Born: Saturday, August 5th, 1911
Birthplace: Tacoma, Washington
Education: University of Washington
Career: Deputy Prosecutor (1938-1939)
Assistant U.S. Attorney (1939-1940)
Municipal Court (1946-1953)
Superior Court (1953-1963)
Served: Monday, January 14th, 1963 to Monday, January 13th, 1975
Chief Justice: Monday, January 8th, 1973 to Monday, January 13th, 1975
Political Party: Democrat
Appointing Governor: Rosellini (Democrat)If anyone could be regarded as a product of the Great Depression, it was Frank Hale: the social and economic lessons of the 1930s shaped his political thinking. Forced to withdraw from the University of Washington for financial reasons, he later earned enough money from selling ice cream at Point Defiance and working in sawmills to allow him to return intermittently. After accumulating two years of academic credits, Hale quit for good and began to study law with a Tacoma attorney, Charles T. Peterson. He had earlier wanted to become a doctor, but lacked the funds for such prolonged training. Law study seemed an acceptable alternative. Later, he recalled that, “This was the old fashioned, Abe Lincoln type of clerkship. There was a course exam and quizzes at the end of each month. I had to buy the books for each course.”
Frank would also “hang around the law school.” Friends suggested interesting lectures to attend and, on occasion, put him up for the night. His description of these excursions into law school: “I guess you might call it ‘auditing’.”
Hale’s father had impressed the need for hard work on Frank and his two brothers early in their lives. His father came to Tacoma from Steubenville, Ohio, and worked at a number of jobs to support his family. Frank attended public schools in the Tacoma area, including a one room school in Hylebos, before his short-lived enrollment at the university.
After studying the requisite four years and passing the prescribed number of exams under the close supervision of Charlie Peterson, Frank signed up for the state bar exam, passed, and entered his chosen profession in 1937. He immediately opened his own law office, but soon joined the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office under Harry Johnston, remaining until 1939. With the assurance of a steady job, Frank felt he could support a family, and he married his longtime sweetheart, Mary Oliver, in 1938. While he worked in the prosecutor s office she completed study for a registered nurse’s license at Tacoma General Hospital.
Hale avidly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt, viewing him as the savior who pulled the country out of the deep depression with such programs as federal deposit insurance, unemployment compensation, and social security. Being part of the New Deal crusade excited the young attorney and he enthusiastically threw himself into local Democratic politics. He served as president of the Pierce County Young Democrats for a time and in 1939 was rewarded for his partisan activities with an appointment as Assistant U. S. Attorney.
At the outset of World War II Hale enlisted as a private in the airborne infantry. He rose to the rank of captain while serving in several major battles in the European Theater, and was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge. As he described it:
The Germans captured our mortars and turned them on us. They were firing from behind our lines. I got a million dollar wound that knocked me right into the white sheets. If you could get into the hospital without getting too badly mutilated, it was called a million dollar wound.
Honorably discharged in 1945, Hale returned to the U. S. Attorney’s office.
In July 1946 Hale filed for Pierce County Prosecutor under the Democratic ticket but lost in the primary to fellow Democrat Hugh J. Rosellini, who later became a close friend and supreme court colleague.
In October 1946, Tacoma Police Court Judge Billy Richmond resigned to run for superior court. The county commissioners immediately selected Frank Hale to fill the vacancy. Hale talked about the appointment with his usual candor:
I was in the U.S. Attorney’s office at the time the county Democratic chairman called and said that the county commissioners would appoint me. You see the commissioners were Democrats. The mayor ran on a non-partisan ticket, but he was a Republican and everybody knew it. Evidently, the commissioners and the mayor couldn’t agree on anyone else … When I told … my boss, the U.S. Attorney, that I couldn’t afford to take the job, he reminded me it was a stepping-stone to the superior court. He said, “I think it’s time for you to fish or cut bait.” He conned me into it.
Because his appointment came shortly before the November general election it was too late for the official ballot to carry his name, necessitating a write-in campaign. Hale received a write-in vote of 1,034, easily outdistancing his two rivals.
In 1951 Pierce County gained two more superior court judgeships, one to be filled by appointment and the other by election. Hale filed for the elective position and in the September 1952 primary election garnered over fifty percent of the total vote, defeating two other candidates. His name appeared on the November ballot unopposed.
Hale’s family had by now grown. He and Mary were parents of four children: Dennis, Gretchen, and twins Alice and Allen. The judge walked every day to his office in the county-city building, no matter what the weather. He belonged to the Tacoma Elks, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Eagles, Kiwanis, and the American Legion, as well as the Superior Court Judges’ Association. He enjoyed being a judge and described serving on the superior court bench:
In Superior Court there are enough cases during the year to make it interesting. Trial work does have its monotonous moments. You might get a string of divorce cases; or you get a case where the contractors built a house on which the owner refuses to pay, claiming faulty workmanship involving only a small amount, and numerous experts testifying on the number of nails driven and other minute details; or a small accident case involving injury to vehicles but no personal injury to the parties. On the other hand, the trial judge doesn’t have to take work home over the weekend.
