Born: Friday, November 19th, 1880
Died: Friday, April 5th, 1974
Birthplace: Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Education: St. Paul College of Law (1901-1902)
University of Minnesota, LL.B. (1904)
Career: Deputy Prosecuting Attorney (1905-1906)
Superior Court (1911-1917)
Yakima City Attorney (1917-1923)
President, Washington State Bar Association (1939-1940)
Served: Wednesday, November 25th, 1942 to Friday, November 30th, 1945
Also Served: Monday, January 10th, 1949 to Monday, January 10th, 1955
Chief Justice: Monday, January 12th, 1953 to Monday, January 10th, 1955
Political Party: Republican
Appointing Governor: Langlie (Republican)Thomas Eugene Grady was born November 19, 1880, in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, to Thomas Paul and Eliza Jane (Fisk) Grady, who worked a small farm. His parents wanted something better for their four children. His father had always “admired the prosperous bookkeepers … and professional and semiprofessional people who lived in the nice homes in Chippewa Falls,” and he advised young Tom: “Instead of working as hard as I’ve had to, I want you to ‘sling ink’.”
After learning typing and shorthand, Tom secured employment as a clerk with the Great Northern Railroad in St. Paul. His experiences with the railroad and admiration for a local lawyer convinced him to study law. In 1901 Grady enrolled at the St. Paul College of Law and, after one year, transferred to the University of Minnesota School of Law to enter its four-year night program. At first, law study came hard, but when Grady came under the tutelage of Professor James Page his studies improved substantially. He received his LL.B. in 1904. Immediately upon graduation Grady headed west to pursue his legal career.
His first winter, in Whitefish, Montana, convinced him this was not the place to begin practice. Looking to Seattle as his ultimate destination, Grady traveled to Yakima to visit an uncle. The weather seemed attractively mild after the harshness of Wisconsin and Montana, and Grady decided to stay. Employment as a court reporter helped pay bills until the Washington bar admitted him in 1905. With the assistance of his uncle, Grady became deputy prosecuting attorney for Yakima County. He sent for his parents to join him and in June 1908 married his Wisconsin sweetheart, Alice Mildred Beane. Her family had moved to Spokane about the time Grady arrived in Yakima. They reared four children, Thomas Eugene, James Edward, Howard Martin, and Alice Winifred.
After two years with the prosecutor’s office Grady went into private practice. In 1911 Governor Marion Hay appointed him, as a compromise candidate, to a newly created superior court judgeship for Yakima County. In those days, court-watching entertained local townspeople, and Judge Tom Grady’s courtroom became a favorite. Young William O. Douglas used to drop in to watch the court dramas when Grady presided. Later, on a visit to Yakima in the middle of his own career, Justice Douglas referred to Judge Tom Grady as “the salt of the earth.” However, Grady’s courtroom popularity did not transfer to the polls. He lost a bitter reelection campaign in 1917 and returned to private practice in successive partnerships. He also served as Yakima City Attorney.
Although not deeply involved in Republican politics, Grady actively participated in bar association affairs. He served as president of the Yakima Bar Association in 1922 and the Washington State Bar Association in 1939-1940. He worked on the Judicial Council and a number of state bar committees including the board of examiners. He also served a term on the board of governors. His activities in the profession and popularity among his colleagues played an important role in his initial appointment to the supreme court in 1942, and his election in 1948.
Governor Arthur Langlie, following a state bar recommendation, appointed Grady temporarily to the state supreme court in 1942 to fill in for Judge Sam Driver, who had received a leave to accept a commission in the U. S. Army. Driver rejoined the high bench in December 1945, and Grady reentered private practice in Yakima with William B. Clark and his son, Thomas E. Grady, Jr. However, he hoped to sit again on the state’s high court. When Bruce Blake indicated his intention to retire in 1946, Grady announced his candidacy for the vacancy:
I enjoyed the work on the bench and my association with the other judges. I found my experience of many years as a trial lawyer very helpful in working out the problems presented to the court. If my judicial work has been satisfactory to the members of the bench and bar of the state I would like to be chosen to serve an elective term as member of the court.
Unfortunately, Edgar W. Schwellenbach also filed and, with his wider name familiarity and vigorous campaigning, defeated Grady in the September 1946 primary by nearly 82,000 votes. Two years later Grady returned to the judicial campaign trail and this time succeeded in winning a seat on the state’s high bench.
