San Bernardino County Bar Association
555 N. Arrowhead Ave.
San Bernardino, CA 92401
(909) 885-1986
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Lawyer Referral Service of the SBCBA
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San Bernardino, CA 92401
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Copyright 2012 SBCBA
John Lewis King was a lifetime resident of San Bernardino County. He was born in Upland on October 18, 1909. On October 19, 1967, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while giving a final argument; he died the following morning. John King was known and referred to as the trial lawyer of the century. Many people have argued that John was the most outstanding trial lawyer ever produced in San Bernardino County, and during his time, the best in the State of California.

John graduated from Chaffey High School, where he was student body president and chosen as the school's representative to the national oratorical competition. In 1930 and 1931, while attending the University of Redlands, John was a finalist in Phi Kappa Delta National Collegiate Oratory Competition and took First Place in the western regional competition. John was recognized as one of the most outstanding college debaters and orators in the United States during his stay at the University of Redlands. The University still maintains silver bowls and trophies evidencing John Lewis King winning national debate and oratory tournaments.

After graduating in 1931 from the University of Redlands, he entered Stanford Law School. In that his wife to be was teaching in Brawley, he transferred to and graduated from the University of Southern California School of Law. Upon passing the bar, John went to work for the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office, where he stayed for five years. John left the district attorney's office to join one of San Bernardino's premier law firms, Duckworth, Harrison & Mussell. After Ben Harrison was appointed to the federal court, the firm became known as Duckworth, Mussell & King.

John served in the army from September 1942 to July 1945. After initially being assigned to Washington D.C. as an assistant in charge of criminal litigation for the Office of Price Administration he went to Officer Candidate and Training School, where he was the commencement speaker for the graduating class. Thereafter he attended the Army Air Force (combat) Intelligence School. While stationed in Austin, Texas with the intelligence division of the Air Corp. he gave speeches in and around Austin to groups and to squadrons of the 89th Troop Carrier Group dealing with the rise to power of the Nazi party and the growth of Germany's army. The speech was entitled "Background of War." John was discharged at the end of the war with the rank of major.

John returned to his law practice, and Stanley Mussell, Jr. joined him to form the firm of King & Mussell. Later, C.L. Vineyard, Bruce Maclachlan, and Florentino Garza became members of the firm.

John King was one of the earliest inductees into the American College of Trial Lawyers. In 1953, at the age of 43, John became the first attorney from San Bernardino County inducted into this prestigious organization. He was also a member of the International Association of Defense Counsel. John was "described by lawyers as one of the top defense counsel in the United States."John Lewis King tried all types of civil cases. When John represented a plaintiff, the insurance carriers would try desperately to settle their case; they did not want to go against John King. In later years, the majority of his work was defending personal injury cases. He represented nearly every major insurance carrier.

John also defended occasional criminal cases. This author, as a young deputy district attorney, had the experience of trying several criminal cases with John King. I can still think of some of the valuable lessons I learned from this master trial attorney.

In one case, I had two highway patrol officers who had testified during the presentation of the case. The officers asked if they could remain in the courtroom to hear the final arguments. I consented to them remaining. When John argued, he stressed the point that the officers had a personal interest in winning the case. He reminded the jury that the officers were being paid to patrol the highway and help people, and here they were sitting in court and not performing the duties for which they were paid. By the time John had finished chastising the officers, they were ready to climb under their seats. It was a brilliant tactic.

When John King was scheduled to give a final argument in court, the courtroom would often be filled with attorneys and other spectators. John was a spellbinding speaker. His arguments had the effect of winning over and convincing jurors, which is what good lawyering is all about.

John King had a great sense of humor. He was a delightful person to talk to. In the years before becoming an attorney, I worked in my father's clothing store on 3rd Street in San Bernardino. I often saw John walking by the store on his way to the courthouse. He would frequently be talking to himself and coming back with answers. I later found out that John was practicing the delivery of his final argument by walking and talking to himself.

When John King was stricken suddenly in the courtroom while arguing his case, he asked the judge to excuse the jury and call an ambulance. He knew enough about medicine to know his condition was serious. As he was being moved from the ambulance to the hospital, he indicated to his wife the seriousness of his condition.

John King had two children-a daughter, Jennifer, who was a court reporter and a son, Jeffrey, who is a sitting justice on the Court of Appeals, Fourth District.
John will always be described as the best trial lawyer in the history of our entire court system. The lessons that we learned from him and the achievements that he made in the law are an important part of the legal history of the Inland Empire. We are all truly blessed for having had this great man and attorney practicing law in our county.

About the Author
Philip Kassel joined the SBCBA on June 17, 1955, the same day he was admitted to the California State Bar.
Born in Colton, he came to San Bernardino at the age of five. He graduated from San Bernardino High School in 1944, joined the Marine Corps and served two years in the South Pacific as a rifleman during World War II.
After two years at Valley College, he earned his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Redlands in 1950. Three years later, he earned his law degree from the USC School of Law, passed the bar, and joined the San Bernardino District Attorney's Office.
He went into private practice, joining attorneys Tom Parry and Bob Holcomb. Several years later, he partnered with Florentino Garza at Garza and Kassel. The two remained partners for 18 years. When his sons earned law degrees, he partnered with them. Sanford Kassel and Gregory Kassel currently practice in the same building, but maintain separate practices. The elder Kassel is of counsel to Gregory's firm.
Kassel received the SBCBA's John B. Surr Award in 2007, and ABOTA'S Civility Award in 2013.


The Most Outstanding Trial Lawyer
In the History of San Bernardino County
by Philip Kassel