FRANK HARRIS HISCOCK

(1856-1946)
Ex officio: 1906-1913
Court of Appeals: 1914-1926
Chief Judge: 1917-1926
by Albert M. Rosenblatt and Timothy M. Kerr
Frank Harris Hiscock

On October 22, 1879, Frank Hiscock and Mary Elizabeth Barnes were married at the Barnes Homestead, 930 James Street in Syracuse. Both were 23 years old. Fifty years later the couple celebrated the event at the same location, which in the ensuing half century had become known as the Hiscock home. The "bride" again wore the same bustle back gown of white satin with its lace frill collar and pleated rouche trimmed stiffened train, flaring from a pearl pendant head fringe embroidered front panel.1

A great deal had happened over the 50 year span. The couple had four children and several grandchildren. Frank Hiscock would become the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals and Chairman of the Board of Cornell University. In the 17 years following his golden wedding anniversary, Judge Hiscock would continue to prosper, passing away at age 90, one of the State's most accomplished and admired figures.

Frank Harris Hiscock was born on April 16, 1856 in Tully, Onondaga County, New York, the son of Luther Harris Hiscock (1824-1868) and Lucy Bridgman. Hiscock's father was a Syracuse lawyer and a delegate to the 1867 New York State Constitutional Convention. His grandfather, Richard Hiscock, fought in the Revolutionary War.

From age eleven, young Frank was raised by his uncle Frank Hiscock (1834-1914), who served as Onondaga County District Attorney from 1859 to 1861 and United States Senator from 1887 to 1893. He, too, was a delegate to the 1867 Convention.

Young Frank showed academic promise, graduating from Cornell with high honors in 1875 when he was only 19. He obtained his law degree from Columbia. Two years later, he was admitted to the bar and began law practice in Syracuse with his uncle Frank, the firm being called Hiscock, Doheny & Hiscock. His rise in the profession and the community was swift, but always in tandem with his long and felicitous association with Cornell. In 1889 he was elected to Cornell's Board of Trustees and in 1896 Governor Levi P. Morton appointed him to the Supreme Court, Fifth Judicial District.2 Later that year, as a Republican, he was elected for a full term. On January 4, 1900, Governor Theodore Roosevelt named him to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department,3 where he served until 1906.

Appointed by Governor Frank W. Higgins as a Supreme Court Justice (Appellate Division) on the Court of Appeals, Judge Hiscock served ex officio from 1906 through 1912. In 1912 he was defeated for a seat on the court4 (William H. Cuddeback and John W. Hogan were elected) but won in 1913. He was elected Chief Judge in 1916 and served in that capacity until his retirement from the court in 1926. His decade as chief was no ordinary one. The structure and administrative conditions of the court, exacerbated by demands made upon it in a growing commercial and industrial era, left it with a backlog of 1400 cases in 1917. By 1923 the backlog was eliminated.5

This illustrated not only Chief Hiscock's remarkable administrative skills but the respect and affection his colleagues must have had for him in subscribing to his leadership and initiatives. He was well honored on his retirement.6 Vigorous at 70, Judge Hiscock continued to thrive and, three years later in 1929, was elected President of the New York State Bar Association and again for the following year and the year after that. His bar association speeches, always geared toward improvement of the law and its processes, were models of high-mindedness and modesty. Unfailingly, he would praise others for their help.

Through his 70's and 80's Judge Hiscock remained active in judicial affairs, serving as Court of Appeals Referee, and in civic and community roles, including the vice-presidency of the Layman's League of his (Unitarian) church. In recognition of his public service he was awarded honorary degrees by Williams College, Columbia University, and Syracuse University.

In 1928, at age 72, he spoke out against raising standards of the Bar so high that it would become a closed guild of intellectuals and keep out those other valued qualities. "'A phi beta kappa key,' he said, 'does not mean that the young university graduate will become a good lawyer.'"7 At 74, he was chosen as permanent chairman of the Republican State Convention,8 and at 76, strongly and publically endorsed Judge Charles B. Sears for the Court of Appeals.9

Two months before his death, Judge Hiscock resigned from the Cornell Board of Trustees after almost half a century of service, 22 as Chairman, from 1917 to 193810. The University accepted his resignation effective April 16, 1946, his 90th birthday.

Judge Hiscock's jurisprudence shows him to have been both a product and a leader of his times. In 1927, shortly after Judge Hiscock's retirement from the Court, Judge Leonard Crouch (Court of Appeals 1932-1936) described the period from the 1890s through the 1920s, not surprisingly, as one of social and economic changes leading to groundbreaking legal shifts, shifts in which Judge Hiscock played an integral role.11 Judge Hiscock began his time on the Court with the doctrinaire legal philosophy common to his generation -- and evidenced by his 1907 vote with the majority in People v. Williams,12 a case in which the Court, on freedom of contract grounds, overturned a statute limiting women factory workers' hours.

