Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files: The Case of Julius J. DuBose

By Kim Wires

Here at the Tennessee State Library & Archives, we keep more than 10,000 boxes of Supreme Court cases, but not all of these cases involve laypeople who were unschooled about the law. Some of them involve judges as participants in, rather than arbiters of, legal disputes. In this case, a colorful Memphis judge was accused of helping to facilitate an illegal duel - only to be impeached by the General Assembly years later for his behavior. Here is his story:

Julius J. DuBose was born on Dec. 13, 1839 in Shelby County. He enlisted in the 9th Arkansas Regiment in 1861 and went to law school after the Civil War. He went on to become an editor, a state senator, and in 1886, a criminal court judge for Shelby County.

In 1889, state officials and several private citizens accused DuBose of violating the state’s constitution for his alleged role in a duel in Crittenden County, Arkansas 19 years before.

State, ex rel A. J. Harris et al v. J. J. DuBose
Tennessee State Supreme Court Case Files

The pistol duel was fought between two Shelby County residents, George R. Phelan and James Brizzotari. According to the case file, DuBose was accused of “not only aid[ing] and abet[ing] the same by giving encouragement there to by his presence, but in said duel appeared and acted as the second of said James Brizzotari.” Brizzotari was seriously wounded after several shots were exchanged between the two men.

On July 3, 1889, the Shelby County Chancery Court announced that it had no jurisdiction in the matter and that the authority to hear the case resided with the Tennessee General Assembly. Therefore, the case was dismissed. The state was granted an appeal to the the Supreme Court, which held a hearing in Jackson April 1,1890. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the lower court’s decision and dismissed the case against DuBose.

At the time of the duel, DuBose had been the editor of a daily evening paper called “The Public Ledger” in Memphis. In that newspaper's June 29, 1870 issue, there was an account of the duel covering several columns.

Article from the Daily American, May 16, 1889

After more than 3,000 Shelby County residents petitioned for DuBose's removal, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a resolution in 1893 allowing impeachment proceedings against the judge. The House issued 25 articles of impeachment.

House Resolution No. 58, from 1893.

The first article said “that, unmindful of the solemn duties of his office, and contrary to the sacred obligations by which he stands bound to discharge them, and to administer justice without respect of person, and impartially to discharge the duties incumbent upon him as a judge, he has acted in an unjudicial, tyrannical, and brutal manner toward attorneys at law practicing in said court whilst he was presiding as judge thereof.”

Articles of Impeachment for Judge Julius DuBose from the Tennessee General Assembly’s Journal, 1893

The impeachment trial lasted one month and on June 2, 1893 the legislature voted DuBose guilty of a misdemeanor while in office and forever barred him from holding any office within the state. DuBose died on March 21, 1912 in Memphis of pneumonia and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

You can learn more about this case and other cases in the Tennessee Supreme Court records project on our website at: http://sos.tn.gov/products/tsla/tennessee-supreme-court-cases

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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