The Chambers court


By Dwight Williamson - Guest Columnist



“This court wants it known he respects and believes in a Supreme Being. Men since the beginning of the world have sought this Supreme Being by holding religious worship in various places.”—-Logan Judge C.C. Chambers in his first courtroom address January 13, 1937.

The longest serving circuit judge in the interesting history of Logan County wasted no time setting the tone for what he believed should be the people’s agenda, following his being elected in November of 1936. Chester “Cush” Chambers, a Democrat, would for the remainder of his life fight a never ending conservative battle in what had already become an effervescent and wicked county: a growing county full of people from all walks of life; some not even speaking the English language.

Born at Pecks Mill in 1890, when the lanky judge took office as a 46-year-old, he had already accomplished more than most men would in a normal lifetime. After three years at what was then Marshall College in Huntington, he moved on to Washington and Lee University in Virginia where he there received his law degree in 1915. After returning to Logan to practice his profession, Chambers entered the United States Army in 1918 and quickly was commissioned as a second lieutenant commanding over 600 men as adjutant of the United States General Hospital in Ft. Bayard, New Mexico.

Upon his return to Logan, he quickly entered the political field, serving as Town Recorder of Logan; in 1922 as City Attorney, and then Mayor in 1925. Despite his repeated public outcys as mayor against illegal alcohol, gambling and prostitution, specifically in the city of Logan, history does not seem to reflect very many long term victories for the moral leader; perhaps because of the corruptness in countywide law enforcement itself.

As the lawyer who had represented defendant Clarence Stephenson in the 1932 murder trial of Mamie Thurman, Logan Countians saw fit to elect Chambers over Republican incumbent Naaman Jackson, who, ironically, had been the presiding judge in the infamous proceedings that four years earlier had somewhat exposed the soiled souls of several of both men’s cronies, especially Harry Robertson, prominent citizen and admitted lover of Mrs. Thurman; Robertson being originally charged with her vicious demise.

So it was a tangled web of a mostly immoral society in Logan County when the longstanding moral crusader addressed a packed courtroom that included persons making up his first ever Logan County grand jury in 1937. Although Chambers would in the future always make compelling appeals to each grand jury comprised, the following is how he addressed the first citizens ever to here the expectations of a fearless judge; indeed, a gentleman who had won the state’s pistol shooting competition.

Chambers’ jury instructions were mostly confined to crimes of a moral nature; crimes he described as “prevalent in the county and regarded lightly.” “Do not fail to return an indictment because of wealth, popularity, standing, race, color or creed,” said the judge. “And do not return an indictment through fear, favor, partiality, or prejudice”

Just 10 days earlier, the front page story of The Logan Banner had announced that in 1936, 21 lives had been lost and 146 other people injured as a result of automobile accidents in Logan County. Chambers was quick to address that problem:

“There is an appalling number of deaths in this county each year caused by intoxicated drivers. I have no sympathy in the world for the man who fills his hide full of liquor, gets out on the highway, and kills or maims, and cripples,” explained Chambers. “The man who drinks shouldn’t drive and the man who drives shouldn’t drink. The drunken driver is a potential murderer—I don’t care who he is.”

Chambers, who had been strongly opposed to the repeal of Prohibition, rapped what he termed “the growing public indifference” to houses of ill fame saying they are “places where the stage is set for the commission of any kind of crime, and if we eliminate these houses we can stop a good number of murders, wounding’s and other crimes. And this applies to a good many so-called beer gardens,” said Chambers.

As for gambling, which was popular in pool halls and restaurants throughout the county, Chambers told listeners he was opposed to any kind of gambling, but very strongly opposed “organized gambling” which he said included the use of “so-called slot machines.”

When it came to religion, Judge Chambers made himself clear: “I care not what creed they have or what name they call themselves; if they want to meet and worship they must be protected. I hope you will treat this seriously.” The county was experiencing a growing number of various religions, including snake handling services, and Chambers said he was mainly speaking of “outlying districts of the county” where certain religious services had been disrupted,

In other matters, Chambers condemned “the great number of people living together lewdly and lasciviously” and urged the jurors not to regard the matter lightly. In discussing the law pertaining to cruel treatment of children, he spoke of the number of persons within the city who he said had sent their children around from house to house to beg, and he asked the jurors to investigate those cases.

