Biography of Jeremiah F. Sullivan
San Francisco, CA Biographies





HON. JEREMIAH FRANCIS SULLIVAN
The late Hon. Jeremiah Francis Sullivan, a distinguished representative of the bench and bar, was actively identified with the legal profession in San Francisco for more than a half century. He served as judge of the superior court from 1880 until 1889 and was appointed associate justice of the supreme court of California, November 19, 1927, but passed away January 23, 1928, at the age of seventy six years. He was born in Litchfield county, Connecticut, August 19, 1851, a son of Michael and Margaret (Bohane) Sullivan. He was brought to California by his parents when he was less than one year old, and his early school days were spent in Nevada county. In 1862 he entered St. Ignatius College of San Francisco and remained there eight years, taking the full preparatory and college courses and graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1870. Two years later he received the Master of Arts degree from that institution, while in 1905 St. Ignatius College conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. He engaged in teaching at St. Ignatius, holding classes in Latin and Greek, mathematics, geography, history and English, and in his spare hours studied law, both privately and in the law office of Winans & Belknap. In January, 1874, he passed an oral examination before the bar of the state supreme court and was admitted to practice. In 1877 he was elected a member of the San Francisco board of education, on which he served with distinction for two years. One of his conspicuous achievements as a member of the board was his part in the public investigation which stopped the practice of selling in advance the questions which were to be asked of applicants for teachers' certificates. In 1879 he was elected as one of the original twelve superior judges chosen under the constitution of 1879, which abolished the old district courts. He was the youngest of the twelve. His first term was for five years and at the end of that term he was reelected, in November, 1884, for a term of six years. In 1888 he was a candidate for the supreme bench and in a total of two hundred and twenty five thousand votes cast he was defeated by only five hundred. In 1889 he resigned from the superior bench to devote himself to private practice, in which he was associated with his brother, Matt I. Sullivan, throughout the remainder of his life. He served as president of the Bar Association of San Francisco in 1917 and 1924 and was president of the California State Bar Association in 1923-24.

We quote from "San Francisco - Its Builders Past and Present," published in 1913: "During his judicial career Judge Sullivan presided over many famous and important trials, some of which were of even sensational interest as well as of immense public importance. Among these was the case of Burke versus Flood, which was one of the so called 'bonanza' cases, so known from its relation to the old Comstock lode of Virginia City, Nevada, which was one of the greatest gold and silver properties in mining history. The case involved the rights of minority stockholders in the Comstock mining corporations and therefore attracted almost nation wide attention. Still another famous case over which Judge Sullivan presided was that of Cox versus McLaughlin and another was the sensational divorce case of Sarah Althea Hill against Senator William Sharon. Judge Sullivan upheld the validity of a 'common law' marriage and awarded her a division of the community property, after a trial lasting eighty seven days. Sharon carried the case to the state supreme court, where Judge Sullivan's decree was at first affirmed. On a subsequent appeal from his order denying Sharon's motion for a new trial the judgment was reversed. In the interim between the two supreme court decisions the personnel of the court had been changed." Judge Sullivan's practice was largely confined to probate cases and personal injury cases, and he was considered a high authority in both branches of practice. One of the most remarkable cases handled by his firm was that of Willard R. Zibbell against the Southern Pacific Company, the plaintiff suing for the loss of two arms and a leg. He was granted judgment with interest and costs aggregating ninety two thousand dollars, the largest sum ever paid in a personal injury suit in the history of the country. This verdict was sustained by the supreme court.

On the 13th of September, 1876, Judge Sullivan was married to Helen M. Bliss, of San Francisco, daughter of George D. Bliss, one of California's pioneers. She passed away December 30, 1918, leaving five children, as follows: Harry F.; Gertrude M., the wife of Bernard M. Breeden; Helen Bliss, the wife of Roland W. Schumann, of the United States Navy; Jeremiah Francis, Jr.; and Marguerite, the wife of Arvid R. Croonquist, of the United States Army.

Judge Sullivan gave his political allegiance to the democratic party. He figured prominently in Catholic fraternal affairs as president of the Young Men's Institute for two terms and as organizer of the Atlantic jurisdiction of the order. His career was one of broad activity and usefulness, and in his death San Francisco sustained the loss of a leading lawyer and jurist and honored citizen.

From:
The History of San Francisco, California
Lewis Francis Byington, Supervising Editor
Oscar Lewis, Associate Editor
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago-San Francisco 1931


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