CELORA EATON MARTIN

(1834-1909)
Court of Appeals: 1896-1904
by Justin C. Levin
Cleora Eaton Martin

After Judge Celora E. Martin secured the Republican nomination for Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, the New York Times commented that "Judge Martin's public and private life has been untarnished by scandal. He is recognized as a man of honor by all who have met him, either in a business, professional, or private manner. . . . He is an indefatigable worker."1 Capitalizing on these qualities, Judge Martin rose from a village attorney in Whitney's Point, Broome County, New York to an Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.

Celora Eaton Martin was born in Newport, Herkimer County, New York on August 23, 1834. His mother, Lucetta Brayton (1804- ) was the daughter of Captain Stephen Brayton, one of Newport's early settlers. His father, Ellis (1804-1883) was the son of Aaron Martin (1762-1810) and Mercy Horton. The Martins were direct descendants of John Martin, who immigrated to New England from Wales in 1663.

Celora Martin's grandfather, Aaron Martin was born in Bristol, Massachusetts. He moved to Newport and established a farm, becoming one of Herkimer County's first settlers. He worked as a carpenter and farmer. Aaron and his wife bore ten children, Ellis being the eighth.

For most of his life, Ellis Martin lived in Newport, working as a practical and progressive farmer. On September 5, 1824, Ellis married Lucetta Brayton. As a man of considerable prominence in Newport, Ellis held several local public offices, including Commissioner of Highways.

Celora Martin lived on his father's farm for the first 20 years of his life. During that time, young Martin received his early education at the common school in his Newport neighborhood, and, later, attended a select school in Newport. Subsequently, he enrolled at Fairfield Academy and Holland Patent Academy. Thereafter, Martin studied law for three years in the office of John C. Harris, Esq., of Newport. With the benefit of Harris's tutelage, Martin passed his bar examination and was admitted to the bar at the Oswego General Term on July 8, 1856.

The year 1857 marked important beginnings in Martin's life. He married Almanza R. Barney on September 23, 1857, just after having opened a law office in Whitney's Point in the summer of 1857, where he practiced until 1868.

Martin's first wife, Almanza, was the daughter of Jonathan Barney and Nancy Martin, both of Newport. [Jonathan and Nancy also bore two older sons, George A. Barney and Daniel Barney. Nancy was born on June 17, 1794, the fourth child of Aaron Martin and Nancy Horton. She died on June 23, 1852]. It appears that Nancy-Almanza's mother-and Ellis Martin, Celora Martin's father, were siblings, making Martin and his wife first cousins. Three daughters were born of the marriage: Mary L., Fanny A., and Nellie T.

According to a biographer, Celora and Almanza Martin occupied "a foremost rank in the social circles of the City of Binghamton."2 Almanza was a devoted member of the Congregational Church in Binghamton, and Celora Martin was a liberal Christian. Martin was also an avid member of the Republican Party. According to one biographer,

"[t]he opening years of the professional career of Judge Martin were not marked by sensational success, but rather by a steady growth in the estimation of the people as an industrious, assiduous, and rising man. . . . in the preparation and trial of no matter how small a case he pursued his labors with as much zeal and care as if the controversies involved millions."3

In 1867, Martin partnered with Orlow W. Chapman, in Binghamton, but did not move there until 1868, having maintained his office in Whitney's Point. Chapman later became United States Solicitor-General.

The firm of Chapman & Martin engaged in an extensive and varied practice, garnering a solid reputation throughout Broome County and all of Southern New York State. A historical account of Broome County claims, "[o]f distinction and prestige was the firm of Chapman & Martin. . . . These were names to be reckoned with in the time's public and legal activities."4 Indeed, the Albany Law Journal noted that "[t]he firm had a large and successful practice, and built up a business second to none in their part of the State."5 Anecdotal accounts reveal that between 1870 and 1880 Chapman & Martin represented a party in at least one-third of the Binghamton area court calendars, which often exceeded 200 cases.6

While Chapman excelled as an oral advocate, Martin preferred preparing cases and examining witnesses in court. In fact, Martin had a reputation as a careful attorney, always fully prepared for trial. For a time, while practicing as a partner of Chapman & Martin, Martin also served as Chairman of the Broome County Republican Committee.

