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DECISIONS IN PROBATE
JAMES V. COFFEY, JUDGE
IN AND FOR THE
CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO,
STATE OF CALIFORNIA
TIMOTHY J. LYONS AND EDMUND TAUSZKY,
LR DEMPSTER & CO
SAN FRANCISCO, CAL
By the California Constitution of 1849, as originally adopted, the County Judge in each County of the State was authorized to perform the duties of Surrogate or Probate Judge, and the Legislature from time to time enacted laws prescribing the duties and defining the powers of the County Judge in probate matters.
With the exception of the City and County of San Francisco, this system prevailed in each of the Counties of the State until the Constitution of 1879 went into operation.
By amendments to the Constitution of 1849, adopted in 1862, and an Act of the Legislature passed in 1863, by virtue thereof, the Probate Court of San Francisco came into existence and superseded the jurisdiction of the County Judge therein in probate proceedings.
By the Constitution of 1879 the Probate and County Courts were abolished, and jurisdiction in probate was vested in the Superior Court throughout the State.
The Hon. Maurice C. Blake was the first Probate Judge co nomine in San Francisco. He acted as such from January 1, 1864, to December 31, 1867. He was succeeded by the Hon. Selden S. Wright, who held the office from January 1, 1868, to December 31, 1871. From January 1, 1872, to December 31, 1879, the Hon. Milton H. Myrick presided over the Probate Court.
The Constitution of 1879 went into full operation on January 1, 1880. By virtue thereof there are twelve Judges of the Superior Court in San Francisco, and the Court is divided into twelve Departments.
The original division of business among the twelve Departments was as follows: To Departments 1 to 8, inclusive, was assigned ordinary Civil business: to Department 9, Probate matters; to Department 10, Insolvency and Special proceedings ; and to Departments 11 and 12, Criminal causes. From time to time, as the exigencies of the business of the Court required, the Presiding Judge has assigned criminal business to other Departments, and a portion of the probate business to Department 10; but none other than probate business has ever been assigned to Department 9, and that Department has been distinctively, since 1880, the Probate Court of San Francisco.
As illustrating the increase of business in the probate forum of San Francisco, it may be noted that for the period of thirty years preceding the new Constitution the number of probate causes was under 10,000, whereas in the thirteen years that have elapsed since its adoption, 15,000 distinct probate causes are registered in the Clerk's office.
The Hon. John F. Finn was the first Judge to preside in this Probate Department; he did so from January 1, 1880, to September 1, 1883, when he exchanged Departments with the Hon. James V. Coffey (who was then presiding in Department 3), and the latter has continuously presided in the Probate Department since that time.
The probate jurisdiction is much more extensive in California than in many other States. The Probate Judge has exclusive jurisdiction of the probate of wills, the administration of all estates, as well of testates as of intestates, and of real as well as personal property ; the appointment of guardians for infants and persons of unsound mind, and the management of the property of such infants and incompetents.
In many instances no appeal lies from the orders of the Probate Judge, the law thus making his decisions final in such cases. In numerous others, the Supreme Court has never been called upon to review his decisions ; of such there are a number of cases of contested wills in which instructions to juries were given which were prepared with great care and are of permanent legal value. There are also numerous cases in which interesting and important points of probate law and practice have been decided by Judge Coffey, and which decisions have become authority.
These remarks as to the extensive scope of the California probate law and the administration of it by the nisi prius Judge are applicable to the entire Pacific Coast, inasmuch as the probate statutes of the Coast States are largely based upon the California Codes and Statutes,
The only other publication containing exclusively probate decisions rendered in this State is “Myrick's Probate Reports," in which are to be found decisions of Judge Myrick, rendered while he presided in the Probate Court, from 1872 to 1879. A portion of the foregoing historical review bas been adopted from the Preface to Judge Myrick's Reports.
The decisions of Judge Coffey have been published from time to time in the San Francisco Law Journal, and from the extensive manner in which they have been cited and accepted as authority, and the constantly expressed desire of the Bench and Bar of the State for their permanent publication, as well as by reason of their inherent merit, the editors confidently believe that they are doing a service to the profession by reproducing them in authoritative form.
In the hope and expectation that these decisions will aid both Bench and Bar in establishing and maintaining a uniformity of practice and decision in many matters of probate law throughout the Pacific Coast, this work is submitted to the candid judgment of an appreciative profession.
San Francisco, November, 1894.