CHESTER BENTINE McLAUGHLIN

(1856-1929)
Court of Appeals: 1917-1926
by James Costello
Chester Bentine McLaughlin

As reported in The Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), Judge Chester McLaughlin was a "man of striking personality, a rugged and picturesque appearance, [and] was known to his associates and old friends to possess a kindly nature, a fun loving disposition of a quiet sort, a fund of native humor and a disposition to be just human."1

Chester Bentine McLaughlin was born on February 10, 1856, in Moriah, Essex, New York, the son of Lyman and Harriet Chapman McLaughlin. He attended Sherman Academy in Moriah and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1879.

McLaughlin studied law at Port Henry with B.B. Bishop at the firm of Waldo, Tobey & Grover, and was admitted to the bar in September 1881. He then became associated with James W. Sheehy in Port Henry. After Sheehy's death, McLaughlin became a partner in the firm of Waldo & Grover, which was reformed first as Waldo, Grover & McLaughlin and then as Waldo & McLaughlin. Even as a young attorney, McLaughlin was known for his dedication to the law. As one writer put it, "[i]f a client came into Chester B. McLaughlin's office he came with the knowledge that he was going to receive the best that was in him B and even in those days that was something a young attorney might be proud of."2

In 1886, McLaughlin married Lucy Warner with whom he had three children: Warner, Chester B. Jr., and Donald G. He served as Chairman of the Essex Republican County Committee from 1887-1888, and was School Commissioner for the Second District, Essex County, from 1882-1888. In 1891, he became County Judge and Surrogate of Essex County, occupying that office for five years.

On April 27, 1888, the Essex County Republican Party elected Judge McLaughlin as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1894, where he was chair of the Convention's Committee on Counties, Towns and Villages, their Organization and Government. He was one of three chief advocates for a constitutional amendment to enable the enlargement and improvement of New York's canals.

He resigned as County Judge and ran unopposed as the Republican candidate for Supreme Court, Fourth Judicial District, an office he held from 1896 until 1898, when he was designated by Governor Frank S. Black to sit in the Appellate Division, First Department, where he was warmly endorsed for reappointment in 1902.3 The honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by the Middlebury College in 1901 and by the University of Vermont in 1904.

Judge McLaughlin resigned from the Appellate Division, First Department in 1917, upon his appointment on January 16 by Governor Charles S. Whitman as an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, to fill a vacancy created by the November 1916 election of Judge Frank H. Hiscock as Chief Judge.

George L. Ingraham, then-president of the City Bar Association and former Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, and other bar leaders participating in a Statewide effort, succeeding in getting the Republican and Democratic parties to agree on a joint designation of Judge McLaughlin, a Republican, and Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo, a Democrat, which virtually ensured their nomination. This bipartisan effort is reflected in a May 21, 1917 resolution adopted by the Bar Association of Essex County, which stated in part:

"Whereas, the incumbency upon the bench by Judge McLaughlin and Judge Cardoza [sic] has been characterized by learning, independence, impartiality and industry, and their continuance upon the bench will serve to maintain the high standard of our highest tribunal:

"Now Therefore Be It Resolved, That we urge that the nomination of the Honorable Chester B. McLaughlin and the Honorable Benjamin N. Cardoza [sic] to succeed themselves as judges of the Court of Appeals, be made by the several political parties on a non-partisan basis; and we hereby pledge our united efforts to secure their nomination and election."4

Upon the nomination of the two major political parties, Judge McLaughlin was elected a member of the Court at the November 6, 1917 general election to serve for the term 1918-31. In his nine years on the bench, Judge McLaughlin authored 142 decisions. Among the most prominent was People ex rel. Board of Education v. Graves (243 NY 204 [1926]), in which he wrote that the Commissioner of Education had the power to direct a board of education to provide, by the levy of a tax, funds for the transportation of children of school age living so remote from the school that they cannot otherwise attend classes.