Chapman & Martin is the direct ancestor of Hinman, Howard & Kattell, LLP. That firm still practices law, employing dozens of attorneys at New York offices in Albany, Binghamton, Latham, Manhattan, Oneonta, Oswego, Syracuse, and White Plains. The firm also maintains offices in Boynton Beach, Florida, and Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Chapman & Martin existed until May 1877, when Governor Lucius Robinson appointed Martin to the bench as a Supreme Court Justice for the Sixth Judicial District. At the time of his appointment, the Albany Law Journal labeled Judge Martin "one of the ablest and most learned among the lawyers of the sixth district."7 A Republican Senate confirmed the appointment. Judge Martin replaced Judge Ransom Balcom, who retired due to his poor health. Later that year, both the Republican and Democratic parties nominated Judge Martin for the position. Accordingly, he was unanimously elected in November 1877. Judge Martin served his full 14-year term.

In 1891, Judge Martin was unanimously reelected as a Supreme Court Justice for the Sixth Judicial District, having been nominated by both major parties and indorsed by the others. As a Supreme Court Justice, Judge Martin was regarded as "one of the most efficient and rapid trial judges in the state."8 Reputedly, his trial court judgments were rarely reversed by appellate courts.

In addition to all his other qualities, Judge Martin apparently possessed a keen sense of humor. While sitting as a Supreme Court Justice, an arrogant young attorney argued a motion before Judge Martin in a particularly pompous manner. Tiring, Judge Martin interrupted him and began to issue a ruling against the young lawyer. The attorney rebutted "'[b]ut your Honor does not understand the case. . . . Permit me to explain the law. I have here some of the latest decisions of the Court of Appeals, in which it is held, '" Judge Martin fired back "'Motion is denied with costs.'" Then he asked the young attorney "'[h]ave you any later decision than that?'"9

On November 23, 1887, Governor David B. Hill appointed Judge Martin to the General Term for the Fourth Judicial Department, and he served in that capacity until the New York State Constitution abolished that court in 1894. Thereafter, Judge Martin resumed his duties as a Justice of the Supreme Court for the Sixth Judicial District. He held his last Supreme Court session on December 27, 1895 and resigned the post on December 31, 1895 to take his seat on the Court of Appeals.

In September 1895, at the Republican Convention of New York held in Saratoga, the Republican party nominated Judge Martin for Judge of the Court of Appeals, owing to the vacancy created by the expiration of Judge Francis M. Finch's term. The party made Judge Martin's nomination unanimous after nominating him on the second ballot. Judge Martin secured the nomination over the Honorable Jesse Johnson of Brooklyn, Justice Henry H. Childs of Orleans County, Judge William H. Adams of Ontario County, and Supreme Court Justice Pardon C. Williams of Watertown.

In winning the nomination, Judge Martin benefitted, at least in part, from his political affiliation with "Boss" Thomas Platt. Later, in his autobiography, Platt defended his political machine arguing that "[a]n organization that elevated to the Court of Appeals Bench such able jurists as . . . Celora E. Martin . . . is surely entitled to the commendation of the people."10 It appears that Platt and the Republican party were uncertain of Judge Martin's successful election to the Court of Appeals, allegedly arranging a back-up position for him in case he lost.

