Around Town: The state Supreme Court and La Cañada

To understand how Catherine Banbury sought to enforce an $11,610.58 judgment against La Cañada real estate owned by Delos Arnold, a former Iowa state senator (“The mystery of Delos Arnold,” Around Town, June 20), we headed to the Los Angeles County Law Library in downtown Los Angeles.

Our goal was to ask the reference librarian for the original appellate briefs in the 1891 California Supreme Court case of Banbury v. Arnold.

Founded in 1891, the Los Angeles County Law Library has nearly one million books and documents. If anyone still had the appellate briefs in this 1891 case, it would have to be the Law Library.

We needed the original briefs because the California Supreme Court opinion, available online, did not include a legal description of the property.

Did the case concern La Cañada? There was no way to know without the legal description of the land.

The reference librarian was helpful and prompt. Within minutes, she returned from the stacks with a large bound volume.

“Here it is,” she said cheerfully.

The dusty pages from 1891 contained the transcript of the trial between Catherine Banbury and Delos Arnold. The book also had appellate briefs. There were two briefs for Arnold and one brief for Banbury.

The briefs were amazingly short. Arnold's opening brief was six pages long. Banbury's response was 10 pages.

But neither brief described the location of the property.

I turned to the transcript. Unlike the lengthy transcripts of today, this 122-year-old document consisted of a copy of the complaint and a two-page summary by the trial judge.

Bingo! The transcript included the following description of the real property:

“All that portion of lot fourteen (14) of the Rancho La Canyada now owned by the said party of the first part, and bounded on the north by the public highway known as Michigan avenue, on the east by the lands of William Banning, on the south by line of said rancho and on the west by the land of Mary C. Ball, formerly Mary C. Williams, and containing forty-five and two-fifths acres of land...”

The property was in La Cañada. Perhaps Banbury v. Arnold was La Cañada’s first California Supreme Court case.

The facts were as follows. Banbury and Arnold signed a land sale contract. Banbury was the seller. Arnold was to pay $5,000 by May 6, 1888 and another $5,000 in 1889. In exchange, Banbury would transfer the property to Arnold.

Arnold wanted out. He paid $1,800, not a penny more.

His argument to the California Supreme Court was that Banbury lacked capacity to enter into a contract.

In 1890, in some states, a married woman could not enter into a contract without the consent of her husband.

In California, there was a different rule. A married woman could sell her separate property, but unlike a man or a single woman, she needed to sign an additional document before a notary for the contract to be valid. The document was called a certificate of acknowledgment. Without the certificate, the contract was voidable at any time.

Arnold argued that since he could not enforce the contract against Catherine Banbury, she could not enforce it against him.

He pointed out that the complaint in the record did not include a notarized certificate of acknowledgment.

The California Supreme Court agreed with Arnold on the law, but not the facts. The justices ruled that the certificate was not a part of the conveyance and did not need to be attached to the complaint. Since it did not appear from the record that the contract was unacknowledged, the sales contract was valid. Otherwise, why would the trial judge rule in favor of Banbury? There must have been an acknowledgment in the record, reasoned the California Supreme Court’s jurists.

Arnold, a wife and mother of seven children, won her case. Two years later, she would be dead and Arnold would still be a respected member of Pasadena society.

But who was Catherine Arnold? And what happened to her family?

To be continued.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.


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