Among numerous other rulings, on July 9, 1926, Judge McLaughlin held, as reported in the New York Times, "that the State Commissioner of Education was within his rights when he directed the Board of Education of Union Free School District . . . of the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County, to provide transportation for young children to take them to and from school."5

Judge McLaughlin retired on December 31, 1926, reaching the constitutional age limit. As described by the Albany Knickerbocker Press:

"Judge McLaughlin was of the 'old school,' in that he placed reliance upon thorough research, full acquaintance with facts, diligence in study and care in formulating the expression of his conclusions. In other words he was an apostle of hard work than which there is no more severe taskmaster and no more reliable, no more generous paymaster."6

Upon Judge McLaughlin's retirement, the Judges of the Court presented him with a silver cup, engraved with the State Seal and the following inscription:

"Presented to Chester B. McLaughlin On His Retirement As Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals December 31, 1925 By His Affectionate And Loyal Associates Frank H. Hiscock Benjamin N. Cardozo Cuthbert W. Pound Frederick E. Crane William S. Andrews Irving Lehman"7

After his retirement, Judge McLaughlin served as a special referee and resumed the practice of law, practicing in both Albany and New York City and becoming associated with his son, Chester B. Jr. He argued several cases before the Court of Appeals and also became the Chairman of a Non-Partisan Lawyers' Committee, organized to further the campaigns of certain Democratic nominees for Justices of the Supreme Court in the First District.

Judge McLaughlin lived at 358 State Street in Albany, New York and owned a summer home in Port Henry. According to one source, "away from the bench and in the midst of the people with whom he had grown up Judge McLaughlin showed that the gown of a Justice covered the shoulders of a real man to whom any other man was an equal so long as he governed himself by the rule which looks upon self respect as an obligation."8 Judge McLaughlin was a member of the University and Century Clubs, Union League, Republican and Manhattan Clubs in New York, and Fort Orange, Port Henry and Albany County Clubs. On December 12, 1926, the Manhattan Club held a dinner in honor of several retiring judges, including Judge McLaughlin.

A 33rd degree member of the Masons since 1918, Judge McLaughlin urged his fellow Masons to "scatter over the country respect for the law," explaining:

"If Masonry means anything at all or stands for anything, it is for the accomplishment of good deeds. There never was a time in the history of this country where the field was so fertile and the promise of the harvest so rich as now: You Masons must scatter over this country respect for the law. Disrespect for one law leads to disrespect for other laws. Once you lose respect for laws, enforcement becomes difficult and your nation begins to crumble. It makes no difference whether you believe in the law or not, the law is there and must be obeyed implicitly. If it is a bad law there is a way to repeal it, but that way is not by violation. No man ever got into jail by obeying the law, but many have gone there because they disobeyed the laws. The obligation rests on every Mason in the land to create, as far as he can, a sentiment in favor of the enforcement of that law until it is repealed. If the most humble Mason does the part that falls to him, though he may be unknown, yet when he passes to his final rest it can be truthfully said he lived the life of a good Mason, then he will have paid the highest tribute to the craft."9

After a short illness, Judge McLaughlin died at Albany Hospital on Sunday, May 12, 1929, at the age of 74. He was survived by his wife Lucy and three sons, Warner, Chester B. Jr., and Donald G. His funeral was held in St. Peter's Episcopal Church at 107 State Street in Albany. Church services were conducted by the Rev. Charles C. Harriman. Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo and Judges Frederick E. Crane, Cuthbert W. Pound, Irving Lehman, Henry T. Kellogg, John F. O'Brien, and Irving G. Hubbs, former Judges Frank H. Hiscock and William S. Andrews, Berne A. Pyrke, Commission of Agriculture and Markets, and Dr. A. W. Elting acted as pall bearers. Services also were held by 33rd degree Masons by Frederick W. Gebhard, commander-in-chief of Scottish Rite bodies of the Valley of Rensselaer. Judge McLaughlin had "several cases pending before the court of which he was a distinguished member for many years when he died."10

As stated in one obituary, in Judge McLaughlin's passing,

"New York State los[t] one of the most brilliant and learned jurists who served on the high court bench, a lawyer of great ability and a citizen and public servant whose record is his own best monument. . . . Personally a man of beautiful traits of character, affectionate and companionable, he was always a welcome visitor to the various clubs of which he was a member and a most delightful companion to everyone he met."11

At a session of the Court of Appeals held May 27, 1929, the Court ordered that a memorial "be spread upon the records of the court and published in the official reports."12 In addition to recounting Judge McLaughlin's many public accomplishments, the memorial, only a portion of which is reproduced below, sheds light on Judge McLaughlin as a man:

