Wednesday, September 17, 2014

That Time When a Pittsburgh Lawyer Governed Part of Ukraine

Gregory Zatkovich was born in Austria-Hungary and "immigrated to Pennsylvania with his parents at age 2.  His father was the editor of an activist journal supporting Rusyn-Americans, an ethnic group from Carpathian Ruthenia, an area now within Slovakia and western Ukraine.  Zatkovich grew up in Pittsburgh, received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, and earned his law degree there three years later.  He entered the Pittsburgh bar in October 1910.  In July 1918, as the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was on the verge of collapse, Rusyn-Americans began to agitate for the independence of Carpathian Ruthenia.  As a leader of the Rusyn movement, however, Zatkovich was convinced by members of the Wilson administration that merging Carpathian Ruthenia into a new Czech state was the only viable option, and he was convinced to sign the “Philadelphia Agreement” with Czech president Tomas Masaryk, upon the promise that Carpathian Ruthenia would be granted autonomy within the new Czech state.  Masaryk appointed Zatkovich governor of the province on April 20, 1920.  He served for a little less than a year, resigning on April 17, 1921 over disagreements on the border with Slovakia, and returned to his practice in Pittsburgh."  

"He has the distinction of being the only American citizen to have presided as governor over a province that would later become a part of the U.S.S.R."  

Zatkovich later served as Pittsburgh city solicitor during the administration of Mayor William McNair in the 1930s.


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Friday, June 21, 2013

Jacob Margolis: Pittsburgh lawyer, Anarcho-Syndicalist

         Chairman:  Just how would you describe yourself?
         Margolis:  First, syndicalist; I put the syndicalist first, because it is an important thing; syndicalist-anarchist would be my position.

Jacob Margolis, a Pittsburgh lawyer who represented the IWW during the 1919 Steel Strike, told Senator William Kenyon of Iowa that he was an anarchist during a Senate investigation of the Steel Strike.  When he returned home to Pittsburgh, he found that the Allegheny County Bar Association was moving to have him disbarred.  During the legal battle that followed, the ACBA was fed information from the FBI.  Margolis lost his license to practice law in 1920 following arguments before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but was reinstated within the bar in 1928.  He spent most of the rest of his career as a writer and lecturer, retiring to Santa Barbara, California during the 1940s.

NOTE: Photo is not available for republication.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Justice Baldwin's Dueling Past

"Duels were not altogether uncommon among these men in this day. ... Henry Baldwin had fought a duel against another lawyer, Isaac Meason, Jr., over a grievance that has been described as either political or romantic in nature – possibly both. During the first round of pistol-fire, Baldwin was hit in the chest and began spitting up blood, so witnesses feared he had been shot through; but apparently a Spanish silver dollar in Baldwin’s waistcoat pocket deflected Meason’s bullet. The parties were scared off by a posse sent by Judge Riddle before they could lob a second volley." Henry Baldwin later became an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

See The Steel Bar: Pittsburgh Lawyers and the Making of Modern America.

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Yes, I'm sick and tired of the election, too ... but ...

Yes, I'm sick and tired of the election, too.  I have to confess, though, that the night before the election is just like Christmas Eve was to me when I was a kid.  Maybe it's just me, but for all my excitement, I'm going to have a hard time getting to sleep tonight, and tomorrow morning I'll be up and running down the stairs ... because after months of being talked to and talked at, of dozens of robocalls and campaign contribution solicitations, of having my daily practical thoughts interrupted at every turn by a SuperPAC campaign ad, I'm finally going to get my present.  I'm going to get to have my say.

As much as I may be completely fed up with this campaign, I do love our process.  It's a great gift, and I can hardly wait until sunrise to open it.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Natural Gas is King in Pittsburgh – Deja vu All Over Again?

I was reading an article from the New York Times the other day, and the first line of the article was, “Natural gas is King in Pittsburgh.”
The article described how much natural gas development is under way in the region; that with respect to overall enterprise cost, “gas is far cheaper as fuel than coal,” especially for manufacturing; that it is reinvigorating the economy of Pittsburgh, and attracting capital to the region; and finally, that natural gas is a clean fuel.
The date of this article was October 18, 1885.
Read more here.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

And the People Hit Worst Are the Poor

As we keep the people of Haiti in our thoughts and prayers, it is perhaps an appropriate moment to give a shout out to the memory of the late Fred Cuny, who made these relevant observations about earlier disasters, and whose words may inspire us today:

Disasters hurt people. They injure and kill. They cause emotional distress and trauma. They destroy homes and businesses, cause economic hardships, and spell financial ruin for many. And the people hit worst are the poor. A natural disaster can happen anywhere, but for a combination of reasons -- political as well as geographic -- most large scale disasters occur in the region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. This region encompasses most of the poorer developing nations, which we call the Third World.

For survivors of a natural disaster, a second disaster may also be looming, for the very aid that is intended to help them recover may be provided in such a way that it actually impedes recovery, causes further economic hardship, and renders society less able to cope with the next disaster.

... Recognizing poverty as the primary root of vulnerability and disaster in the Third World is the first step toward developing an understanding of the need for change in current disaster responses. For if the magnitude of disasters is an outgrowth of underdevelopment and poverty, how can we expect to reduce the impact with food, blankets, and tents, the traditional forms of assistance?