Emphasizing the large number of cases of robbery, larceny and breaking and entering within the county, the brand new judge said the crimes were being committed “mostly by people who don’t work, but think that government owes them a living. Hence, they feel it perfectly proper for them to rob those who have worked and accumulated prosperity.”

Just four days later, it is likely the wily judge’s message was well received when he issued his first court sentence to a man named Skeeter Austin, who pleaded guilty to the theft of an overcoat valued at twenty-seven dollars. Chambers set a stiff precedent for sentences to come by pronouncing “five years in the penitentiary” for Austin.

And so the future Logan County stage was set for its leading character, who some 23 years later, would be featured in the very popular LIFE magazine as a key member of the Ku Klux Klan. It was a position the man who became known as “Alimony Slim” never denied.

Judge C.C. Chambers, who served 32 years as Logan’s only circuit judge, died at the age of 83 in 1973—loved by some; hated by a few; but respected by all.

BITS and PIECES

While on the subject of judges, did you see where former Mingo County Judge Michael Thornsbury was denied an early release from a federal prison in Florida?….the former 17-year judge—sentenced to four years in prison in 2014—thought he was being released a year earlier last week because he completed a prison drug abuse treatment program at the Pensacola facility……although a public affairs spokesperson said she could not disclose why the former judge was not being released, the word I get is that the “Feds” believe one should at the very least have a drug problem before taking advantage of such a program…..by the way, April 3rd marks the anniversary of the day former Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, the judge’s supposed friend, was murdered while sitting in his vehicle eating lunch on Third Avenue in Williamson…..still on the subject of judges, many people were probably surprised when Logan Chief Judge Eric O’Briant recently named former judge Doug Witten as his new law clerk, replacing Stephanie Abraham, who is opening her own law office in Chapmanville…..all I can say is that it would be difficult for anyone to argue Witten’s qualifications……the longtime attorney and former appointed judge lost by a very narrow margin to present Judge Josh Butcher in last year’s bitter election; now, if everybody would just kind of get along better for the good of the judiciary, as well as the people we serve…..still speaking of judicial officials, it is good news to know that former magistrate Steven Gray has progressed tremendously from last year’s medical problems…..one more hospital visit in July, and if everything goes well, then he will be a very fortunate soul…..yet another former magistrate, Jeff Lane, has taken a position in Charleston, I’ve been told, with the Dept. of Health and Human Resources; best wishes are extended to Jeffrey, especially with the budget cuts that are coming…..meanwhile, fellow magistrate Leonard Codispoti and his wife, Family Court Judge Kelli Gilmore Codispoti, returned this week after a trip to Hawaii…..back on the home front, fellow magistrate compadre Joe Mendez and myself have not been just sitting around together dispensing justice and listening to the Allman Brothers’ lyrics, “I’ve been tied to the whipping post……”…..seriously, following the death of Kelli’s wonderful mother, the Codispoti’s deserved some time away together…..DID YOU KNOW that the narcotic drug problem we’ve dealt with on the local level for several years was such a major problem for the Chinese government back in the 1930’s that, in fact, it was announced on Dec. 27th 1937 that drug addicts there would be given three extra days “to be cured” by New Year’s Eve, or die. The estimated roundup of addicts and dealers to be executed was 100,000 people…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It’s shameful that the United States, the richest country, cannot organize a system of health care as effectively as other nations do.”—Charleston Gazette, March 21, 2017…..by the way, congrats to a great season to the WVU cagers, who should have beaten Gonzaga, and to the Thundering Herd, which did win 20 games, as I predicted before the season started…..CLOSING NOTE: It should not come as any surprise that budget cuts are being made across the coal region. With the declining coal revenue over the past few years, what could you expect? Logan County has actually held up better than most coalfield counties and despite the upbeat in the coal mining industry, tough cuts are upon us. Significant drops in revenue sources in neighboring areas like Williamson, Delbarton and Gilbert have those municipalities in dilemmas. Delbarton faces a $100,000 budget deficit; Williamson faces a deficit of $80,000 to$200,000, while the smaller town of Gilbert is looking at a $35,000 reduction. It has been recommended that fire and/or police protection for those towns must be cut. I hope the towns or cities (whichever way you wish to describe them) of Logan, Man and Chapmanville, as well as Mitchell Heights and West Logan, will be fortunate enough to avoid any similar economic situations. If push turns to shove, however, I’ve got some great ideas on how to save many thousands of dollars annually; at least for one of those municipalities…….

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By Dwight Williamson

Guest Columnist

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

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