"These are the milestones along the pathway of an active life. They give no hint of the vibrant and commanding personality whose journey they record. In the years between 1891 and 1926, he was judicial service in almost every grade of the judicial hierarchy, growing steadily in maturity and judgment and richness of experience, and leaving everywhere upon all who were following his work a vivid and enduring impression of notable ability, of indefatigable capacity for labor, of rare common sense and practical wisdom, and of a courage and independence unswerving and unshakable. Courage and independence were perhaps the dominant qualities that shone forth in the man himself and in his service to the State. He had strong and intense convictions; and neither the applause of the crowd nor its blame could move him to abate them by a jot in thought or word or deed. He stood on his own feet and thought his own thoughts and spoke his own mind. Here was a service to the State that is not to be recorded or computed in tables of citations. Many of the judgments rendered by this or any court are of ephemeral importance. They serve the day's need, and are lost and forgotten in the engulfing depths of time. What is precious and permanent even beyond the work itself is the spirit in which the work is done, for in this is the assurance of the justice by which legal institutions live. The historian of the judiciary of New York, tracing the contributions made by Judge McLaughlin to the development of our law, will discover memorable judgments. But will discover something finer. At every turn he will find the mark of a personality, a man.

"This memorial must not close with a record of other qualities more intimate and homely. Along with this virile strength, this rugged aspect, there went a tenderness and gentleness, not visible always to the casual beholder, but revealed with prodigal generosity to those who knew him well. In any social group he was at once a central figure, rejoicing in the companionship of his friends, and never so happy as in the exchange of merry quip and badinage and playful repartee. How his great, resonant voice pealed forth at such a time in an ecstacy of boyish mirth! Within the four-square granite there dwelt the heart of a lad."13

Judge McLaughlin's last will and testament was admitted to probate in Albany Surrogate's Court. His widow and three sons received the bulk of the estate, valued at more than $10,000. His wife received the home in Albany. The silver cup was bequeathed to Chester B. His son Warren received the summer home at Port Henry. Judge McLaughlin is interred at Moriah Cemetery, Moriah, New York. His portrait hangs in the Court of Appeals and at the Essex County Courthouse.

PROGENY

Judge McLaughlin had three children: Warner, Donald, and Chester B. Jr. Warner and Donald had no progeny. Chester B. Jr. married Margaret F. Williston, daughter of Professor Samuel Williston of Harvard Law School on June 1, 1918, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1919. In addition to an active law practice, Chester B. Jr. wrote the following law review articles: The Evolution of the Ocean Bill of Lading, 35 Yale L.J. 548 (1925-1926); Capacity of Plaintiff-Stockholder to Terminate a Stockholder's Suit, 46 Yale L.J. (1936-1937); and The Mystery of the Representative Suit, 26 Geo. L.J. 878 (1937-1938).

Chester B. Jr. and Margaret Williston gave birth to four children - Chester B. III, Margaret Fairlie (McLaughlin) Carmichael, Elizabeth, and Mary Lewis.

Chester B. III had two children: Margaret and Chester (Chip) B. IV, who is an attorney practicing elder law in Phoenix, Arizona.

Elizabeth had two children: Pamela Williston (Bahr) Hambley, who lives in Connecticut; and Harry Theodore Bahr III, who lives in Cold Spring Harbor, New York and is the owner of BZ Media, a publishing company.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED

Addresses Delivered February 17th, 1920, and Historical Sketch Prepared to Commemorate the Semi-Centenary of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 1870-1920, at 70.

Bergen, The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1847-1932, at 258-259 (1985).

C.B. M'Laughlin, Ex-Jurist, Dead, The New York Times, May 13, 1929, at 17.

Dougherty, Constitutional History of New York State from the Colonial Period to the Present Time, at 280-282 (1911).

Dougherty, Constitutional History of the State of New York, at 288-289 (2d ed. 1915).

Encyclopedia of American Biography, New Series, Volume 10, at 159.

Essex County's Delegates, The New York Times, April 28, 1888, at 1.

Ex-Judges Back Democrats, The New York Times, October 22, 1927, at 19.

Glynn, The Convention Manual of Procedure, Forms and Rules for the Regulation of Business in the Sixth New York State Constitutional Convention, 1894, Vol. 2, at 21, 28 and image number 188.

Google, Essex County Courthouse History, http://www.co.essex.ny.us/cclerkhistory.html (last visited March 31, 2004).

How Benjamin Cardozo Became a Court of Appeals Judge, Letters to the Editor, The New York Times, January 12, 1979, at A22.

