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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  16
- Courts and Legal Profession


(-as transcribed from pages 262 - 264 )

The Constitution of 1848 divided the state of Wisconsin into five judicial circuits.  Chippewa county, which then embraced territory extending from La Pointe county on the north to Crawford county on the south, except what was embraced in St. Croix county, was attached to Crawford county for judicial purposes.  In 1850 the sixth circuit was formed in part out of territory in Chippewa, and in 1854 the remainder of Chippewa county was divided to form in part the eighth circuit.  As late as 1857, this circuit included the counties of Eau Claire, Chippewa, Dunn, St. Croix, La Pointe and Douglas.

Its first judge was S. S. N. Fuller, whose term extended from January, 1855, to 1860.  He was truly a pioneer judge, but a very indifferent lawyer.

In the spring of 1859, L. P. Weatherby, a Hudson lawyer, was elected to succeed Judge Fuller, who early in the fall resigned.  Governor Randall appointed the late Judge Barron to fill Judge Fuller's unexpired term.

Judge Barron was not a noted lawyer, and three months was not a sufficient time in which to achieve a judicial record.  it is but simple justice, however, to his memory to observe that he was a most striking illustration of what is not unusual, that a very ordinary lawyer may make an excellent judge.  Judge Barron was subsequently judge of the Eleventh circuit.

Judge Weatherby came to the bench in January, 1860, as a code lawyer, which his immediate predecessor was not.  This was a great advantage to most of the members of the bar then in Northwestern Wisconsin, as the code practice had then been but recently adopted by the state, and the practice was new to them.

The guerrilla and skirmishing practice, tolerated in Judge Fuller's court, was allowed no quarter in his successor's the effect of which was, during his term, to make a number of reputable lawyers in this circuit.  Judge Weatherby was an able lawyer and fortunately possessed an admirable judicial temperament.

In 1864 the eleventh circuit was formed, which detached from the eighth the counties of Ashland, Burnet (sic), Dallas, Polk and La Pointe. In 1865 Dallas county, name since changed to Barron, was attached to the eighth.  In 1876 Chippewa county and Barron county were detached from it and attached to the eleventh.  H. L. Humphrey, of Hudson, was the immediate successor of Judge Weatherby, and proved a very successful and popular judge, till his political friends demanded his retirement to become a member of Congress.  He was succeeded in 1878 by E. B. Bundy, of Menomonie, who was successfully re-elected until 1896, when he was defeated by Eugene Helms.  However, at this date the county of Eau Claire had been detached from the eighth circuit, but his long term of service attests his fitness and integrity as a judge.

In 1876 the thirteenth circuit was formed from the counties of Buffalo and Trempealeau from the sixth and Eau Claire county from the eighth.

A. W. Newman, of Trempealeau, became its judge in 1877, but in 1878 the counties of Buffalo and Eau Claire were detached from the thirteenth circuit and attached to the eighth, and Judge Newman was left judge of the thirteenth with the counties of Clark, Monroe, Jackson, La Crosse and Vernon added thereto by the act of 1878.  He remained judge of the thirteenth till, through his famous decision in the state interest cases and the popularity which he achieved thereby, he was elevated to the bench of the Supreme Court in 1894.

The restiveness of the Eau Claire bar under the fact that it had not a resident judge, and some dissatisfaction among a part of its leading members, led to the formation of the seventeenth circuit in 1891, composed of the counties of Eau Claire, Jackson and Clark.

Although the circuit was strongly Republican, local influences were so favorable to Judge Bailey that he defeated James O'Neill, of Clark county, and came to the bench in 1892.  During his incumbency he brought much judicial learning to the discharge of his official duties, but enjoyed the writing of law works, to which he has since given much time.

Judge Bailey was succeeded by James O'Neill, who was elected, and assumed the duties of office in January, 1898.  The present incumbent, Judge James Wickham, was elected in 1909, when the district was changed from the seventeenth to the nineteenth circuit, which is now composed of the counties of Eau Claire, Chippewa, Rusk and Sawyer.

The first trial upon an indictment for a capital offense which had ever occurred in Eau Claire county, was that of Charles Naither for the murder of Andrew Seitz on the evening of April 30, 1858.  The two men, Germans, lived together, and Seitz upbraided Naither for neglecting to wash the dishes after eating supper.  An altercation ensued and he was thrown downstairs.  He went and purchased a knife and returned to the rooms Seitz and he occupied over the office of the receiver of public money, on Eau Claire street.  After a war of words had ensued, and Naither was again ejected from the room, the parties  clinched over the threshold of the door and in an instant Naither plunged his knife into the abdomen of Seitz.  He died from the wound on May 11 following.  The trial took place at the June term of the circuit court.  The accused was unable to employ counsel, and Mr. Alexander Meggett was assigned to that duty.  Judge S. S. N. Fuller presided.  District Attorney Bartlett and Mr. George Mulks conducted the prosecution.  The jury were unable to agree upon a verdict and were discharged.  On a second trial the prisoner was found guilty of manslaughter int he third degree and sentence to four years and twenty days' imprisonment in the penitentiary with hard labor.  Two years afterward Gov. Alex W. Randall pardoned him out.

The second murder occurred in September, 1864.  A man by the name of Sloan, a resident of the town of Seymour, in Eau Claire county, got into an altercation with John Stoepler.  In a fit of passion, he picked up a maple stick and struck Sloan over the head with it, fracturing his skull.  The result was death.  Stoepler was immediately arrested and indicted.  He was held for trial on April 6, 1865.  The district attorney, W. P. Bartlett, conducted the prosecution, assisted by Horace W. Barnes and N. B. Boyden, but the evidence against him was conclusive, and he was found guilty of murder int he third degree and sentenced to three yeas and a half and one day's solitary confinement in the state prison, but he was recommended by many influential citizens to executive clemency, and two years of his term were remitted.

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