Technically, the history of the Eastern District of California begins when the district was formed on September 18, 1966. However, in order to understand the character and personality of the district, it is necessary to examine its roots and the circumstances that led to its formation.

When California was admitted to the Union in September of 1850, Congress divided the State into a northern and a southern judicial district, and authorized the appointment of one federal judge to preside in each district. Essentially, the dividing line between the two districts extended across the state just south of Stanislaus County. Everything above that line was in the Northern District, and everything below was in the Southern District. (Yosemite Park was in the Northern District.)

The Act directed the judge of the northern district to hold two regular sessions annually at San Francisco, and one regular session annually at San Jose, Sacramento, and Stockton.

The judge who was appointed to serve the northern district, Ogden Hoffman, had his courtroom and office in San Francisco. Because of the difficulties of travel, and the lack of any strong demand for a federal judicial presence outside of San Francisco, the law was modified in January of 1854 to abolish the court sessions in San Jose, Stockton, and Sacramento.

It was not until 1911 that federal court was again authorized to sit in Sacramento. Congress at that time restructured the two California districts by counties, and directed the court for the 41 northern counties to hold two terms annually in San Francisco and one term annually in Sacramento and Eureka. The Sacramento term was to be held on the second Monday in each April. By that time, there were three federal judges in the northern district, all of whom still maintained their offices in San Francisco.

At first, the annual Sacramento sessions were held in the old county courthouse and in the senate chamber of the State Capitol. A courtroom was later arranged in the former Post Office building at Seventh and K Streets. When a new Post Office building was constructed at 8th and I Streets in 1933, a large auspicious courtroom was put on the fourth floor for the federal court. Still, the judges who presided over the brief sessions in that courtroom were sent up from San Francisco.

In response to growing public sentiment for a greater federal judicial presence in California's capital, in May of 1938, Congress enacted a bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Buck of Sacramento, which authorized for the first time the appointment of a judge "whose official residence shall be Sacramento."

Martin I. Welsh

Martin I. Welsh was appointed by President Roosevelt on July 14, 1939. He was the first federal judge to reside and sit permanently in Sacramento.

Welch, a life long Democrat and prominent civic worker, was a natural candidate for the newly created position. Born in San Jose in 1882, he began his study of the law at Stanford University while working as a plumber and continued his legal education by reading books he obtained from the state library after moving to Sacramento in 1908.

In 1914, two years after he was admitted to the bar, Welch was appointed to the bench by Governor Hiram Johnson to finish an unexpired term on the Sacramento Superior Court. During the administration of President Woodrow Wilson, he served as a United States Commissioner (the predecessor of what is now a federal magistrate judge) for five years. He also served as a deputy district attorney, member of the Board of Education, member of the City Council and Mayor of Sacramento.

After running unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor on the Democratic ticket in 1930, Welch was again appointed to the Sacramento County Superior Court by Governor James Rolph, Jr. in 1932. He held that position until his appointment to the federal bench in 1939.

Having an official residence in Sacramento did not mean that Judge Welch held court only in Sacramento, however. Rather, he divided his time between Sacramento and San Francisco, as well as occasional sessions in other parts of the state. Looking back at the records, it appears that there was not enough work in Sacramento to keep Judge Welsh busy on a full time basis. Many of the published decisions involving his cases indicate that he was sitting in the Southern Division much of the time.

In his later years on the bench Judge Welsh's health began to fail and he retired to the Bay Area to live, after which his health improved, but he never returned to the bench after that. From the records, it appears that there were several months in later 1946 and early 1947 after Judge Welsh left, during which there was no resident District Judge in Sacramento.

Dal M. Lemmon

The next judge to reside and sit permanently in Sacramento was Judge Walsh's former colleague on the Sacramento County Superior Court bench, Dal Millington Lemmon. A native of Kansas, Judge Lemmon had moved to Santa Rosa, California with his family as a young boy. After receiving his bachelor's and law degrees from Stanford, he came to Sacramento in 1909 to be the State Law Librarian. He practiced law in a two member firm for 23 years before being appointed to the Superior Court in 1933. Although a Republican, he was appointed to the federal court by President Truman on February 17, 1947, and held down the fort in Sacramento for a little over 7 years, until he was elevated to the Court of Appeals by President Eisenhower on May 4, 1954.

