Monday, November 25, 2013

Kalita Elton Leighton (1871-1928)

 From the Duluth Herald, January 16, 1911.

  The following write-up takes us to the midwestern portion of the United States and one Kalita Elton Leighton, who logged a decade of service as a U.S. District Court Judge for North Dakota. Despite being all but forgotten in this day in age, Leighton was regarded as one of the foremost legal minds in North Dakota during his lifetime, being described by the Bismarck Tribune as a "splendid jurist" and "one of the best judges that North Dakota has known". 
   The life of this strangely named North Dakota judge began in the county of Putnam, Missouri on September 13, 1871, the only child born to Jacob Leighton and the former Laura Anderson. The Leighton family removed from Missouri to Wayne County, Iowa when their son was around six years of age and he subsequently received his primary schooling in the village of Allerton, Iowa,  later attending the Highland Park Normal College, located in Des Moines. Following his graduation from the latter institution, Leighton taught school during the winter months whilst preparing to enter the University of Iowa's Law School in 1894.
   Kalita Leighton graduated from the University of Iowa in 1896 with a degree in law and shortly afterward established his first law practice in Allerton. His stay here was short-lived, however, as he removed to the town of Mystic, Iowa sometime later and remained here for two years. In 1900 Leighton moved to the city of Minot, North Dakota and opened a law practice with his brother-in-law, Daniel "Dank" C. Greenleaf (1873-1923), who later served as Mayor of Minot. The firm of Greenleaf and Leighton is recorded as having specialized in "real estate investments" and Leighton's skill as an attorney garnered glowing press in the literature of the time, including the following passage from the North Dakota History and People, Volume II:
"Few lawyers have made a more lasting impression upon the bar of the state both for legal ability of a high order and for the individuality of a personal character which impresses itself upon a community. The zeal with which he devoted his energies to his profession, the careful regard evinced for the interest for his clients, and an assiduous and unrelaxing attention to all the details of his cases brought him a large business and  made him very successful in its conduct."
   Kalita Leighton married on Christmas Day 1901 to Deaksville, Iowa resident Belle Lockman (1878-1968) and the couple became the parents of four children, Roy (born 1902), Will (born 1905), Inez (born 1908) and Barbara (born 1911). 

From the Williston Standard, January 12, 1911.

   In addition to practicing law in Minot, Leighton is mentioned in his Bismarck Tribune obituary as engaging in farming, and it was in January 1911 that he received the high profile appointment as district judge for North Dakota's Eighth District. Leighton's appointment to the bench was occasioned by the resignation of district judge Evan B. Goss (1872-1930), who had been elected to the North Dakota State Supreme Court the previous November. Then Governor John Burke selected Kalita Leighton to fill the vacancy, and in doing so "could not have made a wiser appointment". Leighton served out the remainder of Goss' unexpired term and in 1912 was elected to a term of his own as judge.

From the Ward County Independent, June 8, 1916.

   In 1916 Leighton ran for reelection and in that year's election faced Minot attorney F.E. Lambert. On election day Leighton bested Lambert by a vote of 885 to 396 and went on to serve another four-year term, leaving the bench in 1920 to return to the practice of law in Minot. Although he may have resigned from the court, Leighton was by no means finished being a public servant, and after a few years devoted to his law practice was appointed by North Dakota Attorney General George Schafer as Assistant Attorney General of the state. Leighton served in this capacity for the next three years and during this time was also active in a number of local fraternal organizations, being a longstanding member of the Modern Woodmen of America and the Minot Elks Lodge.
  In the latter period of his life, Kalita Leighton is remarked as suffering from heart disease, and it was this affliction that eventually lead to his death. As the Bismarck Tribune related in its January 11, 1928 obituary for him:
"Mr. Leighton had returned home about 11 o'clock after spending an evening with friends in the city and complained of not feeling well. He went to the basement to fix the furnace for the night, and a few minutes later, when Mrs. Leighton received no response to repeated calls, she found him dead."
  Kalita Leighton was 56 years old at the time of his death and a funeral service was held at his home as well as at the Minot Elks Lodge. He was later interred at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Minot and was survived by his wife and four children. 

                                        From the January 12, 1911 edition of the Ward County Independent.

From the Bismarck Tribune, January 11, 1928.

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