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By Steve Cottrell
From miner to federal judge
Thomas Hawley’s long legal career started in Nevada City
In past columns, I have written about the six former Nevada City residents who served on the California State Supreme Court: Lorenzo Sawyer, Niles Searls and Matt Sullivan served as associate justices and chief justice.

Addison Niles, Thomas McFarland and Jeremiah Sullivan were associate justices.

In addition, Stephen Field, who created Nevada County out of a portion of Yuba County in 1851 during his term as our first state assemblyman (and made certain Nevada City was the county seat) was both an associate justice and chief justice in California before serving 34 years on the United States Supreme Court.

That’s an impressive roster of local jurists, for sure, but there was also longtime Nevada City attorney and local politician Thomas Porter Hawley (1830-1907), who eventually took his law practice to Nevada and served as both an associate justice and chief justice of that state’s supreme court before becoming a federal judge.

The Indiana native arrived here in 1853 and, like most men at that time, mined along Deer Creek until he landed an appointment as deputy county clerk in 1855. A year later, he ran for county clerk but was defeated.

Deciding to pursue a professional career, 25-year-old Thomas Hawley became a notary public and studied law with Stanton Buckner, who later became a Nevada County superior court judge.

By the summer of 1857, Hawley was an attorney with a Broad Street office. (No need for law school in those days.) The following fall, with his law practice flourishing, Hawley married 19-year-old Eudora Murrell –– raised in South Carolina and living here with her mother and father.

Active as a Mason, Hawley worked his way through the chairs of Nevada (City) Lodge #13 F&AM and became Master in 1859. He was also active with the local Knights Templar.

In May 1863, Hawley was elected to the Nevada City board of town trustees (now called city council) and five months later was elected district attorney. Not wanting to serve two elected offices at the same time, he resigned as town trustee, but agreed to be city attorney –– thus simultaneously representing both the city and county.

After losing his 1865 re-election bid as district attorney, he formed a law partnership with Loring Williams, then a Nevada City town trustee and later Commissioner of Deeds for California.

Although he enjoyed a very successful law practice here, Hawley was drawn to the State of Nevada in 1868 –– initially as city attorney of boom-and-bust Treasure City, then district attorney of White Pine County adjacent to Utah’s western boundary.

When his term as district attorney expired, Hawley settled in Eureka, Nevada. He was elected to the Nevada State Supreme Court in 1871 and two years later elevated to chief justice –– an office he held until 1890, when President Benjamin Harrison appointed Hawley a U. S. District Judge for Nevada. Sadly, however, Eudora died shortly after his federal judgeship began.

U. S. District Court Judge Thomas Hawley served until June 1906, retiring to Carson City. A month shy of 76, he had served nearly 50 years in private practice, city and county office, the state bench and for the final 16 years as a federal judge.

Hawley was ready for a well-earned retirement, but in early 1907 became bedridden with a kidney ailment. His son, Ernest, traveled to Carson City and brought his father to San Francisco for better medical care. But on October 17 –– with Ernest at his bedside –– the former Nevada City town trustee and Nevada County district attorney died at St. Francis Hospital.

At his request, Judge Hawley was buried in Carson City next to Eudora.

Steve Cottrell is a historian, former city councilman and mayor and a longtime Nevada City resident. He now lives in St. Augustine, Fla. He can be reached by emailing exnevadacitymayor@gmail.com.
Thomas Porter Hawley, a federal judge from 1890-1906, was an attorney and elected official in Nevada City for more than a decade.