Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Trial and the Appeal

A trial lasted from October 22nd to December 18, 1956 and resulted in a judgement against San Tong . A subsequent appeal was made by San Tong's attorneys and a final judgement was made on August 28, 1958 affirming the decison of the trial court and against San Tong.

It was a major uphill battle for San Tong and his attorneys. San Tong alleged that it was Jue Joe's intention all along that he would manage the extensive holdings of the Jue family for the benefit of the family . The deeds to the daughters were necessary because at the time Jue Joe and his sons were prohibited to own land by the Alien land act . Also the Oriental Exclusion Act prevented Chinese emigrants from becoming naturalized citizens . Because of these laws , Jue Joe caused his property to be deeded to his American born daughters. It was his intention that the daughters would hold legal title to the lands but that decisions as to the management , sale and distribution of profits from the land would be the responsibility solely of San Tong ,his sole surving son. Subsequently , after WWII , Chinese living in the USA were allowed to become naturalized citizens. As citizens they could own property . In accordance with the wishes and intent of Jue Joe , San Tong then caused deeds of all the properties originally signed over to his sisters and to his son be deeded to him or conveyed to him , not for personal gain but for the good of the family and in accordance with the wishes of his father . San Tong's interpretation of the wishes of Jue Joe was , of course , in accordance with centuries of Chinese custom and law.
China was a land in which roles were formal , and in which the roles of each member of the family was known to all . The way in which each member of the family was to relate to each other , in the event of the death of the male leader of the family was formal and expected , even if no formal written documents were made to codify the relationships. In America , however, what is written down is what is important , not something as nebulous as roles and relationships . San Tong and his attorneys had to prove to the court Jue Joe's intent , when nothing about that intent was written down . As , I have said , it was an uphill battle .

In affirming the lower court's decision to award all the property to Corrine and Dorothy
the appellate court wrote the following : " Considering all the evidence before the court in the instant action , including Jue Joe's pride in the American citizenship of his daughters and grandchildren , the court's knowledge that any interest of a Chinese alien in California land was then subject to escheat proceedings, the inference is not only warranted but practically inescapable that Jue Joe , smart business man that he was , intended to exclude from "the family" who were the beneficiaries of the trust not only himself , but also his wife and sons who were born in China"

Of course , it was impossible at the time he caused the deeds to be put in his daughter's name that Jue Joe could know that a time would come when his only surviving son could assume ownership of all the properties under American law and so , of course , there is nothing written about what should happen in that event. America turns on rules , not roles and relationships or expectations . So the court finds in favor of Dorothy and Corrine .

All properties are turned over to Dorothy and Corrine .
San Tong and his family are evicted from their Van Nuys ranch and San Tong is left with no property , and no further farming operations .

post script : much more information concerning the details of the law suit , the appeal , and the relationship to the Alien land law can be found in this later post . All parties in the lawsuit did agree that Jue Joe intended to make a gift of 50 acres of Van Nuys farm land to Dorothy and Corrine which was designated Lot 691 . This gift was never contested in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was about the 50 acres of land designated lot 690 on which the main Jue Joe Van Nuys Ranch stood as well as 90 acres of farm land in Porterville (Tulare County).


  1. Chinese old-timers who knew of Jue Joe's intent were lined up to testify in court by San Tong. This was the only way he could prove Jue Joe's intent. However, a few days before their testimony Dorothy called each of them by phone and told them that if they testified--she would expose them as "Paper sons" and they would be deported. The old-timers called San Tong. Crying over the phone to him, they said they were too afraid to testify. With no witnesses to testify on San Tong's behalf this blew his defense apart. I remember how upset he felt. How could his sister behave that way to their father's friends? he asked aloud. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  2. The trial took an emotional toll on San Tong. At one point he broke down and wept on the witness stand. After that, my siblings and I attended the daily proceedings to give him our support. Each morning, before the court sessions began, Brother Guy drove our father San Tong to Jue Joe's gravesite. Once there, San Tong would inform Jue Joe of the state of family affairs. Then Guy would drive him up to the courthouse. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  3. There are 2 copies of the complete transcripts of the trial. Anyone still have them? It would be interesting to review particular facts in detail. I know that San Tong paid $24,000 for 2 sets of copies (each copy cost $12,000 a piece). The 1st copy went to his attorney Hurt for preparation of the Appeal. San Tong kept the 2nd copy in his upstairs office file cabinet, second drawer. When Guy became an attorney he turned the records over to him. It was very thick and took up almost half the cabinet drawer. I took a peek at one page and Dorothy replied to most questions with, "I do not recall." "I presume." Auntie Soo-Yin.

  4. Eviction from the Jue Joe Ranch by Dorothy was the lowest point in San Tong's life. Two days before we moved from the big house our father locked himself in his upstairs bedroom and cried all day. All day he wept nonstop. He was so alone in his heartbreak. The next day my mother, visibly shaken, brought my siblings and I into the master bedroom. There, we saw Father's tear stain--larger than a human head--on the rose-colored bedspread. She told us what had happened. I will never forget this sad, sad moment. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  5. Correction on the transcripts of the Superior Court trial: The cost for 2 sets of copies was $12,000 (each cost $6,000). I got it confused with the purchase of the Jue Joe Ranch back in 1920. The Ranch purchase was around $24,000 because San Tong said its property value had dropped in half to $12,000 during the Depression if he had tried to sell it. I asked about the transcripts because the lower court's decision gave San Tong one small "technical" victory, which had no effect on the final decision in favor of Dorothy. I never knew what that technical victory was. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  6. One of San Tong's business associates was Walter Reese, a geologist in Tulare. After the lawsuit Mr. Reese took San Tong to meet the Nobel-prize winning auther, Aldous Huxley ("Brave New World") in Tulare, who was a close friend of Reese. What was suppose to be a morning drop-in "hello," ended up being an all day event. Aldous Huxley was fascinated by San Tong's family story, the Exclusion Laws, and the lawsuit. He spent hours asking our father questions and listening intently. San Tong's impression of Aldous Huxley was that of a genius who was very eccentric. Auntie Soo-Yin.