125 Years Ago

December 1887: The Law Journal editors decried the lack of a prescribed course of preparation for the New Jersey Bar Examination. “We should have a definite plan of study, a definite course of examination provided for, which should develop and expand but not change suddenly with the whims of successive examiners,” they wrote. “Then we shall give the students an incentive to definite intelligent study, instead of having them learn a lot of definitions and rules of practice, and trust to luck as to whether they happen to know the questions they may chance to be asked.”

100 Years Ago

December 1912: The Court of Errors and Appeals affirmed former Hudson County Sheriff John Zeller’s conviction of criminal conspiracy. Zeller had attacked his indictment, which hinged on the power of the Court of Oyer and Terminer — after disqualifying him as sheriff — to appoint elisors to summon a grand jury. Chief Justice William Gummere led the court’s majority that found the action authorized, but a forceful dissent said the claimed authority “was so plainly repugnant to the bill of rights that no court in England, since Magna Carta, has ever thought of exercising it.”

75 Years Ago

December 2, 1937: The Senate in August confirmed Hugo Black’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, but a cloud hung over him due to subsequent investigative articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette disclosing he was once a Ku Klux Klan member. Black admitted his involvement but said it was short and would never resume. The Law Journal editors said continuing to focus on his past served no purpose, since the appointment could not be undone and there were no grounds to impeach him.

50 Years Ago

November 29, 1962: A law clerk employed by a Chicago attorney was held in contempt of court for preparing a routine order that was signed by a judge in a personal injury suit. Walton Alexander testified that what he did was common practice in the Chicago courts. The prosecuting lawyer, Harry Fins, conceded that was true but said, “It is the duty of the courts to stop this sort of thing, and this is the place to begin.”

25 Years Ago

December 3, 1987: The N.J. legal profession was increasingly drawing minority lawyers, but the percentage of African-American lawyers was on a decline. During the prior two years, 4,459 white lawyers joined the bar, along with 107 Hispanics, 56 blacks and 36 Asians, which meant blacks comprised only 1.2 percent of the new admittees. One posited explanation was that New Jersey firms were not doing enough to recruit black law graduates, who as a result sought jobs out of state.