By 1915, however, Judge Hiscock would write one opinion for the Court sustaining a similar regulation as a reasonable exercise of the state's police powers,13 and another, based on similar reasoning, upholding a statute requiring certain employers to provide workers with a day of rest a week.14 While People v. Schweinler Press,15 the women workers' hours case, will likely strike the reader as sexist, it was quite a bold move forward for its time. Likewise, Judge Hiscock's reasoning in Klinck Packing,16 the day-of-rest case, made it clear that the Legislature's power to regulate employment in the interest of public health was the issue, not religion. At the time, in order to come to such conclusions in these and similar cases, it was necessary to distinguish the infamous Lochner v. New York,17 in which the United States Supreme Court subordinated the States' benevolent police powers in favor of private contracts.

On a similar vein, Matter of Wulfsohn v. Burden,18 which Judge Hiscock wrote in 1926, firmly established the Legislature's ability to authorize local zoning regulations as well as local governments' power to promulgate and enforce them. On the domestic relations front, however, Judge Hiscock also authored Hawkins v. Hawkins,19 in which the Court refused to grant a divorce to mutually adulterous spouses on the theory that the wrongdoers deserved one another. Thus, some of Judge Hiscock's writings reflect the more old-fashioned attitudes of the time (notably, the relative physical weakness of women was a part of his reasoning in Schweinler Press). However, for a Judge on the bench during a period of great transition, this may simply reflect a "disposition to be progressive, but to be so cautiously."20

After a career filled with public service in the law and in education, Judge Hiscock died on July 2, 1946, in Syracuse. The obituaries reflect the extraordinary esteem in which he was held. They speak of his singular accomplishments and convey the impression that his natural endowments and family ties gave him opportunities and he made the most of them. The obituaries and biographical accounts, however, omit a shocking event that must have had a profound influence on him. Perhaps because of journalistic etiquette of the day, or the wish to spare Judge Hiscock unnecessary anguish, no mention is made of the circumstances surrounding his father's death.

When young Frank was eleven, his father Luther Harris Hiscock, a Syracuse lawyer, was shot to death by General George W. Cole. The shooting took place on June 4, 1867 in the public reception room of Stanwix Hall, a prominent hotel in Albany.21 In front of a host of witnesses, General Cole fired at close range, saying that Hiscock "violated my wife while I was at the war; the evidence is clear, I have the proof." At the time, the event was momentous and widely reported, owing to the prominence of the parties. The case, which resulted in two trials - the first a hung jury and the second an acquittal by reason of momentary insanity - was the subject of several books and articles.

Judge Hiscock's legacy lives on in Onondaga County. Today, in Syracuse, the Legal Aid Society bears his name. The Society was founded in 1949. Initial funding was provided by the Syracuse Foundation, Inc. from a bequest of Judge Hiscock. The Frank H. Hiscock Legal Aid Society is "[d]edicated to the principle that no one in Onondaga County shall be denied justice because of a lack of means."

PROGENY

Judge Hiscock and his wife Mary Elizabeth, who died on April 17, 1937, at age 80, had four children: Rebecca Cornelia (1880-1896), Helen Lucy (1882-1978), George Barnes (1890-1975), and Luther Harris (1893-1975). Helen Lucy married William Eager; the couple had no children. George Barnes Hiscock married Genevieve Saxer and had two children: Henrietta Hiscock Gottschalk (1910- ) and Frank Hiscock II (1919- ), both of Skaneateles. Luther Hiscock married Dorothy Neal and was the father of Reba M. Hiscock Pierce (1920-1997) and Allie Hiscock Laupheimer (1922-1996). There are many offspring, descending five generations after the judge. The family historians, so to speak, are Robert Maguire and his wife, Diane Hopkins Pierce, who supplied a great deal of the family information for this volume. Robert Maguire is the great-grandson of Judge Hiscock, the son of Reba M. Hiscock and her husband John Sells Pierce. The Maguires live in Bonita Springs, Florida.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED

2 Lawson, The Adjudged Cases, Defenses to Crime, p. 270-284, Whitney & Company, San Francisco, 1885.

3 Chester, Legal and Judicial History of New York, p. 40, National Americana Society, 1911.

Judge Hogeboom's Charge to the Jury reported in 7 Abbott's Practice Reports (N.S.) 321, Donovan, Modern Jury Trials and Advocates, G.A. Jennings Company, Inc., New York, 1924.

