Born: Tuesday, October 27th, 1903
Died: Monday, May 5th, 1975
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington
Education: University of Washington, LL.B. (1932)
Career: Seattle City Council (1935-1938)
Superintendent, Seattle Water Department (1938)
Assistant Counsel, Bureau of Reclamation (1938-1940)
Director, State Department of Public Service (1941-1943)
U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (1956-1975)
Served: Tuesday, September 6th, 1949 to Friday, July 6th, 1956
Chief Justice: Monday, January 10th, 1955 to Friday, July 6th, 1956
Political Party: Republican
Appointing Governor: Langlie (Republican)The old adage that “a judge is simply a politician who knew the governor” might describe the case of Frederick George Hamley. Despite the political nature of Hamley’s appointment, his service on the supreme court and subsequent tenure on the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals proved noteworthy.
Hamley, born in Seattle on October 27, 1903, was the third supreme court judge to have been a native Washingtonian. He had a spotty attendance record in Seattle area public schools because of a need to interrupt studies to pay his share of family expenses. However, he determined to complete his education. He graduated from high school at age twenty-three. With his brother Charles he lived on a ten-acre farm in Bellevue owned by his maternal grandfather. Between 1922 and 1927 they formed the Hamley Brothers Florist Company and sold produce, cut flowers, bulbs, and seeds at the Seattle Pike Street Public Market. Through their efforts, Frederick and his brother accumulated enough money to pay tuition and expenses at the University of Washington School of Law. Frederick graduated first in his class in 1932, was on the debate team, served as editor of the law review, and belonged to Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif. Upon completing his law studies, he married Marjorie E. Wood of Seattle. They had two daughters, June and Arlene. The Washington bar admitted him in 1932 and he began law practice under his own name in Seattle.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s a political machine that tolerated – even encouraged – corruption and graft controlled Seattle. Some young, dedicated city residents, including Fred Hamley, formed a group called the New Order of Cincinnatus, hoping to rid Seattle of corruption. By 1935 three of its members or supporters, including Hamley and Arthur B. Langlie, had gained seats on the city council. A friendship developed between these two young reformers that would influence the public careers of both. In 1938 the New Order of Cincinnatus assisted in electing Langlie mayor. One of his first appointments was to make Fred Hamley superintendent of the Seattle Water Department. Hamley also served on the Board of Public Works and the Committee of Standardization, and advised the mayor.
After three months in the city administration, Hamley resigned in August 1938 to accept appointment as assistant district counsel for the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Assigned to the Grand Coulee Dam project, he had responsibility for all litigation relating to construction. After two and a half years with the bureau, Langlie, recently elected governor, called Hamley to Olympia as special assistant state attorney general. In April 1941 the governor appointed him state director of public works.
The lure of law again beckoned and Hamley left Langlie’s administration in May 1943 to become assistant general solicitor (later general solicitor) for the National Association of Railroad and Utilities Commissioners, headquartered in Washington, D. C. The organization represented state public service commissions and Hamley handled litigation concerning regulations for public utilities and common carriers. He remained with the association until September 1949 when Langlie appointed him to the state supreme court to fill the vacancy created by Clyde Jeffers’s resignation.
Not all elements of the legal community supported the appointment. Hamley had been out of the state for nearly six years, although Seattle remained his voting residence. Langlie had previously agreed not to appoint any judges not approved by the state bar association. When the association initially submitted a list of possible appointees for the vacancy, Hamley’s name was missing. The governor returned the list, asking the bar to consider his old friend and advisor. The association gave its approval and Hamley received the appointment to the remainder of Jeffers’s term. In July 1950, Hamley filed for both the short term of the two months left in Jeffers’s term and for the new, full six-year term. He remained unopposed for the short term but Hugh Rosellini, William J. Millard, Jr., and Lyle Iverson entered the race for the six-year position. Rosellini outpolled Hamley in the September primary by nearly 30,000 votes. After a bitter campaign Hamley turned back the challenge, defeating Rosellini by 10,000 votes in November.
Once on the court Judge Hamley soon dispelled any doubts detractors may have held about his ability. He proved to be a competent and valued member of the court. Judge Matt Hill described his opinion-writing style:
A Hamley opinion is meticulously accurate in its statement of the facts necessary to an understanding of what is to be decided; it is studiously thorough in its discussion of the principles of law involved, and crystal clear in the conclusions reached and why. Each is a gem in its own particular setting-no wasted words, no sterile platitudes, and a joy to one who is searching to find out what the law is and why.
