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Stewart & Stewart: A Century Of Law
Journal Provides Glimpse Of Law Office's Beginnings
Hal Schindler
Published: 06/04/95 Category: Features Page: J1

A century ago, two Salt Lake brothers entered into a legal partnership. On June 1, 1895, Charles B. Stewart wrote in his journal: "Went into partners with Samuel at 612 McCornick Block, Salt Lake City, Utah. Terms; share half and pay expenses equally." A friend, C. R. Savage, one of the West's pre-eminent photographers, recorded the event by making a picture of the two men in their small one-room office. Charles B. Stewart further noted, "We had one desk for both and 20 volumes of law books."

From that inauspicious and humble beginning evolved the present-day firm of Hanson, Epperson & Smith, now celebrating its centennial anniversary. Both Stewarts obtained their legal education at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, as did two other later partners of the firm: Jesse R. S. Budge and another brother, Barnard J. Stewart.

It is Charles B.'s journal that provides a glimpse into those early days. Sept. 22, 1891: "Packed my trunk. Sold my sheep to get money [for law school]." But the young man's naivete almost proved his undoing. He fell victim to the traveler's bane: con men fleecing the unsuspecting. "While crossing the plains of Kansas and just before entering Kansas City two men played a game on me by means of which they secured all the money I had, to wit: $120, $75 of which belonged to Samuel. This caused a fit of despondency to come over me until my friend D.O. Rideout Jr., offered to lend me money to help me out. I told no one but him of my sad misfortune."

Stewart paid his tuition and bent to the task of learning the law. Study did not come easy for Charles B., who felt he had to work harder than his classmates, but he persevered and made good grades. He did, however, feel that "Mormon boys attending the Law School faced a good deal of prejudice." So it was with particular pride that as a member of the University of Michigan Senate, he was asked to introduce to the university assembly the bill seeking admission of Utah as a state.

But it was an assembly not altogether friendly to the question that Stewart addressed that day. The idea of plural marriage was unpopular through much of the United States, even though Wilford Woodruff, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had issued a manifesto setting the practice aside as a doctrine of the church. National public sentiment against the "moral depravity" of polygamy still smouldered. So young Stewart, the son of a Mormon polygamist bishop, was caught in the politics of his day, as he launched an impassioned plea on behalf of the bill.

"[The people of Utah] have been driven from their homes as religious exiles and were forced to launch out into the wilderness. On their march across the western plains, the government called upon them for 500 men to fight the battle of Mexico. On their march they celebrated the 4th of July, and when they arrived in the dreary wilderness of a home, they climbed the highest peak and planted the stars and stripes on Mexican soil. Does this look as though they had forgotten that they were Americans?

Millions of dollars of their property has been unjustly confiscated, and they have not only been driven from their hard-earned homes, and many of them disenfranchised, but a thousand of their number have marched to prison walls in convict's chains, in execution of retrospective laws.

This people have received a pardon from the President of the nation which had been concurred in by the governor and judges who now fully understand the character of the people. We now say let the dead past bury its dead, let the laws of the nation be upheld; let the Constitution live forever and serve as a shield for protection. As sons of the patriot fathers, as loyal Americans, we ask that our earnest appeal be accepted, in the name of justice guaranteed by the Constitution, in the name of liberty and freedom, we ask for statehood for Utah."

There were several heated responses to Stewart's speech, but the bill was passed in the university assembly with only two dissenting votes. It was a sweet victory for the senior law student. In succeeding weeks, he was to write in his journal:

May 13, 1893. Paid my diploma fee of $10 and began to see some signs of success.

June 5, 1893. Filed my application and paid $25 for admission to the bar.

June 10, 1893. I am admitted to the bar, the Supreme Court of Michigan and the Circuit Court of the County of Washtenaw. No one knows how happy I am.

June 14, 1893. Our last quizzes ended, and my college days are over.

June 19, 1893. The last list of names is posted upon the bulletin and I have passed on my record in everything and have not been required to take a single examination.

June 29, 1893. I received my diploma, and had conferred on me the degree of LLB by President Angell who handed me my sheepskin. 731 diplomas were granted. It was the largest class that ever graduated in America. In the afternoon I packed my trunk, bid farewell.

He did not, however, launch immediately into a law career. For the next two years, Charles B. taught school at Draper, Utah, at a $70 monthly salary until he had paid his law-school debts. His brother Samuel had been struggling to make a living practicing law since his return from University of Michigan Law School in '92. Charles B. joined him in May 1895 to read law, and in the following month the brothers became partners.

The next few years were hard going for the Stewarts. In September they received $20 for their first divorce suit. "You may guess at how happy we were getting so much money all at once out of the law." As the national economy improved during this Depression period, so did the fortunes of the law firm. Slowly the cases began coming, and the brothers were winning most of them.