Because of his behavior on and off the bench and personal financial problems, Judge William Millard had incurred the wrath of the organized bar, whose members eagerly sought to remove him from the court. They selected Grady as their candidate. He welcomed the opportunity to return to the state’s court of last resort and to challenge an incumbent he believed had brought disgrace upon the court. Actually Grady and Millard had a falling-out of sorts during the former’s temporary court tenure. In one campaign announcement Grady charged that “our courts, in order to command the respect of the public should be presided over by judges whose personal and judicial conduct are above reproach.” He obviously spoke about Millard. The “conduct and judicial attitude of one member” had created “deplorable conditions” within the court.
The Seattle Bar Association supported Grady in the September primary in its first preferential poll for the supreme court by a 440 to 195 vote. He also prevailed in the poll of the profession in Pierce, Yakima, and a number of other county bar associations. Both Millard and Grady survived the primary and faced each other in the final November balloting. Again the Seattle bar endorsed Grady over Millard by a vote of 761 to 198. Voters followed the bar’s advice and Grady defeated the incumbent by slightly less than 26,000 votes.
During his interrupted nine years on the supreme court, Grady wrote 147 opinions, thirty-eight dissents, and nine concurrences. Justice Matthew Hill recalled that:
Almost invariably when a case was assigned to him there would be an opinion in circulation within a relatively short period of time, frequently within three or four days. I mention this merely as an indication of his “let’s get the job done” approach to the problem [of backlogged cases].
His conference views frequently found their way to opinions written by other members of the Court. His comments on the passing sheet … many times resulted in changes which improved opinions. What I remember best was a little personal note, which read: “Re 2nd paragraph on page 6, I agree with what you are saying, but does it really need to be said?” and it really didn’t.
Judge Grady had an individualistic opinion-writing style. When the cases were assigned to him,
He would write his own in his own way in long hand … He would write them short. He felt that you shouldn’t make a monument out of a case … [y]ou should decide the case on its merits and then quit … [H]e’d been practicing law long enough [to know] that you ought to use cases as tools. It’s hard to plow through a case that rambles on and gives a lot of dictum … and tries to become a textbook by consulting a whole lot of citations. [He wrote] short, concise opinions and to the point. Lawyers liked them.
His dissents were sometimes longer than when he wrote majority opinions for the court. His tenure on the superior court bench in Yakima made him sensitive to pressures on trial judges and what especially irritated him was the supreme court’s second-guessing a trial judge and appearing to retry the case. For example, in Donner v. Donner, a 1954 case, he wrote:
This is another of the many cases to be found in our reports in which we have made reference to the rule to be applied when a court considers the sufficiency of evidence a motion for non-suit, or a motion for a directed verdict, and then have proceeded to become a trier of fact or have approved the action of a trial court becoming such, and by such process have defeated the case of the plaintiff.
Law clerks who served on the supreme court and lawyers who regularly appeared before the high bench regarded Grady as a reluctant intervener in the political and social process. In his view, the court should limit itself strictly to narrow legal issues and exercise restraint. Judge Grady was a moderate, eschewing extreme liberal or conservative solutions to policy issues brought to the court.
At the end of his elected term Grady chose not to run for reelection because he would reach the mandatory retirement age of seventy-five before the term expired. Instead he went into semi-retirement, practicing law on a part-time basis and consulting with other attorneys. He remained active in professional and civic affairs, including the Masons, Elks, and Boy Scouts. In 1958 he headed a lawyer’s group supporting a right to work initiative measure that generated heated debate throughout the state.
Judge Thomas Grady, Jr., remembered with fondness his father and the era he represented:
He was of the Gay Nineties. He was mid-Victorian. His family was mid-Victorian. The sisters were school teachers and later trained nurses and registered nurses. But they were the stiff-necked kind … Dad wore pants that came down – cuffless – and tapered a little bit and he never did work in anything but those. That’s what he was used to and to hell with it. . . When the tailor died and he couldn’t get them anymore, he didn’t know what he was going to do. He’d have to wear pants with cuffs on them that were the same size all the way down. [He said] “they’d whip you to death if you got out in the wind.” He couldn’t understand some of the attitudes that were beginning to develop … He was from that day and age the gaslight era.
The oral history interview of Thomas Grady, Jr. is in the supreme court collection, Washington State Archives. Also see memorial services, Washington Reports, vol. 83, 2d (1974), pp. xxiv-xxxi; Seattle Times, 17 Mar. 1946 and 1 Aug. 1948; C. W. Taylor, Eminent Judges and Lawyers of the Northwest (1954), p. 51; and Washington State Bar News (Jan. 1988), p. 10.
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.