Judge Halbert

Four months later, on September 16, 1954, the President appointed Judge Lemon's successor. He was a no-nonsense Superior Court Judge from Stanislaus County, who had served as a Deputy Attorney General for the State of California, a deputy district attorney in both Stanislaus and Tulare County, and District Attorney in Modesto. He had also engaged in the private practice of law in his home town of Porterville, and had been associated for a short time with the McCutchen firm in San Francisco. His name was Sherrill Halbert.

Judge MacBride

Judge Halbert sat as the only resident federal judge in Sacramento for the next seven years. By this time, the workload of the Northern Division of the Northern District had grown from the time of Judge Welsh, when there was not enough business to keep one judge occupied full time, to the point where it had become more than a single judge could handle. Soon after the court moved to its new quarters, a second judge was therefore authorized to sit full time in Sacramento.

A new, Democratic President having just been elected, the Democratic Congressional delegation in the Northern District of California focused its attention upon the young Democratic Assemblyman who had so successfully managed the Presidential campaign in Sacramento. President Kennedy readily accepted their recommendation, and on September 22, 1961 appointed him as the next United States District Judge in Sacramento. He was Thomas J. MacBride.

The court facilities in the Post Office Building were really only designed to house one District Judge. When Judge MacBride arrived, his courtroom and chambers were substantially smaller and more modest than those of Judge Halbert. Shortly after he moved into his new quarters, Judge MacBride proudly displayed his courtroom to Sacramento attorney Nat Colley. When Colley saw it he is said to have exclaimed, "Oh, this will never do." "Why?" Judge MacBride asked. "Well," replied Colley, "whenever I go to federal court I always charge my clients more money because they are convinced it is so much more important than the state court, but now, when they see this courtroom, I am not going to be able to do that any more."

650 Capitol Mall

Judge Halbert and Judge MacBride continued to sit in the Post Office until 1962, when the the court's new home at 650 Capitol Mall was completed. The building was built by GSA. Although they were certainly large enough, the new courtrooms were not as pretentious as Judge Halbert's courtroom at the old Post Office, and their design left a lot to be desired.

When Judge Halbert walked into his courtroom in the new building he found that the bench where the judge was to sit was constructed on the same level as the rest of the courtroom, so that when the judge sat down he would actually have to look up at the lawyers who were standing at the lectern to present their arguments. Needless to say, Judge Halbert demanded that the bench be appropriately elevated before he began hearing any cases in that courtroom.

Also, there was a door on each side of the judge's bench. On one side, the door lead to the jury deliberation room and the judge's chambers. On the other side, the door lead to the holding cell for the prisoners. The prisoners were brought to the holding cell by way of a stairway directly from the Marshal's offices downstairs, and they were brought out from the holding cell one at a time as their cases were called in the courtroom. In the process of bringing them out from the holding cell and returning them again, that door was constantly opening and closing during the course of a single criminal calendar. Since the calendar may last a while, and the prisoners may understandably become a little nervous while waiting for their court appearance, it was necessary to have appropriate restroom facilities in the holding cell. The first time they held a criminal calendar in the new courtroom, it became embarrassingly obvious that when the door to the holding cell opened the attorneys sitting at counsel table and half the audience had a clear view of the prisoner as he sat on the commode. It took a while, but the configuration of the door to the holding cell was eventually changed to correct the problem.

The building as a whole was considered a success, and for its time it was seen as one of the nicest buildings in Sacramento. Only the first two floors were occupied by the court family. The Probation Office, Marshal's Office, Court Reporters, and U.S. Commissioner (who was the predecessor to the U.S. Magistrates) were on the first floor, along with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Border Patrol, GSA, and of course the Cafeteria. The courtrooms, chambers, Grand Jury room, and Clerk's office were on the second floor, along with the U.S. Attorney's office and a lot of extra space. The rest of the building was occupied by other agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service, Congressional offices, and of course the Army Corps of Engineers, which seemed to absorb any and all available space not being otherwise used. The nice oak paneling in the courtrooms, and at first in the chambers as well, was Judge Halbert's idea. He preferred the oak to the darker paneling, because he felt it made the chambers and courtrooms seem more bright and spacious.


Judge MacBride and Judge Halbert had their chambers in spacious quarters on the north side of the second floor. And with only one law clerk and a crier (instead of two law clerks) each, the judges' chambers were even more spacious.

With the number of judges having just doubled, and the court now occupying its comfortable new facilities, one would have expected the court to have become complacent, sitting back to savor its newly acquired judicial resources. But that was far from the picture. The seeds of growth had been planted, and the court now had its sights on something bigger.

