then and there. I waited a few days to return with the money. What I got was the same two hour lecture on safe driving again: the very same lecture I had received on the first visit. As I remember I could not wait for him to stop the lecture and just let me pay the fine. That was some 60-plus years ago and I cannot remember ever being in the house again more than one other time.
Judge Manning continued to be the local Justice Court Judge from 1942-1977. Prior to Judge Manning the local judge was Don Ward. Ward's daughter Donna Ward Hogan has supplied me with some history of the Hopland Justice Court. Her father became the local judge in the mid-1920s. Court was held in the hotel then known as the Pomo Inn. Just in my lifetime the hotel has had several names. The owner was Dom Macmillen. The street is named for him in Hopland. I cannot imagine court being held in the hotel.
My research now indicates that there were eight local justice courts in Mendocino County during the early 1900s. The Historical Society has a list of judges going back into the 1880s to the 1900s. I cannot identify who was the local judge before Judge Ward.
To qualify for being a local justice court judge you had to take an examination from the California Judicial Council. Evidently this was a difficult examination. Donna supplied me another article that indicated in 1971 that 13 people took the examination and only four passed. One of those who passed was Homer Mannix from Boonville. The article goes on to say that he took the oath of office from Viola Richardson, the County Clerk, in the office of Judge A.B. Broaduss. The appointment was made by the Board of Supervisors following the official word from the California Judicial Council.
In 1974 the law was changed requiring that all justice court judges be lawyers. Needless to say, Judge Manning did not qualify for the judgeship. I remember Pat telling me of the phone call from attorney George Nelson who was running for the job in Hopland. He was victorious on election night.
Now, where to have court became the situation. Court had been held in Manning's house. Nelson had to find a place to hold court in downtown Hopland. Shortly after the election an office trailer sprang up on the steps of the old grammar school that had burned down years ago. All that was left was the concrete foundation and some steps of the school. After the school burned down the property must have been sold and then a space rented to the court by the new owner. But now we had a real courthouse in beautiful downtown Hopland: Just an 8' x 20' office trailer. You parked in what was the school parking lot right in front of the trailer. No trees, no landscaping, just this ugly brown trailer on blocks still with the tires and rims attached. I don't think they even had the water and sewer connected.
I researched further and found an article in the Healdsburg Tribune relating to the grand jury opposing the closure of justice courts. I cannot find the exact day the Hopland court closed. Somewhere around the 1980s. Our little courthouse just hooked up and traveled away. Judge Nelson went on to become a circuit judge. He did not even say goodbye. I appeared one time before him in a small claims action. I liked him because he ruled in my favor.
Really, the loss of the local court may have been the beginning of many losses from our area. The high school closed many years ago. Later the grammar school closed after a terrible flood. No Little League, PTA, Boy Scouts, or 4-H. The hardware store closed. The grocery store closed along with the carwash, laundromat, hotel, bar— all closed. The Veterans Memorial sits up on a small hill just behind the high school property. I don't know how much it is used. We still have a post office, a volunteer fire department. They are looking for more volunteers. They just had a fundraiser BBQ.
Now when I drive by the Manning house I drive slowly. If I got a ticket I just know Judge Manning would still somehow get me to listen to his two-hour lecture again.
This picture was sent to Hopland Judge Don Ward from Henry Spurr, president of Mendocino County Bar Association, probably around the late 1920s and taken in the Hopland area. The picture includes Judge George S. Sturtevant, a Hopland landowner and San Francisco judge. Probably John L. McNab, another local landowner, and an attorney from San Francisco, Charles Cash. Hopland Judge Don Ward, John J.R. Thomas, Henry Spurr, Judge Held. Photo supplied by Don Ward's daughter Donna Ward Hogan, a Ukiah resident.