The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1986, Volume 32, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

by Kathryn L. Clapperton
First Prize, Weinberger Award San Diego Historical Society 1985 Institute of History

Photographs from this article

Through blue antiqued double doors edged with gold, one enters a room exuding the aura of a Paris salon at the turn of the century. A crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling and against the wall stands a tall, slender, ornate French clock. The wallpaper is a gold and white mural of the Champs Elysees.1 Le Dejeuner by Manet and several Lautrec paintings hang on one wall.2 In addition to the ornate flocked wallpaper there is a massive desk with neatly stacked papers, a mug fashioned after an English barrister, an Oxford ashtray, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in Historic Principles.3 It is a romantic room, an elegant room, a room of contrasts, and like his office, John T. Holt is a man of contrasts.

John Holt’s early life gave no indication of his future success. Born in Lebanon, Missouri in 1902, Holt moved to Pueblo, Colorado when he was young.4 Holt graduated from Pueblo High School and eventually enrolled at the University of Colorado where he received his law degree in 1929.5

Shortly thereafter, he moved to San Diego to practice law. Holt selected San Diego largely on a whim. “I was in New Mexico; I was starving and cold.” He remembered a postcard of Coronado that said, “Come to sunny California.6 With forty dollars and two suits, John Holt arrived in San Diego December 20, 1929 in an old Model T Ford.7 Once in San Diego, Holt passed the Bar and worked in the District Attorney’s Office. In 1936 he formed the first of many partnerships. His excellent work in the District Attorney’s Office and later a much publicized feud with Edgar Hervey, his first partner, established the background of Holt’s colorful career as a San Diego attorney.

In 1936 John Holt became President of the San Diego Bar Association.8 He had distinguished himself as an outstanding attorney by tireless preparation of his cases and excellent rapport with his clients. Holt combined legal brilliance with a theatrical talent to create a unique style of law practice.9 Inherent in his “style” of law is his axiom, ” …if you are not one up you are one down,” and Holt was never one down.10

Thus, preparation took many forms. The first stage prepared the client. Holt’s clients had their expectations fulfilled because he put their expectations in the right place from the start,11 He had an uncanny ability to read people and in his initial interview with his clients Holt would be absolutely frank with them.12 Holt treated clients with respect and sympathy because they often came in feeling hopeless and he sought to lift their spirits in the first interview.13

In addition to Holt’s dogged preparation, his talent for theatrics helped plead his cases. Holt claimed that a good lawyer had to be a good actor, so the courtroom became Holt’s stage.14 Like all good actors Holt realized the importance of costume. Impeccably dressed, Holt wore a different suit each day in court.15

Once dressed for the part, Holt would then build upon his well-prepared script using eloquent speech. Through his sincerity and ability to demonstrate the plight of his client, Holt could, as one partner said, “…plead a case and just about get you crying about it.”16 Sincerity about the case, however, proved to be the most important aspect of Holt’s trial technique. He believed that no matter how well one acted, the judge or jury had no trouble detecting a lawyer’s lack of conviction.17

While John Holt certainly excelled at projecting drama through his appearance and speaking ability, he also relied on visual exhibits in the courtroom. Holt became unique for his day by his use of large colorful charts and pictures. Most attorneys would have difficulty in combining large visual displays with detailed oratory, but Holt successfully combined the two to enthrall the judge and jury.18

In each trial Holt endeavored to capture the attention of the judge and jury as quickly as possible and to never release his grip. To do this Holt was always the first to stand when the judge entered the courtroom.19 He then played on the weakness of his opponent in an attempt to keep him off balance. However, once the opposing attorney surrendered, Holt was the first after the trial to congratulate him on a job well done. Holt always remembered that there would be another day in court.20

Any lawyer should cover all these aspects-prepare for the case and project the circumstances clearly and with feeling. Holt’s personality, however, made him different. While other attorneys might use colorful exhibits and wear fine clothes they could not match his ability to think on his feet.21 He saw immediately how his words played with the jury and then made adjustments accordingly.22 He had a feel for what the jury thought and for how the judge viewed the proceedings and “…those are the things you can’t memorize.23 Holt’s intuitive sense and determined preparation made him a great trial lawyer who succeeded in a wide variety of cases.

