To be clear on the facts, William S. Fullerton spent over 50 years as a practicing trial lawyer, and something like three months as a Judge. The circumstances surrounding his temporary appointment are a little murky, and may have had something to do with his fishing buddy, Chet Arthur (New York political operative and future U.S President). We’ll get back to this later.
Fullerton was a master of courtroom tactics, a wily strategist with a flair for the dramatic as he quietly worked a hostile witness into unfortunate admissions before turning the tables. The former farm boy from a remote corner of Orange County, New York took risks (and clients) that more genteel peers may have shunned. In those days, the “media” was only newspapers and magazines; and the emerging American middle class was starved for entertainment. A Judge Fullerton trial promised to deliver the goods.
The ‘carte de visite’, or CDV, collectible originated with a Paris photographer and by the 1860’s were a world-wide fad. Later in the 19th century, the ‘cabinet card’, a larger version that could be displayed in specially-designed cabinets, took their place. People collected famous actors, political leaders, civil war soldiers, and family members in their Sunday best. I was lucky enough to find a CDV and a cabinet card for Judge Fullerton, in addition to a number of newspaper and magazine illustrations.
Modern celebrity culture was still in its infancy. And only a handful of lawyers have ever crossed over into this kind of fame. Judge Fullerton obviously succeeded.
Later posts will ‘examine’ some of the cases. Scandals galore.