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DELGADO

decided: May 25, 1891.

IN RE DELGADO, PETITIONER.


APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF THE TERRITORY OF NEW MEXICO.

Author: Brewer

[ 140 U.S. Page 586]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

On the 13th of January, 1891, Abraham Staab, William H. Nesbitt and Juan Garcia filed in the District Court of the First Judicial District of the Territory of New Mexico, and presented to the judge thereof, their petition, in which they set forth certain facts, showing, as they claimed, that they had been elected, at the general election in November preceding, members of the board of county commissioners of Santa Fe County, in the Territory of New Mexico; and further alleged that on the 2d day of January, 1891, they had duly qualified as such commissioners; that at the same election Pedro Delgado

[ 140 U.S. Page 587]

     had been duly elected probate clerk of said county, and had qualified as such officer; that by virtue thereof he became and was the acting clerk of the board of county commissioners, and had possession of the records, books, files and papers of that office; that after their qualification as such board they demanded of him to produce the books, and to record their proceedings as such board; and that he refused so to do or to in any manner recognize them as the board of county commissioners. They prayed that a writ of mandamus might issue, commanding him to recognize them as the board of county commissioners; that he act with them as such board; and that he enter of record their proceedings as a board. Upon this petition an alternative writ was issued; and on the 15th day of January, in obedience to such writ, appellant appeared and filed his answer, alleging facts, which, as he claimed, showed that three other persons were at the November election elected county commissioners, and that the petitioners were not; and further averring that two of those other persons, on the 1st of January, 1891, duly qualified as members of the board of county commissioners, entered into possession and assumed the duties of such office, met on that day in the court-house of the county as the board of county commissioners, and proceeded to transact the business of the county; and that they were still in possession of their offices of county commissioners. He admitted that he refused to recognize the petitioners as a board of county commissioners, and alleged as his reason therefor that they were not the legally elected commissioners, and had never been in possession of such offices. On the same day, January 15, the matter came on to be heard on these pleadings, and a peremptory mandamus was ordered, commanding the appellant that he record on the records of the county the proceedings of the petitioners as the board of county commissioners of the county; and that in all things he recognize them as the only lawful county commissioners of the county. Disobeying the peremptory writ, he was brought up on an attachment for contempt, and committed to jail until he should purge himself thereof by obeying the writ. Instead of taking steps to review this judgment directly, by proceedings in error

[ 140 U.S. Page 588]

     in the Supreme Court of the Territory, appellant, on the 23d of January, filed in that court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On January 31 a hearing was had thereon, and it was denied; from which judgment this appeal has been taken to this court.

The attack upon the contempt proceedings is in a collateral way by habeas corpus, and the inquiry is one of jurisdiction. Ex parte Watkins, 3 Pet. 193, 203; Ex parte Parks, 93 U.S. 18; Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651; Cuddy, Petitioner, 131 U.S. 280, 285, 286; In re Wilson, ante, 575. In Ex parte Yarbrough one question was as to the conformity of the indictment to the provisions of the statute; and it was held that it "cannot be looked into on a writ of habeas corpus limited to an inquiry into the existence of jurisdiction on the part of that court."

This narrows the range of inquiry. It is objected that the peremptory writ was void, because ordered in vacation by the judge, and not after trial before a jury, in the court, in term time. Section 2005, Comp. Laws of the Territory, provides: "For the purpose of hearing application for and issuing writs of mandamus the District Court shall be regarded as open at all times wherever the judge of such court may be within the Territory." This section gives full authority for these proceedings. The original application was entitled "in the court," though addressed to the judge, as was proper. The hearing and judgment were by the court, and the peremptory mandamus was issued by direction of the court; and the power of the legislature to provide that the court shall always be open for certain purposes, cannot be doubted. A somewhat similar provision has been made for the Circuit Courts of the United States in respect to the supervision of elections. Rev. Stat. section 2013. While no jury was had, apparently, none was demanded; and the determination of the facts by a jury in a mandamus case is not a necessary preliminary to a valid judgment.

Again, it is objected that the punishment is different from that permissible in cases of mandamus, and section 2002 of the Compiled Laws is cited. That reads as follows: "Whenever

[ 140 U.S. Page 589]

     a peremptory mandamus is directed to a public officer, body or board, commanding the performance of any public duty specially enjoined by law, if it appears to the court that such officer or any member of such body or board, without just excuse, refuses or neglects to perform the duty so enjoined, the court may impose a fine not exceeding $250, upon every such officer or member of such body or board; such fine, when collected, shall be paid into the Territorial treasury, and the payment of such fine is a bar to an action for any penalty incurred by such officer, or member of such body or board, by reason of his refusal or neglect to perform the duty so enjoined." But that section provides for the wrong done by the party, in failing to discharge the duty imposed; and does not exclude the power of the court to punish for disobedience of the writ, or to compel obedience to the writ by imprisonment until compliance. The section quoted was taken from the legislation of the State of New York, 2 N.Y. Rev. Stat. 587, section 60; and the scope of that section was considered by the New York Court of Appeals in People ex rel. v. Railroad Company, 76 N.Y. 294. In that case the court thus interpreted the section: "We do not think that this provision was intended to prescribe the punishment for disobeying the writ, but that its object was to authorize the court to whom application should be made for a writ of mandamus against a public officer, body or board, to compel the performance of a public duty specially enjoined by law, to impose a fine upon the officer, etc., for past neglect of the duty, in addition to awarding a peremptory mandamus compelling its performance, providing no just excuse is shown for such past neglect. This power of the court granting the mandamus, to fine for past neglect, was intended to ...


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