Crouch, Judicial Tendencies of the New York Court of Appeals During its Incumbency of Chief Judge Hiscock, Cornell L. Q., Vol XII, No. 2, February 1927.

Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 4, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1974.

Eminent Members of the Bench and Bar, p. 21, C.W. Taylor, Publishers, San Francisco, 1943.

In Memoriam, 295 NY xiii, September 30, 1946.

New York Herald Tribune, Obituary, July 4, 1946.

New York Times , Obituary, Apr. 17, 1937, p. 17 (Mrs. Hiscock).

New York Times, Obituary, Jul. 3, 1946, p. 21 (Judge Hiscock).

New York Times, Jul. 8, 1923, p. 3.

New York Times, Jun. 2, 1923, p. 2 (speaking out against the double jeopardy provisions of the Prohibition law and criticizing Governor Al Smith).

New York Times, Oct. 14, 1916, p. 10 (endorsement for chief judge).

New York Times, Oct. 31, 1913, p. 10 (endorsement).

Paddock, History of Police Service of Albany from 1609-1902, Police Beneficiary Association of Albany, New York, 1902.

Papers Before the Medico-Legal Society of New York, Rev Ed, McDivitt, Campbell & Company, New York, 1874.

Presentation of Kent Memorial Tablet, 10 A.B.A. J. 851, 854 (1924).

Remarkable Trials of All Countries, Volume II, S.S. Peloubet & Company, New York, 1882.

Revolutionary War Soldiers, Towns of Pompey and Lafayette, New York, http://www.rootsweb.com/~nyononda/POMPEY/REVWAR.HTM.

See, Generally, A Great Trial, Central Law Journal 377, July 30, 1874.

Who Was Who in America, Volume 2, 1943-1950, A.N. Maquis Company, Chicago, 1963.

The Onondaga County Historical Society, whom we thank for their help, has five boxes of papers and materials relating to Judge Hiscock.

 

PUBLISHED WRITINGS INCLUDE:

Some Features of the Organization and Work of the Court of Appeals, 27 Cornell L.Q. 307 (1941-1942).

Cuthbert W. Pound: An Appreciation, 21 Cornell L.Q. 1 (1935-1936).

Speech as President of the New York State Bar Association, 54th Annual Meeting, January 16-17, 1931, p. 302-305.

Speech as President of the New York State Bar Association, 53rd Annual Meeting, January 17-18, 1930, p. 100-115.

Speech as President of the New York State Bar Association, 52nd Annual Meeting, January 18-19, 1929, p. 506-507.

Court of Appeals of New York: Some Features of Its Organization and Work, 14 Cornell L. Q. 131 (1928-1929).

Criminal Law and Procedure in New York, 26 Columbia L. Rev. 253 (1926).

Progressiveness of New York Law, 9 Cornell L.Q. 371 (1924).

 

ENDNOTES

  1. October 1929 Syracuse newspaper article (no date or newspaper name given).
  2. New York Times, Sept. 5, 1895, p. 9 (with artist sketch).
  3. New York Times, Jan. 4, 1900, p. 5.
  4. The New York Times endorsed him (see New York Times, Oct. 10, 1912, p. 10), as did the New York State Bar (see New York Times, Nov. 1, 1912, p. 12).
  5. New York State Bar Assoc. Report, 1927, pp. 214-217; Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, February 28, 1924; New York Times, Jun. 15, 1923, p. 8..
  6. New York Times, Dec. 19, 1926, p. 12; Dec. 31, 1926, p. 14; Jan. 9, 1927, p. E2.
  7. New York Times, Oct. 25, 1928, p. 36.
  8. New York Times, Sep. 1, 1930, p. 2.
  9. New York Times, Nov. 2, 1934, p. 15.
  10. Ithaca Journal, November 1, 1938.
  11. Leonard C. Crouch, Judicial Tendencies of the Court of Appeals During the Incumbency of Chief Judge Hiscock, 12 Cornell L.Q. 137 (1927).
  12. 189 N.Y. 131 (1907).
  13. People v. Schweinler Press, 214 N.Y. 395 (1915).
  14. People v. C. Klinck Packing Co., 214 N.Y. 121 (1915).
  15. Schweinler Press, 214 N.Y. at 395.
  16. Klinck Packing, 214 N.Y. at 121.
  17. 198 U.S. 45 (1905).
  18. 241 N.Y. 288 (1925).
  19. 193 N.Y. 409 (1908).
  20. Crouch, supra note 3, 4, 10 at 150.
  21. The Syracuse (NY) Journal, June 5, 1867. Luther Harris Hiscock was in Albany as a member of the Constitutional Convention.