Of Holt’s many courtroom trials, three cases demonstrate his special style. In the Backon murder case, Art Backon, the lover in a love triangle, shot the husband. Backon, Holt’s client, appeared guilty of murder. However, by cleverly researching the husband’s medical history and finding documented threats from the husband to Backon, Holt proved instability on the husband’s part. Consequently, Backon pleaded self defense and the case ended in victory for Holt’s client .24

In another case, while processing a divorce for John Funk in 1947, Holt came upon an irrevocable trust. In what became John Funk vs. The Republic National Bank of Dallas, Texas, as Trustee, Holt spent thirty nights doing research in the basement of the law library. On the thirtieth night he found an old English law relevant to the situation. Armed with a seventy-eight page brief, Holt went to Texas to plead Funk’s dilemma and succeeded in winning his most difficult civil case.25

Holt’s most rewarding case though, came when he helped a beleaguered housewife obtain a divorce from her miserly husband. In despair, she came to Holt after being turned down by six attorneys. Holt found that her husband was, in fact, an extremely wealthy man, owning very valuable pieces of real property. Her story was almost beyond belief as she told of a husband who, among other indignities, had forced her to make her own false teeth.26 Holt came to her rescue, going so far as to break into her husband’s barn to reveal a hidden stash of evidence.27 Holt’s tenacity rewarded her with a substantial settlement. To this day, she remains thankful to Holt and his determination.

It is in the area of domestic law, specifically divorce, that Holt left his mark. In the 1940s few attorneys could afford to specialize in divorce law.28 Holt, however, developed a system which streamlined the divorce process while still giving the client individualized attention.29 Holt’s success led to his office being dubbed “The Dry Cleaners” as many of his women clients left their ex-husbands with little more than one suit.30 Consequently, many a worried man chose to keep Holt on retainer so that his wife could not use his legal services, -a great compliment indeed to Holt’s abilities.31

Most of Holt’s clients in his domestic cases were female .32 This was no accident. Women always played an important role in Holt’s life. He attracted them, loved them, cherished their company, and saw himself as their hero. As if to affirm this feeling, Holt said, “There is nothing like a woman to excite you, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.33 Holt’s love affairs gained him the reputation as a consummate ladies’man, a reputation he did little to discourage. Holt, however, denies that he chased women. He stated, “This is not a Don Juan syndrome where I chased girls around in circles; I’ve loved them.”34 Indeed, Holt was not cavalier about love and always treated the women in his life with great compassion and generosity.35

Holt’s relationship with women helped his career. He shared with women a trust to make them feel that they could confide in him their innermost secrets, secrets that would aid Holt in the case itself. Holt, however, never took advantage of the close lawyer-client relationship. He always maintained the sanctity of the office.36 Holt lived by a strict code of moral conduct when it came to his profession, as if he were the gallant knight who came to the aid of those distressed. And knights never betrayed their damsels. Holt may have been a ladies’ man but he never ceased being a gentleman.

Because of Holt’s success one might expect that his relationships with other attorneys might be strained. For the most part, however, Holt enjoyed an excellent rapport with his peers. Always known for his forthright courtroom manner, Holt’s honesty led to his esteem among judges and opposing associates. “His word was his bond.”37 As a result of his honesty, attorneys opposing Holt always knew that each joust would be fair but difficult. In fact, good lawyers wanted to be pitted against him, since they performed better, and because Holt always made sure his opponent’s fees were taken care of before he closed the case.38

