Bean, Robert Sharp, Judge – Obituary

Judge Robert Sharp Bean of the federal court for the District of Oregon, nationally known for his judicial mind died suddenly of a heart attack at 6:30 o’clock this morning [January 7, 1931] at his home, 1620 Briar Place. He was 76.

Shock of the death was doubly felt in that it was so unexpected. According to a member of the family, Judge Bean, on retiring last night, was as well as he had ever been. He retired about 11 o’clock, Mrs. Bean said. Shortly before 6 a.m. today he arose complaining of a slight stomach ailment. He was somewhat nauseated and suffered a light heart attack. He returned to bed, and at 6:30 a second attack came. Death was instantaneous. He had been dead for some minutes when the family physician arrived. Funeral services will be at 3 p.m., Friday at Trinity Episcopal Church, 19th and Everett streets, with interment at Riverview Cemetery. Arrangements are in charge of Finleys.

Word was sent immediately to the judge’s oldest son, Condon, of Seattle, who flew south to Portland. Besides this son, Judge Bean is survived by other boys, Ormand and Robert, both of Portland; his widow, Ina C. Bean; a sister, Mrs. W. W. Pope of Ventura, Cal. and two brothers, James R. Bean of Oswego, and Chester O. Bean of Raymond, Wash. One son, Dr. Harold Bean, Portland diagnostician died last year.

To those who had watched Judge Bean, the end of his long judicial career had seemed far away, in spite of his advanced years. From one day to another, he appeared on the federal bench, vigorous, energetic and keen-minded. For 48 years, Robert Sharp Bean had been a judge and for almost 22 of these had occupied the federal bench. In that long career, he built a reputation which spread over the country. His decisions, noted for their clarity and impregnability to attack were quoted in courts throughout the United States. Only once during his time on the federal bench was one of his decisions overruled by a higher court. It was this ability to reach an unassailable stand on legal points that won the jurist fame.

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Judge Bean was on the federal bench as usual Tuesday, and directed a verdict in a war risk insurance case. He appeared as hearty as always and was seen conversing with several attorneys, prior to retiring to his chambers after directing the verdict.

Judge Bean’s life was a colorful one. He was born on a Yamhill County farm near McMinnville, November 28, 1854, one of 11 children of Obediah Roberts and Julia Sharp Bean. At the time of his boyhood, Oregon was still in a frontier state and his was a boy’s life in this setting. He was an expert hunter and frequently furnished the family table with food gathered on his hunting trips.

When he was old enough to walk the necessary three quarters of a mile from his home to the district school, his education began. Mathematics was his favorite study. From their farm Mr. and Mrs. Bean moved with Robert to a donation land claim 10 miles north of Eugene, when he was 10. Finishing the country schools, the youth enrolled at Oregon Christian College, Monmouth.

He graduated from there in 1873 with a bachelor of science degree. For six months he clerked at a store at Junction City and for a year worked as a carpenter to earn money for further studies at the University of Oregon. He graduated from there in 1878 and in the same year was admitted to the bar, beginning the practice of law in the office of J. M. Thompson at Eugene.

In 1882, while still a young man, Robert Bean was elected as judge of the Second judicial district, including Lane, Benton, Douglas, Coos and Curry counties. He served in that capacity until 1890, when he was named to the supreme court bench, where he remained for 19 years. He was chief justice from 1894 to 1896, 1900 to 1902 and 1905 to 1908.

While acting for the Second judicial district, Judge Beam had judicial sway over a territory of approximately 15,000 square miles. Those were the early days and there were neither roads nor automobiles. Traveling by horseback, the judge would visit the various county seats to hold court. Such sessions were gala events in the towns.

When a vacancy occurred on the federal bench in Oregon in 1909, President Taft at once selected Judge Bean for the appointment. He had continued there since.

Judge Bean was the oldest alumnus of the University of Oregon. A committee of graduates last September voted him the most distinguished alumnus of the university. From 1899 to 1920 Judge Bean was president of the university’s board of regents, with his service on the board dating back to 1882.

Judge Bean was married to Miss Ina Elizabeth Condon at Eugene, September 7, 1880. Five sons were born to them. Judge Bean was a past president of the State Bar Association and a director of the Oregon Historical Society. Judge Bean’s appointment to the federal bench was after that of the late Judge Charles E. Wolverton, his long associate and friend, the latter having been named to the court December 5, 1905. Judge Wolverton died September 21, 1926, and Judge Bean occupied the federal bench alone until the appointment of Judge McNary in February, 1927.