By July 1897, Charles B. was able to confide to his journal, "My 27th birthday. Brigham Young monument is unveiled, and W. J. Bryan, candidate for the U.S. president, delivered an oration. The town is having a great Jubilee in honor of the Pioneers. Great time for Utah." Charles B. later received an appointment as assistant city attorney, which paid $1,500 annually and was a part-time job. Brother Samuel was elected to the Legislature.

When the century turned, their law firm was an established, respectable and economically viable concern. Their brother, Barnard, had completed his legal education at Michigan and joined the siblings in the summer of 1900. The firm was now Stewart, Stewart & Stewart. Samuel was appointed judge of the Salt Lake County District Court that November with the distinction of being the youngest district judge in the state. In those early years there were two cases that stood out from among the rest--one for its notoriety, the other for its curious nature.

When Charles B. and Barnard J. Stewart were retained as defense counsel by Peter Mortensen, charged with the December 1901 homicide of Pacific Lumber Company employee James R. Hay, they could not know it would become the most celebrated murder trial since the days of John D. Lee and the Mountain Meadow massacre. In essence, Mortensen was accused of doing away with Hay over a lumber-company debt of $3,800. He had told authorities that he had paid Hay the debt in gold coin and that Hay apparently had absconded with the money. However, Hay's bludgeoned body was found in a shallow grave near 600 East and 2100 South in Salt Lake City. Suspicion and investigation turned on Mortensen; he was charged, and after a lengthy trial and appeals, Mortensen was convicted and executed by firing squad November 20, 1903, at Utah State Prison in Sugar House.

It was an ordeal complicated by written death threats in July 1902 to the Stewarts if they continued to defend Mortensen: "Your house and home will be blown to atoms in case you make a motion for a new trial." Undaunted, the brothers pursued the case to its resolution.

The other matter was a civil suit leveled against the estate of John R. Park, a physician who had quit the practice of medicine for the profession of teaching. So successful was he that in 1869, Park was a unanimous choice to become president of the University of Deseret. By 1892, he had realized a dream of seeing a true university taking shape and was instrumental in selecting and initiating the move first from the old Council House on 100 South to 200 West and 400 North, then to Union Square, now occupied by West High School, and finally to its present site on the Fort Douglas Reservation.

Park, who was believed to have been a confirmed bachelor, died September 30, 1900, and his friend of many years, Samuel W. Stewart, was appointed sole executor of Park's estate. He had left a considerable fortune to the University of Utah, and Samuel W. expected to close out the estate quickly, with no conflicting claims. It was a terrific shock when Annie F. A. Hilton came forward to state she was the late educator's lawful widow, for which she was entitled to one-third of his estate and a third of the value of property sold by him without her consent during the marriage!

It was this claim that took Samuel W. and the firm of Stewart, Stewart & Stewart fifteen years to reconcile. According to court records, in 1872 Annie F. Armitage, age 19, met and was introduced to Park, an unmarried man about 40. The court noted that Park frequently called upon Annie prior to her becoming extremely ill in November 1872, while she was at the home of Emeline Free Young. The young girl became exceedingly ill and was not expected to live, and according to later testimony, Emeline Young advised her that due to their Mormon beliefs it would be better for her in the event of death to be married in the next life, rather than single.

"To this she finally consented, and Dr. Park was sent for, and on December 5, 1872, while thus on her sick bed and not expected to live, she and Dr. John R. Park, were by mutual consent, sealed by Daniel H. Wells, a member of the 'First Presidency' of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the presence of a number of witnesses,'' the court noted. It also was recorded that Park did not consent to the ceremony until an attending physician assured him the patient had but a short time to live.

To everyone's surprise, by February, Annie had made an amazing recovery and Park had stopped visiting her. On two occasions, the court was told, having met Park on the street, Annie insisted upon a divorce. Park agreed, and in March 1873 the two mutually agreed upon and signed a document known as a "church divorce."

During the next twenty-seven years, Park remained an unmarried man, but Annie Armitage about 1873 married William Hilton and they became parents of ten sons and daughters. Stewart, pointing to the church divorce, argued Annie's claim to the estate was without merit because she did not claim to be Park's legal wife until after his death. A lower court agreed, but the Utah Supreme Court--not kindly disposed to church matters in general--held the church divorce did not legally dissolve the marriage to Park. "Such being the case, upon the death of Dr. Park she became his lawful widow and entitled to share in his estate as such."

Through the years, Stewart & Stewart grew to become Hanson, Epperson & Smith, from a two-man, one-room law office in the McCornick Building (now the Crandall Building) to a full-floor suite at 4 Triad Center and 16 attorneys -- David H. Epperson, Lowell V. Smith, Robert R. Wallace, Scott W. Christensen, Terry M. Plant, Theodore E. Kanell, John N. Braithwaite, Richard K. Glauser, Mark J. Williams, Daniel S. McConkie, Jaryl L. Rencher, Eric K. Davenport, Daniel L. Steele, Bradley R. Helsten, Bruce M. Pritchett Jr. and Todd N. Hallock.

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