Holt took special consideration with new attorneys by often sending them cases. If Holt saw he had an unnecessary advantage against a young attorney in court he would help by gently pointing out the younger advocate’s technical mistakes.39 Many lawyers and judges active in San Diego today have John Holt to thank for their first jobs.40

Holt has had several legal partnerships with varying degrees of success. A feud with Edgar Hervey, his first partner, is legendary. Their similar personalities led to their incompatibility as they could not share the limelight.41 With William Macomber, however, Holt gained a partner of a different style. A more shy and reserved man, the opposite of Holt, Macomber did no divorce work. Because they went their separate ways the partnership flourished.42 Holt’s longest, and present, partnership has been with Clyde Baugh. Baugh attributes the twenty-five years of longevity to mutual respect and warm admiration.43 His role as Holt’s partner has not been merely supportive, as he is a fine trial lawyer in his own right.44 Holt and Baugh have truly distinguished themselves as a law firm with talent and success.

In friendship, Holt is an endearing and trusted confidant. He does not criticize friends, and accepts them for themselves. A sensitive person, Holt often drops a friend a note or postcard .45 “He remembers the little things that count and that are so often forgotten in the hustle of today’s world.46 His generosity manifests itself by the frequent loaning of his Rolls Royce and driver for special occasions such as weddings.47 As Neil Morgan, editor of the San Diego Tribune, said, the loyalties Holt has developed are tradition in itself.48

Perhaps the reason John Holt is such a good friend is because the past is so sacred to him. A true romantic, Holt likes to believe his ancestry includes an English lord. Whether or not this is true, Holt displays the qualities of a modern Victorian, an anachronism reminiscent of a time when friendship carried more importance than greed. This misplaced knight still carries in his wallet a note written to him by a Viennese Countess, a sentimental Christmas card, and part of a verse written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.49

Certainly, it can never be said that John Holt is a man who lacks sentiment.

In his contributions to the general public of San Diego, Holt’s influence has reached beyond the courtroom. Besides the strides he made for the legal profession as former President of the San Diego Bar Association50 and one of the founders of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers,51 Holt brought a sense of elegance and respect to a city which languished in the shadow of Los Angeles.52 His fame as a lawyer led him to elite circles where he proved himself a valuable ambassador for San Diego.53 He has also contributed to a number of charities, choosing to remain anonymous.54 While Holt’s contributions to the city of San Diego may not be readily visible, the impact of his presence continues to be felt.

The essence of John Holt’s success, as with any man, comes from his philosophy of life. Holt the lawyer, Holt the lover, and Holt the friend share a common virtue: a thirst for life. He has been described as an eternal optimist, a man who is never cynical. Holt believes love to be the most important aspect of life and that without it one cannot be successful.55 Holt’s intense sincerity and deep romanticism control his personality and dominate both his personal and professional life. This sturdy emotional and zestful way of living makes John Holt unique.

John Holt remains a man of contrasts. He somehow couples a deeply emotional and caring personality to a cold, competitive profession such as law to create a successful formula. The contrast between his personality and his profession creates a mystique that singles Holt out from all other lawyers in San Diego. Still, one wonders where the legend stops and the person begins. Perhaps they are one and the same. Perhaps what truly makes John Holt great is that he is like a contemporary knight, dauntless in courtroom battle and loyal in love; a man quick to laughter and easily moved to tears;56 a modern man with the values of a by-gone era. “He is a man with music in his eyes.57



1. In an interview with the author on October 25, 1984, Holt said of his office:

“They told me I shouldn’t have a place like this. That is the Champs Elysees in Paris. I’ve been there seven times. This is the way I live-romantically. I’m a romantic. Sensitive people love my office.”

2. In an interview on October 25, 1984, John Holt discussed art and artists. Holt’s office and home are filled with the paintings of French impressionists and paintings of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Holt enjoys impressionist painters such as Manet, Monet, and Renoir because they show warmth and movement of life that is not stereotyped.

