Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Oval Pirkey (1861-1923)

From Shuck's History of the Bench and Bar of California, 1901.

   Certainly, one of the funniest named jurists ever to be elected to office in the United States, Judge Oval Pirkey of California held a seat on the Superior Court of Glenn County during the early years of the 20th century. He was born in Alexandria, Tennessee on February 22, 1861, and inherited his odd name courtesy of his father, also named Oval Pirkey. Pirkey senior (1833-1912) was a prominent figure in educational circles, being a professor at the Christian University in Canton, Missouri and former president of both the Lawrence College in Tennessee and the Abingdon College in Illinois. He married in 1859 to Sallie McClelland and later had several children, of which Oval Pirkey II was the second born. Young Oval attended college at the Christian University at Canton, Missouri and graduated from here in the class of 1883. 
  Pirkey embarked upon a career in law after the completion of his schooling and was admitted to the Washington Territorial bar in 1885. He later removed to California to continue his law practice and married here in 1900 to Marion Moore Rice (1871-1948), and the couple is recorded as having at least one son, Oval Jr. (1901-1986) who was later involved in vaudeville. In 1898 Pirkey won election to the Superior Court of Glenn County, California and took his seat on the bench in 1899. 
  His service on the court lasted only a few years (1899-1905) but was not without controversy. In 1903 Pirkey became the judge in the case of Swan vs. Talbot in Willows, California. During the trial proceedings, attorneys for the defense leveled charges of bias against Judge Pirkey, which he vehemently denied. Pirkey went as far as to file affidavits denying all of the charges, as did attorneys for the plaintiff, who noted that Judge Pirkey had never appeared biased or had shown favoritism during past cases. An article on the brouhaha concerning the trial appeared in the June 6, 1903 edition of the San Francisco Call and is shown below.

   In the 1904 election season, Pirkey was defeated for re-election to the Superior Court, losing to Democratic candidate William Finch by a vote of 875 to 623. Following his loss, Pirkey removed to Washington state and resided here for the remainder of his life. Although a resident of Washington, notice is given as to his practicing law in Portland, Oregon, and served as city librarian in Vancouver, Washington for a short time, later being succeeded in that office by his wife Marion. Pirkey died at the St. Joseph's Hospital in Vancouver County on August 29, 1923, at age 62 and was later buried at the Blaine Cemetery in Blaine, Whatcom County, Washington. Marion Rice Pirkey survived her husband by many years, dying in Washington in 1948 at age 77. A burial location for her is unknown at this time.

Judge Oval Pirkey, from the Glenn County Superior Court website.

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