Monday, November 27, 2017

Integrity: Judge Julius Brousseau

A previous entry was about Frenchtown's own Renaissance woman, Dr. Kate Brousseau. Today, we get to meet her father, Julius - an impressive Angeleno in his own right.

Julius Brousseau was born in New York in 1835. His parents were French Canadian immigrants.

Brousseau became an attorney. His career soon took him to Michigan, where he married Caroline Yakeley. Oldest child Kate was born in 1862. The Brousseaus moved to Illinois and had three more children (Mabel in 1871, Edward in 1875, and Ray in 1877) before moving to Los Angeles in 1877.

A few words should be said about Los Angeles in the 1870s: it was still the wild, wild west. The Brousseaus arrived less than seven years after Michel Lachenais was lynched (by his fellow Frenchmen, no less) and about six years after the deadliest race riot in U.S. history - the Chinese Massacre. In the 1860s, greater Los Angeles averaged 20 murders per year (with a population of about 7,000 people) - up to 20 times the murder rate for New York City at the time. Just three years prior to the Brousseaus' arrival, notorious bandit Tiburcio Vasquez was finally caught in modern-day Santa Clarita. Los Angeles had a well-deserved reputation for being tough, lawless, and just plain scary.

Somehow, that didn't deter the Brousseaus.

Julius set up a law office in units 56 and 57 of the ornate Baker Block (which would later be demolished in 1942 to make way for the 101 freeway). If you are driving on the 101 through downtown, the building would have been in the middle of the northbound lanes just north of where the freeway crosses Main Street.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Brousseaus joined the French Benevolent Society. In 1878, after just a year in LA, the Society selected Julius as a committee member (Constant Meyer, who had to leave town for an extended period of time, was stepping down).

By 1886, Julius had partnered with D.P. Hatch in a law firm. Brousseau & Hatch were based out of units 31, 32, and 56 in the Baker Block (presumably, Julius had kept his old office upstairs). Their names occasionally appeared in the real-estate transaction section of local newspapers - including  two plots of land in the San Gabriel Valley's Arcadia tract that year to Prudent Beaudry.

Julius was a patron of the Acacia chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic organization which is open to both men and women. The 1887 city directory also lists him as "Master of Robert Bruce Chapter, no. 6, Rose Croix". Julius was also a Shriner, belonging to the Al Malaikah Temple. Today, the Temple is headquartered at the Shrine Auditorium.

The fabled Brousseau Mansion - one of the first grand homes on Bunker Hill - was built around 1878.  Located at 238 South Bunker Hill Avenue (between Second and Third Streets), this was the house where eldest child Kate began her decades-long teaching career. Sadly, the house was torn down in 1966. The Broad now takes up most of the block.

Oddly for a man known for good moral character, Julius appeared on a list of delinquent taxpayers for a lot in the Starr tract and some personal property in 1893. He was on the list again the following year for two lots in the Leonis tract and some land in a subdivision. It isn't clear if the delinquent properties were all his or if the matter was related to his occasional handling of real estate transactions.

After Miguel Leonis died, much of his massive estate went to attorneys' fees. Per an 1896 newspaper article, one of those attorneys just so happened to be Julius Brousseau. One-sixth of Rancho El Escorpion was claimed by the Domec sisters - Espiritu Chijulla Menendez Leonis' sisters - but their claim was disputed by a Robert S. Baker.

Judge Clark also changed the guardianship of a minor heir during litigation proceedings, making Julius the child's guardian ad litem. The Domec sisters - one of whom was the mother of said child - considered this a conflict of interest. They asked Julius to step down and allow Montgomery & Son to represent them.

When Julius declined, he was accused of making disparaging comments about Montgomery, which he denied. As if the Leonis case weren't already convoluted enough, the accusations and the alleged conflict of interest had to be hashed out in court. Rabble-rousing Major Horace Bell, who was Baker's attorney, pointed out that he himself was in a similar position.

Brousseau, at one point, appeared confused about exactly how much of Rancho El Escorpion his clients were claiming. Judge Clark asked for clarification about how much of the rancho the Leonis estate was entitled to. Brousseau responded that if he had made a mistake in his earlier statement, he would amend his answer. He also asked to be relieved of his duty as the minor heir's guardian ad litem.

A few months later, a different newspaper article identified Julius Brousseau not just as an attorney, but as a judge. His father Julius Brousseau Sr., by now 83 and a widower, had been defrauded out of his house and property by Mrs. Lizzie Sage - Julius' sister.

Judge Brousseau testified in the ensuing fraud case. He gave his age as 61, prompting many in the courtroom to comment that he didn't look over 50 (many French people don't own family is proof of this). He stated that before and after his mother's death the previous year, his father (who until then had consulted with him on financial matters) had behaved in an uncharacteristically irrational manner.

Dr. D.J. Le Doux, who had been the late Mrs. Brousseau's attending physician, backed up Judge Brousseau, stating that the elder Brousseau appeared to be mentally unbalanced by his wife's illness and death. Ultimately, the deed of conveyance was deemed null and void. Mrs. Sage was ousted from her father's house on Star Street, and the case effectively estranged her from her father and brother.

On October 15, 1903, Judge Julius Brousseau, who had been suffering from Bright's disease, passed away at his daughter Mabel's house. His obituary identified him as a former president of the Los Angeles Board of Education and a former Democratic nominee for Superior Judge (despite the judge's popularity and spotless reputation, he lost the election because Los Angeles was overwhelmingly Republican at the time). Brousseau's obituary added "No citizen of Los Angeles had a better reputation for integrity and good citizenship than Brousseau. Both as a lawyer and as a citizen, he commanded the respect of all who knew him, and he was greatly loved by his friends and intimate associates."

Six members of the Bar Association were appointed as pallbearers. The Brousseau sisters asked that as many members of the Bar as possible attend the funeral. The Masons took on the responsibility of transporting Judge Brousseau's body to Evergreen Cemetery and concluding the funeral ceremony.

If only every attorney in Los Angeles had Brousseau's good character...


  1. Hello C.C. I lived in downtown L.A. from 2012-2016, and I took a certain amount of pride in likely being one of a relative handful of Angelenos who were aware of the Joan of Arc statue at the hospital in Chinatown. As a bit of a Francophile and someone who also - supposedly - has French roots (I've only traced the name back to living in Scotland thus far), I am now curious about the French Benevolent Society. I had never heard of them before today, and I just discovered in an article that they own the land on which the hospital (at least for now) still stands. A google search brought me to your blog. Do you happen to have any information on the current organization?
    Thank you,

    1. Hello Brian - I've covered what little I do know about the FBS in my earlier entry on the French Hospital ( I know they sold the hospital facility to the Pacific Alliance group in 1989 (thereby changing the hospital's name), but haven't been able to dig up anything newer on the FBS. Believe me, it's not for lack of trying! I might try looking into the property tax records next (*someone* has got to be paying the bills on that land...).

    2. I will keep looking, too (by the way, very interesting, the blog entry you mentioned). In case you didn't see this from December 8:

    3. I did know it was closing...

      So the FBS DOES have an office somewhere. Wonder how that reporter got the address...

  2. There was an article in LA Times today about the hospital. It briefly mentioned a Gary Wilfert as the Vice President of FBS. I noticed he has a LinkedIn profile.

  3. This man is mmty great great great grandfather

    1. Hi - can you email me (losfrangeles at gmail dot com)? I would love to know more about the Brousseaus.

  4. He was my great-grandfather's brother.