Holt claims the painting Le Dejeuner by Manet shows a cynicism of the mother and father contrasted with their boy who is full of dreams. “it started as a white piece of canvas that was completed stroke by stroke, just like an attorney who must plead his case stroke by stroke.”

Renoir’s The Luncheon of the Boating Party is Holt’s favorite impressionist painting. He loves the naturalness of it and has had a close up made of the girl holding the dog.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec fascinates Holt. Of Lautrec’s work Holt says “…it’s the excitement that picks me up-the listening to the human heart of lower class people. They have to have love, drinks, excitement. Otherwise their life would be unbearable because they have no way out financially.”

3. During the interview of October 25, 1984, with John Holt at his office, the author noted the arrangement of Holt’s desk.

4. John Thomas Holt was originally named Giovanni Silva Holt when he was born to Lura and E.C. Holt on September 4, 1902, in Lebanon, Missouri. Holt anglicized his name during high school. Holt’s father was a lawyer and the family moved to Pueblo, Colorado when John Holt was a boy, to give his father a fresh start. Lura Holt taught her children (John, Charles, and Gail) the classics. Holt remains a scholarly reader today because of this interest instilled in him by his mother. Gail, devoted to her brother John, managed his office until 1957 when she died of cancer. Charles, John’s brother, was handicapped and John took responsibility for his care.

5. In the History of San Diego County, edited by Carl H. Heilbron, (San Diego: Press Club 1936), p. 297, Wentworth Military Academy is mentioned in conjunction with John Holt’s education previous to his enrollment at the University of Colorado.

Mary Harrington Hall’s article,. “The Lawyer,” San Diego Magazine, April, 1963, Vol. 15, No. 6, pp. 71-74, 150-154, adds that Holt went back to Missouri to military school and then graduated from high school in Pueblo, Colorado. She further states:

After high school graduation in Pueblo, he bummed his way to California, played in a dance band and painted theatre posters to make his way for a year. Back in Pueblo he worked in the steel mills to save money for college. In 1923, he ran for justice of the Peace as a Democrat and lost permanent interest in politics when he was defeated.

In 1924 Holt enrolled in the University of Colorado where he washed dishes in sorority houses to help offset college expenses. He joined Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and was twice elected president. In 1928 he became student body president after a colorful campaign. His speeches had caused his opposition to throw eggs at Holt’s fraternity and tear gas bombs into the student store, where Holt had his material mimeographed.

While at the University of Colorado Holt also actively participated in the college plays.

6. Holt interview, October 25, 1984.

7. Holt interview, October 25, 1984.

8. Heibron, Carl H., ed_ History of San Diego County.

9. Neil Morgan, Editor of the San Diego Tribune, said this in an interview with the author on October 17, 1984. Neil Morgan and Holt are very good friends. Holt also represented Morgan in a custody case for Morgan’s daughter in the late 1940s.

10. During an interview with F. Alan Weismantel, attorney, on October 25, 1984,

Weismantel mentioned to the author Holt’s axiom. Weismantel worked as an associate with Holt’s firm from 1966-1970.

11. In an interview with Paul F. Geitner, attorney, on October 24, 1984, Geitner mentioned to the author Holt’s excellent initial interview with clients. Geitner was a partner with Holt’s firm from 1975-1980.

12. During an interview on October 24, 1984, Paul Geitner mentioned the perceptive notes Holt wrote down during his first interview with a client. Geitner said Holt’s correct perception of the client would “bear fruit” within six months to a year.

13. During an interview with Holton October 25, 1984, Holt mentioned that if a lawyer cannot do this, he is withholding something from the client.

14. This was mentioned during the author’s interview with John Holt on October 25, 1984. Holt expands on this idea in an article he wrote entitled “The Sentinel” Trial Bar News published by San Diego Lawyers Association May 1984, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp. 9-11.

