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District Attorney Edward J.C. Kewen

Edward J.C. Kewen

A hot-tempered southern attorney makes his mark on both sides of the law.

Originally from Mississippi, Edward J.C. Kewen was California's first Attorney General. Later, he moved to Los Angeles and entered politics, becoming superintendent of the Los Angeles City schools in 1858 and District Attorney a year later. He was a man who "shot first and argued later," as historian W.W. Robinson described him in Lawyers of Los Angeles, "... a fire-eating, name calling orator, violent in speech and in temper." In 1862, while a state assemblyman, and in the second year of the Civil War, Kewen was arrested and jailed for two weeks at the military prison on Alcatraz Island, for advocating secession. He paid a five-thousand-dollar bond, pledged allegiance to the United States and was taken off the island. Later, in a fight with another notorious hothead, Fred Lemberg, known as the "Flying Dutchman,: Kewen shot and nearly killed him. Kewen was acquitted of assault in 1866.

In Los Angeles, Kewen and attorney James G. Howard formed such a successful criminal defense practice that a vigilante group once decided to lynch them. When Howard spoke to the group's leader, according to Robinson, he said, "We are old friends; be generous; let's compromise. Hang Kewen, he's the head of the firm."

Kewen survived to enjoy life at El Molino, his gracious home in present-day San Marino that was converted from the old gristmill of Mission San Gabriel.

Reprinted from FOR THE PEOPLE -- Inside the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office 1850-2000 by Michael Parrish. ISBN 1-883318-15-7