II. Meandering into the Twentieth Century
. . .
L. Justice Grimson: Prison Reform
Some justices brought a large history of public service with them to the Court.(285) Justice Grimson was one of those.
At age seventy, Justice Gudmunder Grimson (1949-1958) was appointed to the Court in September 1949 to succeed retired Justice Alexander Burr (1926-1949).(286) Justice Grimson served as a district judge from 1926 to 1949, but he had previously won national acclaim as a crusading lawyer who brought about "reform of prison laws in many parts of the United States."(287)
During the early 1920s, Gudmundur Grimson gained national attention by virtue of his activities against the penal system in Florida. In 1922 a neighbor came to Mr. Grimson with some evidence indicating that his son had been flogged to death in a Florida lumber camp. Mr. Grimson investigated and found evidence that a system existed in that state whereby sheriffs were paid a bounty for delivering to slave camps prisoners who were without funds to pay their fines. The North Dakota boy was one of the victims of that system and while his parents had wired the sheriff the money to pay the fine, the sheriff returned the money and retained his bounty. The boy fell prey to a sadistic boss who apparently enjoyed flogging his victims of excessive labor. The North Dakota boy died under these floggings. Mr. Grimson's extensive investigation which lasted more than two years, lead to publicity in a New York newspaper, action by the Legislature of North Dakota and eventually action by the authorities in Florida. The result was that the penal system of Florida and other states which had similar oppressive procedures, was modified. The sadistic boss was indicted and convicted although upon a subsequent re-trial was acquitted, and the boy's family received a substantial monetary settlement.(288)
Justice Grimson had also "[s]pearheaded reform in judicial procedures followed in sentencing juveniles" and had "negotiated air service between the United States and Iceland and Denmark" in 1932.(289)
Still, Justice Grimson, who first became a justice at age seventy, was not the oldest person to serve on the Supreme Court.
285. Another justice, Justice Paul M. Sand (1974-1984), before becoming a justice, had "served as assistant staff judge advocate of the U.S. Berlin District, and also headed a War Crimes Team in the British Zone of the Army of the Rhine in Germany [before his discharge as lieutenant colonel in 1947]. The team's duty was to obtain evidence and data for use at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials." Lucille Hendrickson, Justice Sand Dies of Heart Failure, Bismarck Trib., Dec. 9, 1984, at A1; see also Sketch, supra note 2, at 60.
286. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 50, 45. Justice Burr retired at the age of 78 "due to disability." Sketch, supra note 2, at 45.
287. Rolfsrud, supra note 157, at 62, 67.
288. North Dakota Supreme Court, In Memoriam--Hon. Gudmunder Grimson & Hon. Thomas J. Burke, 43 N.D. L. Rev. 582, 586 (1967). His friend, Clyde Duffy, a former State Senator and notable Devils Lake practitioner, summarized Justice Grimson's earlier campaign for penal reform. See id. at 585.