On November 6, 1895, Judge Martin was elected to the Court of Appeals as a Republican, defeating John D. Teller as the candidate on the Democratic, Reform Organization, and Independent Citizens' Organization tickets. A biographer commented that as an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals "Judge Martin is at his best; in almost daily association with the leading legal minds of the state, where men of his erudition and attainments find full scope for all their powers."11

Judge Martin wrote three opinions of considerable significance. In People ex rel. Lawrence v. Fallon,12 Judge Martin, writing for a unanimous Court, upheld the constitutionality of Chapter 570 of the Laws of 1895, which permitted betting at horse race tracks. The statute authorized associations organized under the provisions of that act to hold and conduct horse races for "purses, premiums, prizes or stakes."13 The statute also permitted certain types of betting on the races.14 The Court sustained the validity of the statute holding specifically that "the offering of premiums or prizes to be awarded to the successful horses in a race is not in any such sense a contract or undertaking in the nature of a bet or wager as to constitute gambling within the spirit and intent of the constitution[]."15 The Legislature outlawed betting on horse races on June 11, 1908 by passing the Hart-Agnew Bill, which took effect immediately.

Judge Martin's opinion in Laidlaw v. Sage16 "has come to be one of the landmark cases in the law of torts and proximate cause."17 The controversy arose after a third party entered defendant's office threatening to detonate a bomb if defendant refused to pay him $1.2 million. Eventually, the third party detonated the bomb. Plaintiff, an employee working in defendant's office, alleged that defendant positioned plaintiff in such a way as to use him as a human shield. Judge Martin concluded that plaintiff failed as a matter of law to show that defendant's actions were the proximate cause of his injuries. Judge Martin noted that

"[a]ll the injuries which the plaintiff sustained were caused directly and immediately by the act of [the third party] in exploding the dynamite. That was clearly the proximate, and we think the only, cause of the plaintiff's injury ... without the explosion the plaintiff would not have been injured; and under no circumstances can it be properly said that the act of the defendant in changing the plaintiff's position a few inches to the left of where he previously stood caused the explosion or occasioned the catastrophe. . . . Nothing which the defendant did could have produced the injury sustained by the plaintiff without another independent intervening cause."18

Judge Martin's opinion in People ex rel. Cisco v. School Bd. of the Borough of Queens19 makes him one of ten Court of Appeals Judges between 1884 and 1900 to vote to uphold the "separate but equal" doctrine with respect to school facilities for African-American children. In upholding the doctrine, Judge Martin noted "[i]t is equal school facilities and accommodations that are required to be furnished, and not equal social opportunities."20 Judge Martin held

"[n]or is there anything in . . . the Constitution which prevented the legislature from exercising its discretion as to the best method of educating the different classes of children in the state, whether it relates to separate classes as determined by nationality, color or ability, so long as it provides for all alike in the character and extent of the education which it furnished and the facilities for its acquirement."21

During Judge Martin's tenure on the Court of Appeals, the Republican party considered nominating him for Governor in the 1900 election. The nomination eventually went to Benjamin B. Odell, Jr., who served from 1901-1904. Judge Martin sat on the Court of Appeals bench until December 1904, when New York's constitutional 70-year-old age limit forced him to retire.

After his retirement, Judge Martin continued practicing law and serving the public. He argued cases before the Court of Appeals22 and served as a District Elector in the Electoral College for the Republican Party in the 1908 Presidential Election. In 1895, the Court of Appeals appointed Judge Martin to the first Board of Law Examiners. He continued his membership on the Board until at least December 1906, when the Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law were amended.23

Judge Martin also served on several state and local committees. In 1895, Governor Levi P. Morton appointed him to a committee charged with proposing amendments to Supreme Court's Rules. In 1899, the Broome County Bar Association appointed him to a committee formed to present resolutions to Supreme Court. In 1903, Judge Martin served on the "Committee of Fifteen," which recommended a plan for reforming procedure in New York courts. In addition, the New York State Bar Association appointed him to its committee on law reform. The committee presented a report recommending certain revisions at the Association's twenty-eighth annual meeting held in 1905. Finally, in 1907, Senator Harvey D. Hinman selected Judge Martin as the attorney for a special committee of the Senate charged with investigating the necessity of electing Senators.