15. An interview with Superior Court judge Franklin B. Orfield on October 24, 1984, revealed this fact to the author.

Holt’s sports coats were beautifully done but “loud” by today’s standards said Retired judge Richard B. Ault in an interview with the author on November 8, 1984. “Holt was wearing tailor-made suits when everyone else was buying them ready made.”

Holt said in a matter-of-fact manner during an interview on October 25, 1984, that he orders his clothes from London. His shirts are from Harvey and Hudson, and his suits are from Anderson and Sheppard. These stores also make clothes for the Kings and Princes of England.

Holt mentioned that he became a “clothes horse” after working in a steel mill where he had to wear gunny sacks,

It should also be noted that Holt is very fond of hats and has quite a variety of them. He also always has one coat with a red lining.

Holt’s jewelry is as famous as his clothing. Early in his legal career, when he could not afford diamonds he purchased a 75 carat Topaz ring and matching 45 carat cuff links. They were so bold that he was nicknamed “Topaz” and some people claimed Holt’s middle initial “T” actually stood for Topaz. Holt still wears his famous 62 carat star sapphire which he bought with a fee from Jack Dempsey.

16. Geitner, during his interview on October 24, 1984, mentioned this fact while describing Holt’s courtroom techniques. Geitner also added that Holt could “…touch on your emo- tions with his words.” Holt could vividly paint with his words a picture that could come alive.

17. During an interview on October 25, 1984, Holt emphasized that a lawyer must be sincere in presenting his case so that the judge and jury will know “that you mean every word you say.

18. In an interview with Paul Geitner on October 25, 1984, he mentioned that as a Deputy District Attorney in the 1930’s, Holt used a blackboard during a trial, According to Geitner, this was one of the first times in San Diego that a demonstrative exhibit was used to present visual evidence to a jury. Likewise, in his divorce cases, Holt often used color- ful charts to represent earnings or even phone calls between spouses. Sometimes he used enlarged pictures to make his point. Geitner said it was men like Holt who established the basis for the wide variety of evidence that is used in personal injury cases today.

Retired Judge William P. Mahedy, in an interview with the author on October 29, 1984, remembered “Holt’s rack with big exhibits” and said “He put on a good show and I gave him a good fee-he deserved it.” This was Mahedy’s last interview. He died on November 25, 1984.

19. Clyde A. Baugh, John Holt’s current partner, mentioned this to the author in an interview on November 13, 1984.

When Holt went to Texas in 1974 to plead the case for John Funk, he said in an interview on October 25, 1984, when the judge walked in he was the only one in the courtroom to stand.

20. Weismantel, during his interview on October 25, 1984, emphasized that only after the opposing attorney surrendered would Holt become his opponent’s “…most ardent admirer.” In fact, Weismantel said that Holt would often follow up with a complimentary letter to the opposing attorney and to his client.

21. On November 13, 1984, during an interview, Clyde Baugh said that Holt was one of the few men he knew that could think on many levels at once.

22. Baugh interview, November 13, 1984.

23. Holt’s acting ability is overrated said John Brady, attorney, in an interview with the author on October 30, 1984. Brady emphasized that a lawyer has to react upon what is happening around him and he has to do it intelligently. This is not something that “…can be stacked up in your mind… ” to use in every instance. Thus, Holt’s acting ability helped him but he still had to be able to react to circumstances occurring at a given moment in court. Holt excelled at this.

Brady worked with Holt’s firm from 1957-1958. He was the first of Holt’s younger associates.

24. Holt said in an interview on October 25, 1984, that this was his most difficult murder case because when Art Backon shot the husband, Norman Roberts, Roberts was unarmed. In researching this case Holt found that the husband suffered from grand mal epilepsy. Backon had in fact, saved the husband’s life once, while he had a seizure in the bathtub. The husband had also threatened Backon’s life repeatedly. This last point was crucial in Holt’s case. He found a calendar Backon had marked each time he was threatened by Roberts. Coupled with the husband’s insanity and this evidence Holt had Backon plead self defense much to the surprise of the prosecuting attorney who thought he had an open and shut case.