The judge involved his law clerks intimately in deliberations. The clerks would read the briefs and trial record and research the law on those cases assigned them, writing a summary for the judge. The summary included jurisdictional information, facts of the case, a recommended disposition, and a discussion of any apparently conflicting law or evidence and the reasons for their inapplicability. From this summary the judge would write his opinion. The clerk would review the finished product, catalog all citations and, when appropriate, add materials.
Judge Hamley, “highly intelligent and capable,” often would finish his opinion assignments a month early and then take cases of judges who were behind.” He had an individual decisional style involving little post-conference discussion with colleagues. Although not an outgoing person, Hamley provided a degree of leadership to the bench simply through his reasoning powers. As one law clerk noted, he “was articulate and unafraid to express his views. His monumental intellect and unshakable honesty made it easy for him to persuade others to his point of view.”
Pierce v. Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital Association was one of those opinions described by Judge Hill that persuaded others to join in the majority despite the fact that it overruled nearly sixty years of precedent. Hamley opened the opinion with a concise statement of the issue: “This appeal presents a single question, namely: Where a paying patient of a charitable, non-profit hospital sustains injuries by reason of the negligence of a nurse, may such patient recover damages from the hospital?” After a complete review of Washington precedents and a thorough coverage of other jurisdictions, Hamley concluded:
The factors upon which any public policy is based – the relevant factual situation and the thinking of the times – are not static. They change as conditions change, and as ways of looking at things change. . .
We therefore believe it to be appropriate after this lapse of time … to reexamine the public policy there announced, in light of present conditions and present day thinking…
It is our opinion that a charitable, non-profit hospital should no longer be held immune from liability for injuries to paying patients caused by negligence of employees. .. Our previous decisions holding to the contrary are hereby overruled.
Despite the liberal-activist results in Pierce, clerks and attorneys regarded Hamley as a political and legal moderate and a judge tending to balance activism and restraint.
In 1956, Homer T. Bone, longtime Washington political figure and judge, vacated his seat on the U. S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. With the acquiescence of Washington’s Democratic senators Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson and the insistence of Republican Governor Langlie, President Dwight Eisenhower nominated Judge Hamley as Bone’s replacement. Although no one voiced objections to the appointment in hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Seattle lawyer had filed a complaint against the judge, delaying approval. Senator William Langer, ranking Republican on the committee, felt compelled to delay the confirmation in order to investigate the complaint, which proved to be frivolous. Langer concluded that “Judge Hamley apparently is as fine a man who ever wore the leather. I said ‘apparently’ because I have not met the judge. I am sure he will be confirmed immediately after my report.” On June 28, 1956, the full senate did unanimously confirm Hamley on a voice vote.
While on the federal bench from 1956 to 1971, Hamley continued his interest in appellate reform by participating on the faculties of judicial seminars, writing articles, and delivering speeches. As a result of his own experience, Hamley became concerned with the lack of opportunity for new appellate judges to prepare themselves for their work, and for experienced judges to keep of the changing technicalities of appellate decision-making. Largely through his efforts, the New York University School of Law established a permanent and popular series of judicial seminars.
In 1971 he chose to go on senior status at the age of sixty-seven. He continued to sit on the bench and to participate in circuit business, but at a more leisurely pace, until his death in May, 1975.
The judge was active in the Washington State and American Bar Associations, serving on important committees. His specialty was public utilities law, although after nearly a quarter of a century on the appellate bench he had become a generalist. When time permitted, Hamley partook in community affairs. He served as director of the Olympia Young Men’s Christian Association for four years and was president of the Olympia Community Fund. The judge served as a member of the citizens’ advisory committee on high school education and chairman of the governor’s state-wide committee on educational television.
Judge Robert Finley, who served with Hamley on the state’s high court, recalled his friend with affection:
Fred Hamley was a sort of shy and retiring person. You had to know him quite well to really appreciate his fine person[al] qualities. While shy and retiring, he could be and was, of course, very, very firm and not the least bit reticent in expressing his views on cases heard by the court. He also was very, very, firm and dedicated in pushing for those things, professionally and otherwise, in his life in which he was convinced he should and could assist in accomplishing.
Hamley papers, manuscripts collections, University of Washington Library; C. W. Taylor, Eminent Judges and Lawyers of the Northwest (1954), p. 57; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6 May 1975; memorial services, Washington Reports, vol. 85, 2d (1975), pp. xxviii-xxxiv; memorial proceedings, U. S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Federal Reports, vol. 528 (1975), pp. 1-22.
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.