Summer 2007 - #10. THE LIGHTER SIDE OFTHE LAW Frederick Mehlman: Riding the Circuit with his Lawyer Uncle Changed his Dreams from Medicine to the Law.

Author:by Virginia C. Downs

Vermont Bar Journal


Summer 2007 - #10.

THE LIGHTER SIDE OFTHE LAW Frederick Mehlman: Riding the Circuit with his Lawyer Uncle Changed his Dreams from Medicine to the Law



THE LIGHTER SIDE OFTHE LAW Frederick Mehlman: Riding the Circuit with his Lawyer Uncle Changed his Dreams from Medicine to the Lawby Virginia C. DownsThe following profile of Frederick Mehlman is the twentieth in a series published in the Journal under the general title of "Yankee Justice." The profiles are based on thirty-eight interviews of members of the bench and bar conducted by free-lance writer and oral historian Virginia Downs in 1978 and 1979. The project was proposed at a meeting of an ad hoc committee of the Vermont bench and bar in April of 1978 to tie in with planned bicentennial celebrations of the state's legal beginnings in 1779. It was in that year that Stephen Bradley and Noah Smith were sworn in as Vermont's first official lawyers. The profiles include biographical material and anecdotes from the interviewees' legal activities.


"I'm often thought of as a Vermonter and I like to be thought of as one, but I'm a Canadian. I came to Vermont with my mother and father when I was a very few years-old to live with my mother's sister and her husband. His name was William Tracy and he was a lawyer in Chelsea. Some of the older members of the bar will remember him. He was a colorful character and along the way he acquired the nickname of "Wild Bill." My father was involved with the Parker and Stearns Lumber Mill and did other things, including having a farm. I grew up on a farm, but was also closely identified and spent a lot of time with my uncle who had this country law practice. I loved to drive an automobile and he did not enjoy doing it too much, so as soon as I was sixteen, I spent a lot of my time driving for him as he went around the circuit, so to speak, trying cases primarily in Lamoille County and a few other counties. In those days the sessions of the county courts were scheduled to start at a certain stated time. There would be, let's say in Lamoille County, the June term of the court and then perhaps the November term. In any event, there was very little activity within the courts between terms and the lawyers would arrive on whatever day the term started in June and they would try cases continuously right through until the docket was exhausted. This would take sometimes four, five or six weeks, and many of the attorneys, then with different forms of transportation, would stay in the local hotels. They were a gregarious and in some respects festive bunch.

"The house where we lived was a large old farmhouse. My father, mother and I lived in one part of it and my aunt and uncle in another part. There were perhaps sixteen rooms, so it was adequate for these purposes. It was also adequate for parties for many of the lawyers in Hyde Park, Johnson, or Morrisville. They used to do a lot of card playing. They played poker and a game which I never understood. I can't spell it, but phonetically it would be `Loo.'

"When I was very small, just two or three years-old, apparently there was a very festive occasion. It apparently awakened me, and there was some embarrassment, I was told later, among the lawyers that their activities had wakened me even though I was in a distant part of the house. So to make amends they agreed that the last pot of money would be used to start a bank account for me. And I still have that old bank account, with something like $3.83, opened in the Sterling Trust Company.

"How did I become a lawyer? It just seemed that I was identified with my uncle so much that people began saying, `Well, of course you'll be a lawyer.' Pretty soon I came to be one. Actually, I wanted to be a doctor. There was some medical involvement with our family long ago. I had a great aunt in Nova Scotia who was one of the first women doctors in that era. But be that as it may, because of the economics of the Depression and many things besides that, I wound up going through law school. I went to Boston University Law School and did it under an accelerated program which left me with some deficiencies which are continuously being pointed out by those who know about it. But nevertheless it worked. So far."


"When I was growing up in the little town of Johnson there was a very notorious and famous man--Judge Harland B. Howe. Many of the older lawyers will know him. The former clerk of the federal district court, Austin Kerin, wrote and published a small book on the various, more amusing and...

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