Biography of Hon. John Hugo Grimm

John Hugo Grimm was born January 17th, 1864, at No. 21 South 10th street in St. Louis, in the immediate neighborhood of Turners’ Hall, in which companies of the Home Guards, which took part in the capture of Camp Jackson in 1861, had been organized and drilled. Valentine Grimm, his father, had emigrated to America from Coblenz, Germany, established his home in St. Louis, and became an American citizen, July 28, 1859, and was a leading member of the St. Louis Gymnastic Society (the Turners) to which history accords the position of first organizing and preparing for the conflict between the southern states and the Union as early as November, 1860, and becoming the nucleus of the four organized regiments tendered President Abraham Lincoln by Hon. Frank P. Blair, after Governor Claiborne F. Jackson declined to furnish “one man” to the Union cause, to fill the quota of about four thousand men called for national defense by the President. Valentine Grimm, in April, 1861, was among the first to be mustered into the United States service and was sergeant of Company B, First Missouri Volunteers, one of the first companies that entered the St. Louis arsenal to support the Union cause. He was an able and forceful speaker and fearlessly contributed logical arguments to guide the Turners’ Society, besides his services as a soldier. In 1862 he married Magdalene Jaeckel and while the Civil war was raging, young Grimm appeared on the scene. His father remained in the service of his country to the end of the war, attaining the rank of captain. Later, he served efficiently and honorably for many years in the federal internal revenue department in the St. Louis district. He became, meanwhile, well known as a forceful and popular campaign speaker. Thus, by precept and example, the father of young Grimm instilled into his early years devotion to the principles of our American republic and a love of its institutions, which in later years the son exemplified in public service and in private life.

Young Grimm began his education in the public schools, advanced into the old Central high school and was there graduated as one of the class orators of 1882. Under the guidance of Hon. Henry Hitchcock, a leader of the bar in his day, in whose office Grimm was a student, he matriculated in the St. Louis Law School, a department of Washington University, in 1884, graduating in 1886 with the degree of LL. B., summa cum laude, winning also the faculty prize for the best thesis. He began practice at once in the office of his preceptor and friend, then the head of the firm of Hitchcock, Madill & Finkelnburg, attorneys, and remained with them until that firm was dissolved. While engaging in practice, he attended post-graduate lectures of a special course in the St. Louis University, leading to the degree of Ph. B., which he attained in 1890. Later, the same institution (in 1912) recognizing his distinguished record at the bar and on the bench, conferred upon him the degree of LL. D.

In the early days of his experience at the bar the Medico-Legal Society of New York, in 1887, offered prizes for essays on “Insanity as a Defense to the Charge of Crime.” He submitted an essay, which was awarded the second prize in a competition, including numerous writers of eminence from many parts of the United States, the first prize going to John H. Wigmore. now professor, and Dean of the Law Department of the Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois. That incident indicates his ambitious industry in the study of difficult phases of the law and his desire to master them. His quickness to acquire the practical efficiency manifest in the office of the firm with which he commenced his professional experience, together with his natural enthusiasm, industry and agreeable social qualities, soon attracted to him considerable business, which his energy and success increased, so that, when he took up the practice on his own account, in 1890, he had already secured the respect, confidence and regard of a good circle of clients and especially of his fellow members of the bar. He was a painstaking and indefatigable worker, who quickly won attention by the care and learning exhibited in his briefs and arguments in all the courts. His ability, success and the fairness of his conduct recommended him to his brethren of the bar as eminently qualified for judicial office. So that when he was nominated in 1908 for judge of the circuit court by the republican party, with which, like his father, he has always affiliated, his election by a large majority followed as a matter of course. Since then Judge Grimm, by intense application, varied experience and devotion to the higher ideals of jurisprudence, has rapidly developed until he has become a model judge, adding lustre to the record of the circuit court of St. Louis in whose annals appear some of the most illustrious names which adorn the legal history of our country. He was re-elected in 1914 and again in 1920, so that he now enjoys the unique distinction of entering the third continuous term of service in that office in St. Louis-the first circuit judge to achieve that honor since the organization of the court. His last popular endorsements at the primary election in 1920 for the selection of candidates of his party, and at the general election following (at which in a presidential year he led his entire ticket by over ten thousand votes, and his majority over the highest unsuccessful competitor was forty-two thousand nine hundred and seventy-four) give evidence of the appreciation and esteem in which he is held by all classes of his fellow citizens. Previous to his last nomination he also received, by a very large majority, the endorsement of his candidacy by the Bar Association of St. Louis, upon a special vote by ballot of all its members. As his second term of service in the juvenile court was nearing its end a petition was prepared and presented to the judges in general term, signed by the representatives of every social agency in- the city, requesting that he be retained in that court for an additional year. The general term was willing but Judge Grimm could not see his way clear to accept this additional assignment.

