Times Past

Central Coast-style justice under Judge Joaquin Carrillo

District Judge Joaquin Carrizo
District Judge Joaquin Carrizo

In 1851, Joaquin Carrillo, a grandson of a founder of the Santa Barbara Presidio, became a judge for California’s 2nd Judicial District. The district covered the territory from Los Angeles to Monterey.

Carrillo was a cantankerous jurist under the best of circumstances and was noted for his bitter hatred of all “gringos.” He refused to learn English and employed a translator.

In 1854, Virginia-born David F. Newsom was appointed county clerk for San Luis Obispo. Carrillo invalidated Newsom’s appointment when Newsom, a teetotaler, would not have a pretrial drink with the judge. As a result, San Luis Obispo had no county clerk.

The county clerk’s position was nonsalaried. While serving, Newsom had found it difficult to make a living wage out of the fees he collected for drafting and recording various government documents.

The county sheriff, Albert Mann, swore in Newsom as a paid deputy sheriff, and Mann then directed Newsom to organize the papers of the clerk’s office.

In 1892, Newsom recalled the events of his life in a series for The Tribune:

“I was sworn in as deputy for Albert Mann ... by his Honor Joaquin Carrillo ... and took charge of the county clerk’s office. We commenced straightening up the books and papers of the sheriff’s office. (We) found receipts signed by Parker H. French, Deputy for Capt. William G. Dana, county treasurer, for several thousand dollars. There was no evidence that these moneys had been paid out by the treasurer and the (county) treasury was bare.

“About this time James McKinley, owner of the Morro and Cayucos ranchos, accused one Louis Raggio, an Italian storekeeper in San Luis Obispo, of stealing about 60 calves from him.”

A warrant was issued. Deputies David Newsom and John Lappin made the arrest. Raggio’s friends announced that they would free the prisoner. McKinley’s friends threatened to hang Raggio.

The jail was in the Mission, Newsom recalled:

“In order to prevent either party from carrying out their threats, a mill stone and ox chain were procured from the priest. A shackle was placed on one of Raggio’s ankles and he was fastened to the mill stone. A bed was arranged so as to make the prisoner comfortable.

“We were provided with a double barrel shotgun, two pistols and an ax, besides our sheath knives, which almost everyone carried in those days. Our bed was near Raggio’s and all parties were notified to keep away or take the consequences. No one interfered.

“Raggio, not wishing to be examined by any of the local officers, sent for Don Joaquin Carrillo, the district judge. Upon (Carrillo’s) arrival, Raggio was taken (to the judge.)”

Newsom recalled that Raggio’s attorney made the very reasonable request that all the testimony be taken down in writing for the court’s record. This would be an involved process because the parties to this particular criminal complaint spoke in Spanish, Italian and English. The testimony would require translation.

Newsom continued:

“His Honor, not wishing to be troubled with this matter, procured my services. There were many witnesses ... so that two days’ time was consumed in the examination. The defendant was discharged, the evidence not being sufficient to justify his holding over.

“The next morning as his Honor was about to start for his home, I was on hand to collect pay for my services. (Mr. Hinchmann, Judge Carrillo’s adviser and translator) informed his Honor that the clerks had not been paid. ‘Does not the county provide a clerk?’ his Honor asked. ‘No, and if it did, don’t you remember you put Mr. Newsom out of office?’”

Carrillo resigned himself to paying for the services rendered out of his own court fee, saying:

 ‘Well, how much is it?’ Mr. Hinchmann suggested $10 a day, two days amounting to $20, which he thought reasonable. His ‘Donship’ handed me $20, shrugged his shoulders and ejaculated ‘carcarambus [sic].’ He put spurs to his horse and was off to Santa Barbara. I put that $20 in my pocket thinking that it was paying him about right.”

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly. He is past president of the California Mission Studies Association, now part of the California Missions Foundation. He can be reached at slohistory@gmail.com