Although once elected to the Court of Appeals and to Supreme Court twice, Judge Martin spoke out against electing judges by popular vote. In the 1905 colloquy with an interviewer, Judge Martin said,

"'If candidates for the bench are to be chosen by politicians simply for their vote-getting qualities, then the views of such candidates regarding the rights of capital and labor must be taken into account, with the power of election in the hands of labor.'

'You mean,' he was asked, 'that there is danger that the rights of private property may be modified?'

'That is just what I mean. It must be evident to any intelligent man who thinks about it.'

'What is the remedy?'

'I can see none. I have watched the situation for some years and have thought hard about it; but I have never been able to find a way out. So long as we have an elective judiciary - and the people will not consent to a return to selection by appointment - the danger I have spoken of must confront us. When the inevitable final clash between capital and labor comes the safety of our institutions can only be conserved by an independent judiciary, and it is hard to see how we can have independent judges if their nomination is to depend upon the ordinary considerations of practical politics.'"24

Having dedicated more than 50 years of his life to the law, Judge Martin died at his home in Binghamton on September 10, 1909 after a lingering illness. He was 75 years old.

PROGENY

In addition to Judge Martin, Ellis and Lucetta Martin were the parents of three other children: James (died in infancy), Avis (1825-1842), and Stephen (1830-1898). Stephen married Orilla Sutphen on June 23, 1849. After Lucetta's death, Ellis married Celinda Wright on June 20, 1841. Avis L. (1850- ) was born of Ellis's second marriage.

After a surgery, Judge Martin's first wife, Almanza, died at the Hotel Vendome in New York City on December 12 or 13, 1898. In 1901, Judge Martin married Ada L. Mills, of Binghamton. She survived him.

We have discerned no information as to Judge Martin's three daughters - Mary L., Fanny A., and Nellie T. However, Mary was born on March 22, 1859. She married Isaac T. Stoddard and lived in Binghamton. At least one child was born to Isaac and Mary, Florence Stoddard. Florence, Judge Martin's granddaughter, died at his home in Binghamton on June 20, 1903. At the time of her death, Florence was only 22 years old and engaged to be married.

Fanny was born on August 22, 1862. She married F. Newell Gilbert and resided in Binghamton. Nellie was born on October 27, 1870. She married George C. McMurtry, of Des Moines, Iowa.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED

A Final Decision, New York Times, June 15, 1902, p. SM5.

Bar Associations and Law Libraries, 7 Am Law 339, 344 (1899).

1 Binghamton and Broome County New York: A History 199-200 (William Foote Seward ed., Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc. 1924).

Binghamton: Its Settlement, Growth and Development 323-325 (William S. Lawyer ed., Century Memorial Publishing Co. 1900).

2 Biographical Review, The Leading Citizens of Broome County New York 402-404 (1894).

Changes on the Bench, New York Times, December 22, 1895, p. 20.

3 Chester, Courts and Lawyers of New York: A History 1609-1925 1193 (1925).

Court of Appeals Reconvenes, New York Times, January 7, 1896, p. 9.

Current Topics, 15 Alb LJ 401, 417 (1877).

Current Topics, 52 Alb LJ 177, 177 (1895).

Current Topics, 52 Alb LJ 273, 273 (1895).

Current Topics, 58 Alb LJ 409, 420 (1898).

Current Topics, 65 Alb LJ 169, 169 (1903).

Current Topics, 67 Alb LJ 33, 57 (1905).

Current Topics, 69 Alb LJ 65, 68-71 (1907).

DeGraff, Bar Examinations: 1895-1951, 18 Brook L Rev 5, 6 (1951).

Ex-Judge Martin Selected, New York Times, July 29, 1907, p. 9.

History of Hinman, Howard & Kattell, LLP, http://www.hhk.com/history.asp(accessed January 28, 2006).

History of the Town of Newport, 1806 to 1906, (1906).