It would be impracticable to present in such a sketch any adequate history of important cases which have passed before him on the bench; yet some of them may be mentioned as types of his work which has included a large mass of miscellaneous causes covering every topic which the general jurisdiction of his court embraces. In his trial procedure Judge Grimm is noted for his quick perception, diligent industry, unaffected courtesy and judicial independence. He has presided with equal ability and success in civil and criminal actions, in equity suits, and in that most exacting forum, the juvenile court, where the rules of law often require nice discrimination in administration, modified by the influence of practical common sense, in each contingency presented. In all of those fields Judge Grimm has indicated a growing breadth of vision and learning which make him stronger and more efficient as a judge with the passing years. Among many noteworthy cases which illustrate his careful and laborious work we refer to a few criminal cases: The Brandenburg case (232 Mo. 531) was for fraudulently decoying away a child. The questions of law involved were unique and unusual, because of the relationship of defendant to the child. Defendant was convicted, and the judgment was affirmed. The case held a peculiar interest because of the prominence of defendant and other persons involved.

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The Kane case (November, 1909) was one for murder committed in the rotunda of the old Four Courts building during a recess of court; there was a very elaborate trial and defendant was convicted of the charge, in the second degree; he died pending his appeal from the conviction.

The case of State v. Dora Doxie charged with murder in first degree by poisoning one William Erler, was one of the most sensational cases ever tried in the state and presented most interesting scientific questions relating to the effects of various drugs and poisons, besides presenting many nice legal points, among them every question of privileged communication recognized by law. The case of the Lewis brothers, who were convicted of the murder of a police officer in 1916, attracted much public attention. The trial (to quote the supreme court) “taxed severely, without exhausting, the judicial patience.” A number of interesting problems in the law of homicide arose for decision, touching which the supreme court held that the trial court’s “discussion of the evidence” and “of the law and the duty of the court” was “masterly.” After a review of the proceedings (which we may not take up in detail) the judgment of Judge Grimm was affirmed (273 Mo. 518). Civil cases: The Mill Tax case (St. Louis v. United Railways Co.) involved the validity of a license tax of one mill on each pay passenger carried, imposed by the City of St. Louis under its local laws (Rev. Code, St. Louis, 1907, sees. 2257-64). Several suits presented the same or similar issues. Judge Grimm gave most laborious examination to one of those cases, involving most serious and important questions of federal and state law, constitutional and statutory. He held the legislation to be valid, after thorough consideration of every phase of the controversy. There were several suits on this subject before different circuit judges, including Judge Grimm. Some of the cases were appealed to the supreme court where the rulings of Judge Grimm and Judge Fisher were affirmed (263 Mo. 387). Later some of the cases were taken to the supreme court of the United States where the writs of error for review were dismissed for want of jurisdiction (241 U. S. 647). The Bonslett case, against an insurance company upon a life policy, was a celebrated one, involving the identity of an insured named George A. Kimmel, who disappeared July 31, 1898. A series of abstruse questions of evidence and of law arose at that trial. Judge Grimm solved them correctly; and upon an elaborate review, the supreme court, in a very interesting and learned opinion, affirmed his judgment (190 S. W. 870). The University Passenger Transfer case (St. Louis v. United Railways Co.) involved the validity of the laws requiring street railways to issue as many transfers as might be necessary to carry a passenger from any one point on defendant’s line to any other point thereon, by the most direct route. Judge Grimm sustained that enactment. Defendant not only took no appeal but published a display advertisement in the St. Louis daily newspapers, accepting the decision and agreeing to abide by it, which it has done ever since. The Tax case of the Y. M. C. A. also came before Judge Grimm. A constitutional question was raised therein, as to the right to levy a tax upon the buildings of that Association, which were used to some extent for scholastic and charitable purposes, and hence defendant claimed exemption from taxation. Judge Grimm held otherwise and subjected the buildings to the tax. The supreme court affirmed his judgment (259 Mo. 233). The case of the Chouteau Avenue viaduct raised constitutional and other close questions concerning the power of the City of St. Louis to compel the submission of plans for a public viaduct over the tracks of the Missouri Pacific Railway at their crossing over Chouteau avenue. Owing to the recent establishment of the public service commission in Missouri serious doubts were started as to the authority of the city to enforce the power it claims. Judge Grimm sustained the power sought to be applied by the municipality, and the supreme court affirmed his judgment in an able opinion which remains a leading decision in this state on the topic of which it treats (262 Mo. 720). State ex rel. Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company (239 Mo. 135), involving the question of the urisdiction of Missouri courts over foreign insurance companies, grew out of a series of cases brought against various insurance companies in the circuit court of St. Louis. The defendants in each case objected to the jurisdiction of the court and sought to have the suits abated. The point was argued before a number of the judges sitting in bane, and after argument Judge Grimm wrote the opinion of the court, which was not only approved by the supreme court, but his opinion was adopted by that court as its opinion of the law.

