By Mark Gutglueck
Two of San Bernardino County’s more illustrious practitioners of law, Stanley Mussell and John King, were associated with one another, though Mussell was some 19-and-a-half years older than King
Stanley Wright Mussell was born in Manitoba, Canada, on March 30, 1890. In 1898, he moved to California where he attended grammar school in Artesia and later high school in Redlands. The vast majority of his professional career was that of a public servant. He worked for a time as a deputy sheriff for San Bernardino County.
He graduated from the University of Southern California with his law degree in 1914. Shortly before Mussell entered law school, on October 18, 1909 John Lewis King was born in Upland.
Mussell began practicing law in Los Angeles immediately after graduating from USC Law School, but later that year relocated his practice to Victorville. Subsequently he went to work as a deputy district attorney for San Bernardino County.
In the meantime, King was growing up in San Bernardino County’s West End. He attended and graduated from Chaffey High School, where he was student body president and chosen as the school’s representative to the national oratorical competition. He matriculated at the University of Redlands.
In 1930, Mussell was elected San Bernardino County District Attorney.
In 1930 and 1931, while attending the University of Redlands, John King was a finalist in the Phi Kappa Delta national collegiate oratory competition and took first place in the western regional competition. Redlands University still maintains in its academic trophy case silver bowls and trophies awarded to John Lewis King for winning national debate and oratory tournaments.
After graduating in 1931, King attended Stanford Law School. But because his wife was teaching school in Brawley in Imperial County, he transferred to and graduated from the University of Southern California School of Law. Upon passing the bar, King was hired by Mussell as a deputy prosecutor in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
In 1933, Mussell became the focus of controversy when during the trial of Benito Reyes, who was accused of killing Antonio Celis on December 5, 1932 in what was then described as the “village” of Cucamonga where they both resided, the district attorney told the jury, “All of the circumstances . . . point unquestionably towards the guilt of this defendant. And, what is the other side of the picture? Well, the State’s case stands absolutely unchallenged . . . All of these facts stand before you uncontradicted and undenied and unchallenged. No explanation by any sworn testimony. There is no denial of any of the substantial facts in this case.” Mussell added, “Mexicans are peculiar; they are a stoical race. They can face death unflinchingly, the average Mexican can, and perhaps that is why they can take other lives unflinchingly and quite calmly.”
Subsequent to Reyes’ conviction, the case was appealed by defense attorneys who said Mussell’s statement relating to the nationality of the defendant prejudiced the jury. The appellate court, however, ruled, “A careful and full investigation of the record convinces us that there were no substantial errors in the admission of evidence; that the jury was fully and fairly instructed; and that defendant was convicted after a full, fair and impartial trial.”
In 1934, Mussell was reelected district attorney. In 1937, however, he resigned as district attorney to create what would become one of San Bernardino’s most prestigious law firms, Duckworth, Harrison & Mussell.
At the end of his tenure as district attorney, Mussell’s office prosecuted Harry Herrick, a San Bernardino dry cleaner for undercutting the prices charged by other dry cleaners and laundry owners in the city for the service he provided. In 1937, the City of San Bernardino had enacted an ordinance setting “a code of fair competition for the cleaning and dyeing industry in the city,” which set a minimum price for various services to be performed by persons engaged in that industry, including a minimum price for cleaning and pressing a man’s suit. It made a violation thereof “a misdemeanor punishable by fine not exceeding $500, or by imprisonment in the city jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”
When Herrick charged his customers a price below the minimum set by the city, he was arrested and prosecuted and thereupon convicted. He appealed his case. That appeal was heard after Mussell was no longer district attorney. The appellate court, citing a similar ordinance relating to barber pricing in which a barber who had charged less than the specified minimum had been convicted but exonerated upon appeal, likewise vacated Herrick’s conviction.
Within two years, Mussell lured King to join the Duckworth, Harrison & Mussell firm. After Ben Harrison was appointed to the federal court, the firm became known as Duckworth, Mussell & King.
In 1939, Mussell weighed in on local San Bernardino Politics. He supported an amendment to the city’s charter which set police officers’ salaries at a level comparable to police officers in other similarly sized cities.
“I believe that the police officers in San Bernardino are underpaid,” Mussell said. “I therefore favor the adoption of City Charter Amendment Number 1 establishing a minimum salary.” That charter provision, known as Section 186, in recent years has been in the news as a majority of current city officials are trying to rescind it.
During World War II, Mussell served as an appeal agent for the selective service draft.
King served in the U.S. Army from September 1942 to July 1945. He was initially assigned to Washington D.C. as an assistant in charge of criminal litigation for the Office of Price Administration, prosecuting wartime profiteers.
Subsequently, King was sent to officer candidate and training school, where he was the commencement speaker for the graduating class. Thereafter he attended the Army Air Force’s Combat Intelligence School. While stationed in Austin, Texas with the Air Corps’ intelligence division, he lectured civilians and squadrons of the 89th Troop Carrier Group regarding the political rise of the Nazi party in Germany and the growth of the German military. One such speech was entitled, “Background of War.” In late 1945, having attained the rank of major, he was discharged.
By this point, Stanley Mussell was the vice president of the State Bar Association and a member of its board of governors.
After returning to Southern California and San Bernardino County, King took up again with Duckworth, Mussell & King, but shortly thereafter, when Stanley Mussell was appointed to the San Bernardino County Superior Court, he left that firm, going into practice with Stanley Mussell, Jr., forming the firm of King & Mussell.
On August 14, 1948, Governor Earl Warren appointed Stanley Mussell, Sr. as an associate justice to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, replacing Justice Emerson J. Marks, and he took the oath of office the same day.
With the firm of King & Mussell, John King became an even brighter luminary in the San Bernardino County legal community than he had been previously, handling all order of civil cases. Eventually, the majority of his work was defending personal injury cases. He represented nearly every major insurance carrier in the region, but he represented plaintiffs against insurance companies as well. He continued to handle criminal cases occasionally and became recognized as one of the best criminal defense attorneys in California. In time, his law firm hired young attorneys who would become stars of the legal profession in their own right, such as C.L. Vineyard, Bruce Maclachlan, and Florentino Garza.
John King was one of the earliest inductees into the American College of Trial Lawyers. In 1953, at the age of 43, he became the first attorney from San Bernardino County inducted into that august organization. He was also a member of the International Association of Defense Counsel.
Stanley Mussell was an associate justice of the appellate court from August 14, 1948 until January 4, 1960, when he retired and was replaced by Martin J. Coughlin of San Bernardino. Mussell served as a member on the Judicial Council for two years.
King further burnished his reputation into the 1960s as the region’s premier trial attorney. He could be ruthless in portraying police officers as having cut corners in their investigations or placing half-truths or outright lies into police reports. On those days when he would give a final argument for a case in court, many spectators would often attend, a significant number of whom were other lawyers.
For much of the 1960s, Stanley Mussell remained active in many fraternal organizations. Though he was nearly two decades older than John King, he outlived the young lawyer he had helped mentor by nearly three years.
On October 19, 1967, while in the midst of a final argument, John Lawrence King suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He died the next day. King’s legal legacy would live on. He had two children. His daughter, Jennifer, became a court reporter. His son, Jeffrey, was later a lawyer, a councilman and mayor of Rancho Cucamonga, a San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge and today is a sitting justice on the Court of Appeals, Fourth District.
On June 25, 1970, Stanley Mussell died at his home in La Jolla.