Chief Judge George Harris presided over the district from his chambers in San Francisco. There was little interaction between the judges in San Francisco and the Judges in Sacramento. The Clerk of the Court, James P. Welch, had his office in San Francisco. United States Attorney Cecil Poole and U.S. Marshal Ted Heslip ran their offices from San Francisco. The U.S. Attorney's office and Marshal's office in Sacramento were seen as understaffed and sometimes ignored by their parent offices in San Francisco.

This was a constant source of irritation to the judges in Sacramento. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, Judge Halbert was heard to complain that we in Sacramento were only "second class citizens". When Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Hatter (later Chief Judge of the U.S. District Judge in Los Angeles) came up from San Francisco to try a case, he recalled that Judge Halbert said to him, "I see that Mr. Poole has sent in another one of his city slickers to help us out."

A consensus began to develop among the constituency that the court in Sacramento had outgrown its dependence on San Francisco, and the judges in Sacramento were ready to assume independence.

Creation of the District

Before the Eastern District was established, those counties in the Northern District immediately surrounding the San Francisco Bay area were in the "Southern Division", and all of the remaining counties (including many of the costal counties north of San Francisco which are now part of the Northern District) were in the "Northern Division" of the Northern District. (Stanislaus County and Yosemite Park to the south, and Mendocino and Humboldt countities to the north, for example, were part of the "Northern Division".) Court for the Southern Division was held in San Francisco and San Jose; and court for the Northern Division was held in Sacramento.

The move to sever the Northern Division from the Northern District and to create a new district was part of a larger plan to break the two districts in California down into four districts. According to Judge MacBride, the individual primarily behind this movement was Chief Judge Richard Chambers, of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Through Judge Chambers' efforts in lobbying the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and the Judicial Conference of the United States, Congress on March 18, 1966, enacted Public Law 89-372, creating the Eastern District of California, effective six months later.

The Eastern District was essentially formed from what used to be the Northern Division of the Northern District and the Northern Division of the Southern District.

The Mechanics

Some precautions had to be taken in order to avoid the potential pitfalls in making the procedural transition to the new district. Under the sixth amendment, a defendant in a criminal case has a constitutional right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury "of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law". Thus, for example, a crime committed in Sacramento before September 18, 1966 would have been committed in the Northern District of California. A defendant charged with the commission of that crime would therefore have a constitutional right to be tried by a court and jury of that district. The indictment, even if filed after September 18, 1966 could not be prosecuted in the Eastern District of California, since that district was not "previously ascertained by law". Accordingly, even after the creation of the Eastern District, all indictments for crimes committed within the territorial boundaries of the new district prior to the date it was created were still captioned in the Northern District of California, Northern Division. The court in Sacramento continued to sit as the United States District Court for both the Northern and Eastern Districts. For crimes committed prior to September 18, 1966, it sat as the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Northern Division; and for crimes committed on or after September 18, 1966, it sat as the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.

Civil cases were different. By local rule, all civil cases which were pending in the Northern Division of the Northern District as of September 18, 1966 were automatically transferred to the Eastern District as of that date.

As of September 18, 1966, each Assistant U.S. Attorney of the Northern District who had previously been assigned to Sacramento office was reappointed as an Assistant U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of California, and each Assistant who had previously been assigned to the San Francisco office remained an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District. In order to assure that no case involving the Government was inadvertently prosecuted or defended by an Assistant U.S. Attorney from the wrong district, each Assistant in the new Eastern District was cross-designated as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District and vice versa. The same thing was done in Fresno, so that Assistant U.S. Attorneys out of the new Central District could continue to handle those Fresno cases that had to be prosecuted technically in the old Southern District.

Slip and Slide

The joining of the Northern Division of the Northern District with the Northern Division of the Southern District unwittingly united two old rivals. Judge MacBride was elected to the office of Senior Class President at the University of California School of Law, in Berkeley, with the campaign slogan, "Slip and slide with Tom MacBride." He won that election in a hard fought campaign against an opponent whose slogan was, "Rock 'er and sock 'er with Don Crocker." After more than 25 years, fate had again brought these two adversaries together.

Judge Crocker

Myron D. Crocker had been sitting as a District Judge in Fresno since he was appointed by President Eisenhower on September 21, 1959. Before his appointment he had been an FBI Agent, A Deputy District Attorney for Madera County, and a Justice Court and Superior Court Judge in Chowchilla.