Judge Grimm is a public-spirited citizen and especially interested in all matters pertaining to the welfare of children. He has been active in movements in the interest of public schools, having acted as president of two parent-bar associations. Any movement involving the interests of the public schools will be found to have his support. He has frequently spoken about the juvenile court and its work and is regarded in the light of an authority on that subject. On the bench he is dignified as well as courteous,. but when free from the burden of official duties he delights in associating with boys and being helpful to them, giving much of his time to their improvement. At this writing he is chairman of the executive committee of the “Knot Hole Gang,” consisting of several thousand boys who have the privilege of attending the games of the Cardinal Baseball Club. He was one of the organizers of the Boy Scouts in St. Louis and two of his sons were members and later became scout masters. Yet not merely in cases of large importance are Judge Grimm’s faculties of quick perception and accurate judgment conspicuous. He has always applied the same ability and conscientious attention to every case, great or small, of the volume of litigation which has passed before him. His judicial labors have commanded the respect and admiration no less of his brethren of the bar than of the public who come in contact with him officially.

Notwithstanding the exacting demands of his office, he has found time to give to the service of his younger brethren and novitiates of the profession by serving as professor of code pleading and practice in the Law Institute of the St. Louis University since its inauguration in 1908, where he has lectured to hundreds of students of that university and where he has always been a popular and successful instructor.

Judge Grimm’s home and social life disclose the fine human characteristics he possesses, his kindness, his good nature, his sense of humor and consideration for others. November 18, 1891, he married Sophie E. Gruen, daughter of Jacob and Sophie Gruen, old residents of St. Louis. The judge and his wife have been blessed with five boys: Elmer H., born Aug. 1st, 1892; Roland J. V., born Oct. 12th, 1893; Thomas C., born Nov. 11th, 1899; Horace F., born Nov. 7th, 1900; Herbert Hadley, born Aug. 25th, 1908. The family is full of energy and enthusiasm. During the late World war, all who were of sufficient age took an active part in the service of their country. The Judge was field director of the American Red Cross at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. Elmer (whose shortsight excluded him from acceptance for military duty) volunteered for the Red Cross and served a long time overseas. Roland entered the Infantry, while Thomas and Horace were active in the Student’s Army Training Corps.

Judge Grimm was for many years one of the Mullanphy Emigrant Relief Board and also an active member and director of the Liederkranz Club. He has long been a member of the Masonic order, a Knight Templar and Shriner, as well as a member of the Century Boat Club, the Tower Grove Gymnastic Society and of the various Bar Associations, city, state and national. He and his family belong to the congregation of the Church of the Unity. He honored the memory of his father by joining the Sons of Veterans; and became the first judge advocate general of the Missouri Division of that patriotic order.

In his youth the judge indulged in athletics and essayed the role of pitcher in various juvenile contests, enjoying considerable local fame as a general athlete In his busy years he has always continued to utilize some form of exercise. Now he evinces his love of manly sports by assiduous application to the improvement of his game (or disease) of golf in which he bids fair to become a leading judicial exponent. He gathers and gives to his friends a vast amount of pleasure along with his efforts to emulate Colonel Bogey in the domain of the latter and is most happy when he occasionally finds his own and the Colonel’s jurisdiction concurrent. The Judge enjoys a game of baseball as heartily as any of his sons, some of whom are often his companions at the baseball parks, on holidays and in the summer vacation. So that while filling well a most responsible and exacting office and meeting its every requirement, the Judge keeps meanwhile in close touch with the human side of life and is a leader in good humor, good fellowship and boon companionship, making him a welcome addition to any social circle. Withal, in sentiment and action, he exemplifies in his daily life the all around activities, virtues and amenities of a true American.


Biography, Photo,

St. Louis Missouri,

Stevens, Walter B. Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State) One Hundred Years In The Union 1820-1921 Vol 2. St. Louis-Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company. 1921.

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