The most important case Judge Bean had under consideration was the much discussed and twice-heard cross-state rail case, which set a precedent in I. C. C. annals. Whether his death will cause a second rehearing of the case is not known. The case involves a suit instigated by the Union Pacific Railroad which challenged the right of the interstate commerce commission to order the carrier to construct a cross-state line from Crane to Lake Crescent, presenting an entirely new problem.

The case was first heard here in September before Federal Circuit Judge District of Idaho and Federal District Judges Bean and McNary. Judge Dietrich’s sudden death shortly after the first hearing necessitated the second hearing, held here December 9.

The statues provide that such a case must be heard before a court composed of three judges, who must render a decision on the matter. Speculation as to whether a second rehearing is necessary was voiced by one of the judges in the matter, who believed that a district judge and a circuit judge may pass on the question. He pointed out that the second hearing was caused by the death of the circuit judge.

The other judge in the matter expressed the opinion that inasmuch as the second hearing was ordered on Judge Dietrich’s death, the same procedure probably will be necessary. Attorneys in the case expressed the opinion after consulting the statutes that two judges would have no jurisdiction since the law calls for three judges sitting en banc. Neither side will demand another hearing, however, it was pointed out. It is held likely by the attorneys that briefs in the case might be submitted to a third judge to be appointed without further argument.

Judge Bean was looked upon as a father rather than the senior judge by federal court attachés, from Jude McNary down to the lowest employee. “It is impossible to express one’s feelings at a time like this,” Judge McNary said. “I saw Judge Bean last night. He came into my chambers at 4:55 ready to go home. I believe he was more cheerful at that time than he ever was. He was wearing a colored shirt-the first time he had worn anything but white, I believe, and he asked me how I liked it.

“His was a great mind, famed throughout the country. No one can replace him, I had known him, fairly intimately, since he was elected supreme judge of Oregon, and by sight since I attended law school. In the years I was with him on the bench we naturally were very intimate. He helped me in a great many problems.

“Judge Bean had been working too hard. He told me only Monday that he was gong to Idaho to hear a case for Judge Cavanah. I advised him against it, knowing he did not sleep well on the train and that he would miss two nights’ sleep, since he intended going Friday and returning Sunday night to be on the bench here Monday. He was gong, however, because, as he said, Judge Cavanah wanted him.”

Judge McNary will automatically become senior judge of the third district. An early appointment is expected, inasmuch as the docket is crowded to the maximum. Judge McNary said there are enough cases on the docket to keep two judges busy until August. This is due mainly to the large number of war risk insurance cases.

Judge Bean was chief justice when George Neuner, United States attorney, won his bar examination in 1908. “I have always looked upon Judge Bean as a great jurist,” the federal chief prosecutor said, “I had known him since 1908, but not intimately until I took office here. Since that time he had been the same as a father to me, advising me on certain points of law, and aiding me materially. He knew law as very few men do. His decisions have been the deciding factor in dozens of cases every week.”

“It was Judge Bean’s desire that he remain in the court building until his retirement. A short time ago, while we were discussing the new federal building, he told me he hoped to remain in this building until he was ready to retire. He was eligible to retire a number of years ago, however.”

George H. Marsh, district clerk of court, had been associated with Judge Bean for more than 22 years. He was greatly shocked when apprised of the sudden death. “I knew Judge Bean long before he went on the federal bench,” Marsh said. “I was clerk of the circuit court at the time. His fairness in all cases he handled was what greatly impressed me. He rendered hundreds of decisions while I served as his clerk and as far as I can remember he was reversed only once.”

SALEM: There will be no session of the federal court here until next Monday, Judge McNary ruled today. Flags on the state supreme court building here were flown at half mast today in respect to Federal Judge Robert S. Bean, who died at his home in Portland this morning.


Funeral services for Robert Sharp Bean, 76, who for 23 years served as federal district judge in Oregon, will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Trinity Episcopal Church, with services conducted by the rector, Rev. Francis H. Ball.

Pallbearers were named today by Federal Judge John H. McNary and Charles H. Carey. Active pallbearers will be George Neuner, United States district attorney; George H. Marsh, clerk of the federal court, Raphael P. Bonham, federal district immigration commissioner; John L Day, United States marshal; A. M. Cannon, federal referee in bankruptcy, and Kenneth E. Frazer, United States commissioner.

Honorary pallbearers will include Charles H. Carey, Lawrence T. Harris, Wallace McCamant, Dr. E. P. Geary, Joseph Simon and Judge McNary.

In naming the pallbearers, Judge McNary said he and Judge Carey had selected men with whom Judge Bean had been closely associated in his work for the active list and for the honorary men whom the veteran jurist had known most intimately.

[Article continues with similar information as the obituary.]

Contributed by: Shelli Steedman



Collection: United States Obituaries.

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