Cosgrove, Beaumont and Jertberg

According to the records, there had been a judge sitting full time in Fresno since before the time Judge Welsh had been appointed to sit in Sacramento. George Cosgrove was appointed as a United States District Judge for the Southern District of California in April 8, 1930, and the records show him sitting in Fresno from 1931 to 1940. Not all of his time was consumed sitting in Fresno, however. The records also show that Campbell E. Beaumont was appointed on August 5, 1939 (three weeks after Judge Welsh was appointed) to sit in Fresno, and that both Judge Cosgrove and Judge Beaumont sat in Fresno until 1940, after which Judge Beaumont continued to sit in Fresno until he died on November 19, 1954. On April 4, 1955, President Eisenhower appointed Gilbert H. Jertberg to sit on the District Court in Fresno, until he was elevated to the Ninth Circuit on September 1, 1958. Judge Crocker succeeded him almost a year later.

U.S. Attorney and Marshal

The responsibility for appointing a United States Attorney and United States Marshal for the new district rested with President Lyndon Johnson.

John P. Hyland

As United States Attorney, he appointed a Visalia lawyer named John Hyland. He had been a Deputy District Attorney in Tulare County early in his career, and in his private practice he enjoyed a close affiliation with Democratic Congressman Harlan Hagen.

John Begovitch

As U.S. Marshal, he appointed a former State Senator from Amador County named John Begovitch. Begovitch, he fit perfectly into the public image of a U.S. Marshal, ten gallon hat, six-gun and all.

Clerk and Probation Officer

The responsibility for appointing a Clerk of the Court and Chief Probation Officer rested with the Court. As Clerk, the judges appointed William C. Robb, who had been the Deputy Clerk in charge of the Sacramento office before the district was formed. As Chief Probation Officer, the judges selected Richard C. Nicholson, who had been the senior probation officer in the Sacramento office before the District had been formed.

The First Day

September 18, 1966 was an exciting day. Bright and early that morning, the new U. S. Attorney John Hyland arrived in the office with his wife Catherine and his secretary, Lorraine Pine. The first task was to get the attorneys admitted to practice in the new District. A book had been set up in the Clerk's Office which was to form the roster of attorneys. It would have been a good idea for the first name in that book to be that of the new U.S. Attorney, and the names to follow should be those of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys of the new District in order of their seniority. It didn't happen quite that way though.

There were two Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the San Francisco office that used to come up regularly to try land condemnation cases. Their names were Larry Burbank, an attorney in the Lands Division, and Chuck Renda, Chief of the Lands Division who later became Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney here under Don Ayer (and after his retirement became the Regional Solicitor for the Department of Interior). Apparently, they had a running competition between them to see who could be admitted to practice in the most courts. Whether they had any real business in Sacramento that day or not, they showed up in the Clerk's office as soon as the doors opened, each determined to be the first to sign the roster.

That book has been preserved, and the list of attorneys admitted to practice in the district begins with the names A. Lawrence Burbank, Charles R. Renda, John P. Hyland, Rothwell B. Mason, William B. Shubb, and James J. Simonelli in that order.


When the district was formed, there were no U.S. Magistrates. Instead, there were U.S. Commissioners. They issued search and arrest warrants, tried petty offense cases, and held bail hearings in federal criminal cases on government reservations and elsewhere. There was no requirement that they be lawyers. The U.S. Commissioner in Sacramento was Gary V. Schaber, a non-lawyer and the brother of McGeorge School of Law's Dean Gordon D. Schaber. He continued to serve as Commissioner until the Magistrates Act was enacted on December 1, 1968, replacing the Commissioners with U.S. Magistrates and requiring that they be lawyers. Esther Mix, Judge Wilkin's former law partner was subsequently appointed as Sacramento's first U.S. Magistrate

In due course, the position was later redesignated as Magistrate Judge, and the district has since benefitted from the appointment of John Moulds, Gregory Hollows, Dennis Beck, Sandra Snyder, Peter Nowinski, Donald Pitts, Hollis Best, Dale Drozd, Lawrence O'Neill, Kimberly Mueller, Craig Kellison, William Wunderlich, Gary Austin, Theresa Goldner, Edmund Brennan, Jennifer Thurston, Kendall Newman, Michael Seng, Sheila Oberto, Barbara A. McAuliffe, Carolyn K. Delaney, Allison Claire, and Stanley Boone as magistrate judges.

Bankruptcy Judges

There were no Bankruptcy Judges either when the district was formed. Instead, there were Referees in Bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Referee in Sacramento was Bob Woodward, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. When the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 was later passed, he and those subsequently appointed referees became known as bankruptcy judges.

