Days Gone By: Judge Casey on the Port Costa bench proves a stickler for the particular

By Nilda Rego | August 13, 2011 at 8:53 a.m.

Part 1 of 2

Judge Jeremiah Patrick Casey wasn’t being stubborn when it came to a matter of $12 in November 1899, but he figured what was right was right. So with that in his head, he sued the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

Casey was the justice of the peace at Port Costa, and he had been at the job for a good many years. He was paid $3 for every case he adjudicated. In November, he sent a bill to the county for $81, but the county treasurer deducted $12 for four excluded cases from the bill and made out a check for $69.

When Constable Jim Ahern brought Casey the check, he refused it and went before the board of supervisors to protest.

The four cases involved four young boys: John Brown, George Roach, Thomas Simpson and Joseph Silva. They were arrested for getting on the train and failing to pay the fare. Their fathers all worked for the railroad and had insisted that the boys be arrested and taught a lesson.

The boys appeared before Judge Casey, and he dismissed all four cases, saying he would not send “such little fellows to jail.” Supervisor Patrick Tormey claimed that Casey should not be paid the $3 for each of those four cases. He said the fathers who caused the arrest should foot the $12 bill.

Casey said he had experienced similar trouble with a former board of supervisors member who refused to honor his bills. He sued and collected his money and was sure he would get his money this time.

“The queer part of the whole affair is how the district attorney can come in and defend the action (of the supervisors). He has been asked by the board several times on the legality of such claims and has always stated that the board would have to pay them. The board has refused, and now they will expect the district attorney to defend a suit in which he has given an opinion directly to the contrary,” reported the Contra Costa Gazette in its Nov. 18, 1899, issue.

Casey got his money. He always did.

He had studied the law on his own, and according to his daughter Margaret had “acquainted himself with sufficient law to conduct his office when he was elected judge.” His constituents apparently were satisfied because it was said no one could ever beat him in an election.

Margaret told a few stories about her father at a meeting of the Contra Costa County Historical Society on Nov. 8, 1962.

“No mention of my father is complete without a few stories told about him in his judicial capacity. … A few vagrants were up before him and as each stood in front of the judge, he was given 10 days in the County Jail. The last man thinking he would get off easy said his name was Casey. ‘Is that so!’ said my father. ‘Well, you can take 30 days in jail for disgracing the name of Casey.’ And another time, when the judge fined a vagrant $10, the man said flippantly, ‘Oh, that’s easy! I’ve got that in my jeans.’ ‘Have you now!’ said my father, ‘Well, then 10 days in jail. Have you got that in your jeans?’ ”

Next time, read more about Judge Casey and his steam beer brewery.

Days Gone By appears Sundays. by Nilda Rego.