“Mr. Sale was District Attorney & made a very kind and gentlemanly opposing counsel.”

Lavinia Goodell, November 18, 1875

While practicing law in Janesville, Wisconsin in the 1870s, Lavinia Goodell had the good fortune to deal with other attorneys who were good practitioners and good citizens. John W. Sale was one of them.

John Sale was one year Lavinia’s junior, born in Indiana in 1840. His parents moved to Rock County when he was an infant. Sale attended the Evansville seminary, taught school for five years, then began to study law in the office of Harmon Conger, who was the circuit court judge who admitted Lavinia to the practice of law in 1874. Sale attended Michigan University and graduated from its law department. He returned to Janesville in the late 1860s and began to practice law. He had a number of partners, including John Bennett In the early 1870s he served as Janesville’s city attorney for several years. In 1874, he became Rock County’s district attorney, and it was in that professional capacity that Lavinia dealt with him.

In the late fall of 1875, Judge Conger appointed Lavinia to represent two criminal defendants. (Read more about that here.)  Throughout the month of November, Lavinia made repeated visits to the jail to visit her clients and also had multiple meetings with District Attorney Sale to discuss the cases. She reported to her sister that, Sale “made a very kind and gentlemanly opposing counsel.” In 1879, Sale did one of Lavinia’s clients a good turn by recommending his early release from prison. After he was released, the client returned to Janesville where he first visited Lavinia, then called on both the man he had burglarized and Sale. Lavinia said the young man made such a favorable impression that the crime victim and the District Attorney each gave him $5.00.

In 1886, six years after Lavinia’s death, Sale was appointed to replace the late Judge Amos Prichard as Rock County judge. Sale outlived Lavinia by thirty-three years, dying of pneumonia in 1913.

Janesville Gazette, August 18, 1913

The Janesville Gazette reported:

Perhaps no man has left his mark more prominently upon the history of the community he resided in than has the departed jurist. He has been fearless in the performance of his duty as a citizen, a public official and a man. He made warm friends and admiring enemies. Not only has the county lost a good Judge, Janesville a true citizen, but his friends mourn the loss of one whose friendship they prized.

The newspaper reported that the majority of stores in the city would close during the hour of the funeral and the courthouse would be closed during the afternoon so employees could attend the services.

The Rock County Bar Association’s memorial to Judge Sale said:

Judge Sale dispensed a personal charity without ostentation but with discriminating generosity. Many a poor but deserving man and woman of Rock County has felt in the death of Judge Sale the loss of a helping hand.

Judge Sale was a man of the highest ideals in all the affairs of life. His ideals of honesty, integrity, and morality were with him real facts to be practically applied and not mere preacher’s precepts. To a much higher degree than is usual with the common run of men did he apply these ideals to his own every-day affairs, and not only that, it was his constant aim to induce others to live up to those ideals also. Nothing irritated Judge Sale more than an unworthy act. He was a good citizen, always ready to give his assistance to any movement looking to the improvement of the city or the promotion of the welfare of its citizens. He was public spirited and had real civic pride. In his death was lost a man who would well have served in any community as an ideal example of a true citizen.

He was engaged in the discharge of the duties of his office up to within a few days before his death. The announcement of his death cast a gloom  over the whole county, and few there were who did not feel they had suffered a personal loss.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (November 18, 1875); Lavinia Goodell’s letters to Sarah Thomas (March 14, 1879; October 28, 1879);  Lavinia Goodell’s diary for November 1875; Janesville Gazette (August 18, 1913); Memorial of the Rock County Bar on the death of John W. Sale, 164 Wis. xlvi (1916)

Leave a Reply