Federal Defender

Also, when the district was formed, there was no Federal Defender. Counsel was appointed for indigent defendants by going through the yellow pages of the phone book. At the time of arraignment (which was done in District Court, since there were no magistrates yet), if a defendant stated that he did not have the funds to employ counsel, the clerk simply selected the next name in order from the phone book. A good clerk exercised some discretion in skipping over the names of some attorneys and in the selection of attorneys in obviously complex cases. The process did serve to acquaint the courthouse staff with a number of probate, corporate and divorce lawyers into the court that might otherwise have never seen the inside of the federal courthouse, but it left something to be desired in the quality of representation afforded in many criminal cases.

In a move to enhance the quality of representation, the Office of the Federal Defender was created in 1971. E. Richard Walker was selected by the judges to be the first Federal Defender. He had been a law clerk to District Judge Oliver J. Carter of the Northern District, who had sat in Sacramento temporarily many times before the creation of the Eastern District, and he had served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Sacramento as well as the District Attorney of Trinity County and an Assistant Public Defender in Yolo County and a private attorney.

The new Federal Defender on the third floor was viewed with a great deal of suspicion by those in the U.S. Attorney's Office. It took Dick Walker a few years to gain their trust, by his selection and training of the Assistant Federal Defenders, the way they handled their cases, and their dealings with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Chief Judge Crocker

As the judge with the most seniority in the newly formed district, Judge Halbert would have been its first Chief Judge. However, because of family health problems at the time, he turned down the position, and Judge Crocker, as second in tenure, became the first Chief Judge of the district.

Chief Judge MacBride

After a few months as an administrator, Judge Crocker decided to return to judging as his chief avocation, and passed the Chief Judge's baton to his old classmate, Judge MacBride on June 20, 1967.

Judge MacBride's tenure as Chief Judge lasted more than eleven years, to January 15, 1979, shortly before he took senior status on March 25, 1979. He served as Chief Judge of this district longer than any other judge ever has or ever will, since the term of a Chief Judge has now been limited to seven years.

Judge Wilkins

Judge MacBride's tenure saw Judge Halbert take senior status on September 30, 1969. Sacramento attorney Philip C. Wilkins, former President of the County Bar Association, was appointed on December 18, 1969, to fill Judge Halbert's position. Judge Wilkins later became our third Chief Judge on January 15, 1979 and served until he took senior status on January 27, 1983.

New Judges

Judge Wilkins' tenure as Chief Judge witnessed what may have been the most significant transition in the history of the district. In 1978, Congress doubled the number of District Judges authorized for the Eastern District of California. Much of the credit for this belongs to Judge MacBride. During his term as Chief Judge, he had been actively campaigning for additional judges in Sacramento, pointing out to the Administrative Office and the Judicial Council that for three consecutive years the judges in this district had the highest weighted caseload of any judge in the United States. When it began to appear that his efforts might be successful, Congressman Bernie Sisk in Fresno joined the fight and sought approval for another judge to sit in Fresno as well. Accordingly, two new judicial slots were authorized in Sacramento and one in Fresno.

The authorization for the new judges coincided closely with Judge MacBride's taking senior status, so President Jimmy Carter had the unprecedented opportunity to appoint a total of four judges in this district.

Judges Karlton, Schwartz, Ramirez and Price

To fill Judge MacBride's slot, the President selected a Sacramento County Superior Court Judge named Lawrence Karlton, who had been a well known ACLU attorney before going on the bench. To fill the two new positions in Sacramento, he selected attorney Milton L. Schwartz, a former member of the Sacramento School Board who had helped found one of Sacramento's largest and most prestigious law firms, McDonough, Holland, Allen & Schwartz; and Sacramento Municipal Court Judge Raul A. Ramirez.

To fill the newly created position in Fresno, he selected Edward Dean Price, a United States Magistrate and private practitioner from Modesto.

Judge Karlton was appointed on July 24, 1979; and Judges Schwartz, Price, and Ramirez were appointed soon thereafter in November and December of 1979 and May of 1980, respectively. In the course in those few short months, the political complexion of the district changed from a court of predominantly Republican appointees to one of predominantly Democratic appointees.

Chief Judge Karlton & Judge Garcia

When Judge Wilkins took senior status on January 27, 1983, the Chief Judge's mantle went to Judge Karlton. On March 14, 1984, President Reagan appointed a former Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney, Chief Deputy D.A., Municipal Court Judge and Chief Municipal Court Judge by the name of Edward J. Garcia to fill Judge Wilkins' position.


2001 United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Historical Society.