Emergency relief is an essential part of the response to a tragedy such as the one in Haiti. Give generously, give now:

There are many worthy organizations to whom you can send your money. But, with Fred Cuny's observations as our guide, perhaps we can also establish another set of objectives in our aid to Haitian people: to upgrade the standard of housing; to provide increased job opportunities; to improve or diversify local skills; and to provide alternate income to people whose economic livelihood has been hurt by the disaster. Maybe this time we can help to prevent the "second disaster."

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Friday, July 17, 2009

103 Year-Old Pittsburgh Lawyer Reflects on Career

[In the course of my research for my upcoming book, I get to interview some pretty interesting folks. Some notes from my interview of Reuben Fingold, a 103-year old retired lawyer living with his wife in Pittsburgh, were published in the July 17 edition of the "Lawyers Journal," a publication of the Allegheny County Bar Association.]

Reuben Fingold, a 103 year-old Shadyside resident who was admitted to the Allegheny County Bar in 1930 and joined the Allegheny County Bar Association in 1933, was honored by the Board of Governors of the ACBA on June 2 for achieving the status of the oldest member of our Bar, and for “his Seventy Six years of service to the Allegheny County Bar Association and the legal community.”

At his side for the occasion was Mr. Fingold’s wife Helen, who is only a few years his junior. “[The inscription on the plaque] is really lovely,” she says, beaming with pride. 

Mr. Fingold’s recollections from his youth and his early years as a practitioner in Pittsburgh are like a time capsule from a bygone era. When he began his law practice, Herbert Hoover was in the White House. Fingold was 22 years old before movies had sound, and his family’s first radio was one that he put together himself from spare parts that he bought at a plumber’s shop in East Liberty. 

His parents lived in McKeesport when they were first married, where his father made men’s suits, drawing patterns for them on large rolls of green paper. “My mother used to tell us how she’d put the two [oldest] babies in a carriage, wheel them down to the wharf in McKeesport, and push the carriage onto a boat” that would take them along the Monongahela River to Pittsburgh, where they would visit his mother’s sister. Eventually, the Fingolds moved to the Hill District, where Reuben Fingold spent his earliest years, and then to Shadyside. 

“One of the things I remember,” Mr. Fingold says, “was when the newspaper came in and it said ‘TITANIC SUNK!’” The year was 1912. “My mother sat down and cried. I was pretty young then, and I didn’t know what the Titanic was, but my mother had come over from Europe” aboard an ocean ship, Fingold explains, and she instantly knew what the passengers on the Titanic must have experienced.

Mr. Fingold’s older brother, A.S. “Abe” Fingold, entered the Bar in 1926; but even before then, Mr. Fingold was fairly certain that he, too, would become an attorney, since he always had a penchant for “asking people all kind of questions.” After undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Mr. Fingold enrolled in the Law School at Duquesne. In his first year, he had to take oral final exams, facing the entire Duquesne faculty – which consisted entirely of full-time practicing lawyers at the time – and fielding questions on each of the courses he had studied that year. His would be the last class of Duquesne law students to have to endure the oral exam gauntlet.

On the day Mr. Fingold found out he had passed the Bar, he and his brother Abe happened upon an Allegheny County judge while walking downtown. Abe Fingold greeted the judge and introduced him to his brother, announcing that Reuben had just passed the Bar. Mr. Fingold showed the judge his notification letter, whereupon the judge instructed Mr. Fingold to raise his right hand. “He swore me into the Bar, right then and there on the sidewalk,” Mr. Fingold explains, although he later formalized the event by signing the County registry.

Mr. Fingold set himself up as a sole practitioner in the Jones Law Building, sharing offices with his brother Abe and several more senior lawyers, including W.C. McClure and the John Metzes, father and son. The year 1930, amid the turmoil the Great Depression, was a difficult time to establish a new practice, but Mr. Fingold managed to earn a small living by doing title searches for other lawyers for $10 a search – sometimes accepting even less. “The [deed] books weighed almost as much as me,” he remembers. 

At the age of 36, Mr. Fingold left his Pittsburgh practice behind briefly and volunteered for World War II duty, attaining the rank of Major in the U.S. Army Air Corps and serving in the Judge Advocate General Department. He also designed a few inventions during this period, including some patented improvements to mason jar lids and electrical switches, and a bag holder for blood and plasma that he proposed to Army doctors during the War. 

Before his retirement from the law in the late 1970s, Mr. Fingold had built a comfortable general practice that included a few clients who paid him an annual retainer. Sometimes his job as a lawyer, however, would be merely to convince the right official to pay attention to a problem. One of his clients complained about garbage being thrown down a hillside owned by the client’s aunt; while it was fresh on his mind, Mr. Fingold happened to spot Mayor David L. Lawrence waiting for a streetcar, and he explained the situation to him. The Mayor made a note of the lawyer’s concerns, and the next morning, city maintenance men came and cleaned up the hillside. “Anybody could see David Lawrence,” Fingold remembers. “And he cleaned the city up.”

Reuben Fingold’s experiences recall a time when Pittsburgh was smaller, when streetcars could take you anywhere, and it only cost 15 cents a day if you wanted to park a car downtown. His unheralded career is another illustration of some of the simple virtues that were important to Pittsburgh’s lawyers during the first half of the 20th century, when both life and practice were filled with face-to-face, hands-on experiences – the arts of greeting, conversation, casual persuasion and straight-forward problem-solving, in broad daylight.

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