In 1962 Governor Albert Rosellini offered Hale a position on the state supreme court. He turned it down for two reasons. First, he had not yet served the requisite ten years on the superior court to be eligible for a pension plan. Experiences with the Great Depression still haunted him. Should he be defeated in the election to retain his seat, he and his family would be financially strapped. Also, he would have to mount an election campaign in less than a year’s time. However, another longer-term vacancy occurred on the court shortly thereafter and, quite to everyone’s surprise, including Judge Hale’s, Governor Rosellini offered it to him again. This time he accepted. T he governor wrote later about the appointment:
[H]is name had appeared on a Washington State Bar Association list. I knew him personally as a good lawyer, a good judge and a man of high integrity, common sense and good judgment. These factors coupled with recommendations from many members of the Bar who had observed his judicial behavior were quite significant in my selection.
By the time it would be necessary to run for election, Hale would have accumulated enough tenure on the state courts to qualify for a pension. So, on January 14, 1963, Justice Hale became a member of the state’s court of last resort. In his one election bid in 1964 the justice ran unopposed.
Justice Hale’s votes and opinions are hard to characterize. One of his former law clerks felt that it was “difficult to classify J. Hale along these [liberal-conservative] lines as his attitude and approach varied with the issues … I would use the term ‘populist’ to describe him in that he tended to think in terms of what was good for the common man.” However, in many matters, the justice deferred to the legislature – a restraintist trait. For example, in State v. Williams Hale wrote in dissent:
A good restraint among many to be practiced by the judiciary is to curb its tendency to act as a mini-parliament … the separation of powers of government into three separate branches probably represents the highest achievement of constitutional theory. A basic tenet of the separation of powers proposition is that legislators shall enact laws and judges shall interpret, apply and enforce them.
On law and order issues he supported the prosecution. In government regulation and taxation issues he was, as his early New Deal commitment would suggest, on the side of the government. Labor most often received his support in business-labor issues and he leaned toward the individual in business vs. individual kinds of legal disputes, again a reflection of his New Deal liberalism. However, he often viewed civil rights issues from a conservative perspective, being especially critical of decisions favoring Indian treaty rights.
People who knew Justice Hale almost always comment on his independence. One of his former clerks observed that the justice “was not afraid to differ from the views and research of the others. . . [He] felt the people had elected him for his own judgment in all matters.”
Hale did his own writing, jealously guarding this most crucial stage in the decisional process. Law clerks were researchers, “sounding boards,” and critics, but not drafters of opinions, especially not dissenting opinions. During his last few years on the court, he dissented from his brethren more often than any other justice. A Hale dissent could be expected in nearly one out of five cases. He explained his attitude toward dissents in his typically independent and confident manner:
It’s much easier to sign another’s opinion and there’s a temptation to be lazy. I guess the best statement I heard on that is ‘when your indignation overcomes your inertia’ you’ll write a dissent. It’s hard work and unrewarding, but it’s a hallmark of laziness not to write a dissent. You’re not playing fair with the public. You owe the court and the profession a delineation of your reasons. It’s a question of morals. I consider a judge a lightweight who simply writes “I dissent.”
An old friend, Gerald Schuklin, said of Hale at his induction as chief justice: “In his years on the bench, Frank Hale has shown a rugged pioneer honesty, a wise understanding of human nature, and a deep respect for his country and its institutions.” A few selections from Hale’s opinions reflect these traits and also display his sense of humor and joy in the use of words:
Probably no greater bastion of free speech can be found in the country than in the nation’s pool halls.
Most accidents are caused; a few simply happen.
Forever is a long time, even in the forested regions of the Pacific Northwest.
Shall the happy picture of tugboats and barges, log booms and rafts, and ships of the sea – towing and being towed in bustling harmony upon the broad waters of the mighty Columbia – suffer the discordant intrusion of the business and occupation tax?
There is a saying that what one does not know does not hurt him, but, when it comes to surgical operations, this old bromide has turned out to be no more than a half truth.
Some individuals cannot stand sudden prosperity. Defendant made a conspicuous but unlikely display of affluence, and it caused his undoing when a jury found him guilty of burglary.
Despite scientific advances in animal husbandry, there has not yet been born a black angus steer that is temperamentally inclined to observe the motor vehicle code.
Glaziers should glaze and lawyers should scriven, and neither ought to do the other; for, when glaziers write and lawyers glaze, they are apt to make porous contracts and drafty windows.
On January 13, 1975, after twenty-nine years of judging, Chief Justice Frank Hale retired from the state’s highest bench at age sixty-four. He and Mary retired to their Johnson Point home on Puget Sound a few miles north of Olympia. Fishing, gardening, reading, travel, and grandchildren all competed for their attention.
Hale’s oral history interview is in the supreme court collection, Washington State Archives. Also see Kerry Radcliffe, “Cases, Courtrooms, and Conviction,” Hale file, same collection; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 22 Mar. 1984; Tacoma News Tribune, 28 Sept. 1952, 10 Je. 1974, and 12 Jan. 1975; Seattle Times, 11 Je. 1974; Charles Sheldon, “An Interpretation of the Judicial Process: The Washington Supreme Court as a Small Group,” Gonzaga Law Review, vol. 13 (1977), pp. 97-139; and Sheldon and Frank Weaver, Politicians, Judges and the People (1980), pp. 61-69.
The preceding biography is from Charles Sheldon's The Washington High Bench: A Biographical History of the State Supreme Court, 1889-1991, © 1992 by the Board of Regents of Washington State University. Reprinted here with permission and licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License by The Temple of Justice Project.