Judge C. E. Martin Dead, New York Times, September 11, 1909, p. 9.

Judge Martin Dead, Herkimer Evening Telegram, September 11, 1909.

Judicial Change Expected Today, New York Times, December 31, 1895, p. 2.

Lawyers, 4 Am Law 80, 80 (1896).

Locations of Hinman, Howard & Kattell, LLP, http://www.hhk.com/locations.asp(accessed January 28, 2006).

Manz, Desegregation in New York: The Jamaica School War, 1895-1900, 76 NY St BJ 10, 10-18 (May 2004).

Martin House Genealogy Page, (accessed January 28, 2006).

Mr. Platt Has No Choice, New York Times, July 9, 1900, p. 2.

Naming Electors for the Presidency, New York Times, September 29, 1908, p. 3.

New York Governors, http://www.ny.gov/governor/nygovs/index.html(accessed January 28, 2006).

Notes, 39 Am L Rev 584, 598-599 (1905).

Obituary Notes, New York Times, June 20, 1903, p. 7.

Odell for Governor, New York Times, July 11, 1900, p. 3.

Passage of the Bills, New York Times, June 12, 1908, p. 1.

Results of Elections, New York Times, November 6, 1895, p. 1.

Rodenbeck, The Reform of the Procedure in the Courts of the State of New York 17-20 (1911).

Saving a Post For Martin, New York Times, October 29, 1895, p. 1.

Silvernail, Code of Election Laws of the State of New York 169 (1896).

Talking It Over, New York Times, September 18, 1895, p. 3.

The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt 511 (Louis J. Lang, ed., B. W. Dodge & Company 1910).

The Lawyer's Bookshelf, 74 NY L Rev 293, 294 (1940).

There Shall be a Court of Appeals, 150th Anniversary of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, (1997).

 

PUBLISHED WRITINGS

Beyond his judicial decisions, Judge Martin apparently did not publish any books or articles.

 

ENDNOTES

  1. Talking It Over, New York Times, September 18, 1895, p. 3.
  2. 2 Biographical Review, The Leading Citizens of Broome County New York 404 (1894).
  3. Id. at 403-404.
  4. 1 Binghamton and Broome County New York: A History 199(William Foote Seward ed., Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc. 1924).
  5. Current Topics, 52 Alb LJ 177, 177 (1895).
  6. Binghamton: Its Settlement, Growth and Development 323-324 (William S. Lawyer ed., Century Memorial Publishing Co. 1900).
  7. Current Topics, 15 Alb LJ 401, 417 (1877).
  8. Binghamton: Its Settlement, Growth and Development at 324.
  9. A Final Decision, New York Times, June 15, 1902, p. SM5.
  10. The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt 511 (Louis J. Lang, ed., B. W. Dodge & Company 1910).
  11. Binghamton: Its Settlement, Growth and Development at 324.
  12. 152 NY 12 (1897) (the press referred to this case as "the Percy-Gray race-track case").
  13. Id. at 18.
  14. See People ex rel. Sturgis v. Fallon, 152 NY 1, 5 (1897).
  15. Lawrence, 152 NY at 20; see also Sturgis 152 NY at 12.
  16. 158 NY 73 (1899).
  17. The Lawyer's Bookshelf, 74 NY L Rev 293, 294 (1940).
  18. Laidlaw, 158 NY at 101-102.
  19. 161 NY 598 (1900).
  20. Id. at 600.
  21. Id. at 602.
  22. See e.g. Kelly v. Security Mut. Life Ins. Co., 186 NY 16, 17 (1906); People ex rel. Cassidy v. Whalen, 189 NY 534, 534 (1907).
  23. See Current Topics, 69 Alb LJ 65, 68-71 (1907) (reproducing the Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law and the Rules of the State Board of Law Examiners as amended December 20, 1906, taking effect July 1, 1907).
  24. Notes, 39 Am L Rev 584, 598-599 (1905).