In Memoriam, 250 NY 633 (1929).

Judge and Assemblyman Resign, The New York Times, November 2, 1895, at 1.

Judge McLaughlin is a Thirty-Third Degree Mason, The Adirondack Record (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), October 25, 1918.

Judge McLaughlin Dies After Two Weeks' Illness, The Albany Knickerbocker Press, May 13, 1929, at 1.

Judge Chester B. M'Laughlin Died at Albany Sunday, The Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), May 16, 1929.

Judge's Rites Tomorrow, The Albany Times-Union, May 14, 1929.

Justice McLaughlin's Will Probated, The Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), June 6, 1929, at 5.

McLaughlin, Cardozo and Salisbury Warmly Commended by County Bar Association, The Adirondack Record (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), May 25, 1917.

Obituary, The New York Times, June 16, 1980, at B9.

Obituary of Chester B. McLaughlin, The Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), May 16, 1929, at 2.

Obituary, The Albany Knickerbocker Press, May 14, 1929, at 4.

Picture of Silver Cup Presented to Judge McLaughlin Upon Retirement, provided courtesy of Chester B. McLaughlin IV.

Potsdam St. Lawrence Herald, October-December 1897.

Retiring Judges Honored, The New York Times, December 12, 1929, at 27.

Smith, H.P., Editor, History of Essex County, at 574 (1885).

Town Must Transport Children to School, The New York Times, July 10, 1926, at 14.

The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Mclaughlin to Mcleaish, http://politicalgraveyard.com/bio/mclauglin-mclay.html.

There Shall be a Court of Appeals, 150th Anniversary of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York at (1997)(booklet on file with the Court of Appeals).

 

PUBLISHED WRITINGS

In Julien T. Davies: The Tribute to His Memory (New York, 1922), Ethel Davies Thatcher published letters compiled by Joseph S. Auerbach in memory of attorney Julien T. Davies. In addition to letters from Chief Judge Frank H. Hiscock, Judge Cuthbert W. Pound, Judge Cardozo and other eminent members of the bench and bar, the book contains the following letter written by Judge McLaughlin on October 10, 1921:

My Dear Mr. Auerbach:—I have just finished reading your Memorial of Mr. Davies. It is a splendid tribute, adequately portraying the career of a great lawyer and a citizen of the highest type.

As you well know, my relations with him were quite intimate for many years, during which time I enjoyed his good fellowship and learned his sterling qualities. For nearly twenty years, each year brought me an invitation from him to attend on opening day for guests, at that delightful place, the South Side Club. On those occasions when we had taken the limited number of fish, we would go to the different ponds or stroll through the woods. I was then charmed by his discourse and comments on the various affairs of life, including many things connected with his professional career. Each year for several years I spent one or two days with him at Great River, where he demonstrated he could shoot as well as fish. My visits with him at the South Side Club and at his own home will always remain bright and pleasant spots in my memory.

I thank you for sending me a copy of the Memorial and also for so beautifully portraying one whose qualities I so much admired, and whose friendship I so highly valued.

Yours sincerely,

Chester B. McLaughlin14

 

ENDNOTES

  1. Obituary, The Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), May, 16, 1929, at 1.
  2. Ibid.
  3. New York Times, Dec. 9, 1902.
  4. McLaughlin, Cardozo and Salisbury Warmly Commended by County Bar Association, The Au Sable Forks Adirondack Record, May 25, 1917.
  5. Town Must Transport Children to School, The New York Times, July 10, 1926, at 14.
  6. Obituary, The Albany Knickerbocker Press, May 14, 1929.
  7. Picture of Engraved Silver Cup Presented to Judge Chester B. McLaughlin, provided courtesy of Chester B. McLaughlin IV.
  8. Obituary, The Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), May 16, 1929, at 1, supra n1.
  9. Judge McLaughlin of Court of Appeals, Formerly of Port Henry, Gives Good Advice, The AdirondackRecord-Elizabethtown Post (Au Sable Forks, Essex County, N.Y.), April 16, 1925.
  10. Appeals Court Ex-Judge Dies, The Albany Times Union, May 13, 1929, at 3.
  11. Obituary, The Albany Times Union, May 14, 1929.
  12. In Memoriam, 250 NY 633, 622 [1929].
  13. Ibid. at 634-635.
  14. Julien T. Davies: The Tribute to His Memory, at 165-166 (New York, 1922)