25. In an interview on October 26, 1984, Holt explained this case. Initially John Funk, a young pilot, came to John Holt for a divorce. It was while working on the property settlement that Holt found an irrevocable trust that Funk’s family attorney had persuaded him to sign before he went off to war. The attorney assured Funk that this trust would equitably take care of his wife should he be killed and could be changed after the war, When Holt found the trust he told Funk that it was “solid cement” and could not be set aside. Funk gave Holt $5,000 and asked Holt to work on his case. It was after spending thirty nights in the law library that Holt was able to fly to Texas and plead a case that proved the trust void and Funk was able to recapture all of his fortune.

John Funk in a telephone interview with the author on November 4, 1984 added to this story by saying that had it not been for John Holt his life would have been changed. The trust (which dealt with millions of dollars) was his livelihood. He praised Holt’s astute approach saying “so my goodness sakes we won that case.” Funk also mentioned that when he remarried in 1948 at Balboa Park, Holt was his best man. Holt and Funk have re- mained “dear friends.”

26. In an interview with John Holt on October 25, 1984, he remarked that because it was late in the day, he almost refused the interview. However, after hearing her story Holt real- ized that she was a “survivor” and promised to help her. Holt remarked that he spent seven months (including weekends) working on this case, but it was certainly worth it.

27. Baugh, interview, November 13, 1984.

28. According to Retired judge Richard B. Ault in an interview on November 8, 1984, times were tough in the 1940s for attorneys. It was still a depression in the legal profession. Geitner added in his interview on October 24, 1984, that divorce cases for many people were “lower kinds” of cases for an attorney to take. Brady also mentioned in his inter- view on October 30, 1984, that no one wants to specialize in divorce but an attorney can- not keep turning divorce cases down.

In fact, Holt during his interview on October 25, 1984, said he started specializing in divorce because so many clients (especially women) came to his office for this type of help. Holt believes divorce to be “…the most tragic experience of life.” This is because in divorce hearts are broken and people think they have failed. It is different from death. In death it is over.

29. According to retired judge William P. Mahedy, in an interview on October 29, 1984, Holt added class and sophistication to the divorce process.

Holt was an innovator said John Brady, in an interview on October 30, 1984. Brady described how the divorce process worked in Holt’s office. Holt would initially interview the clients, make notes, and then turn over cases he did not want to personally represent, to Brady. Brady would in turn plead the case in court. Because the fee for a divorce was $200 ($25 for a retainer, $17 filing charge) volume was important. Brady would plead as many as 50-60 cases a week.

Brady added that clients were happy with this arrangement as was evidenced by Holt’s firm representing one third to half the divorce business in San Diego in 1957.

In the office Holt had an excellent support staff. He broke up the secretarial duties: filing, typing, phones. Each girl did only one job. It was almost mass production and Holt did not like to break up the momentum even for emergencies.

Geitner, in his interview on October 24, 1984, added that Holt’s support staff had a great loyalty for him. This was because he cared about people in his office. If a secretary’s child was sick he would send her home. When one secretary was attacked on her way to the parking lot, Holt paid for security parking for all his female staff members. Thus, when the secretaries might occasionally need to stay late they would be glad to stay to help John Holt.

30. In an interview on October 24, 1984, Paul Geitner explained that prior to 1969 (no fault divorce) an attorney needed to have a lot of evidence to back up his client’s case. A lawyer might have to prove mental cruelty or adultery. Thus bank accounts would be tied up and investigations would be used to gain evidence. Also depending on the cir- cumstances a “victim” (wife-husband) could collect up to ninety-five percent of the property.

31. In addition to Geitner in his interview, Holt, Orfield, and Brady in their respective interviews mentioned this fact.

32. Especially pertinent to a woman during a divorce is an article written by John Holt entitled “Holt on How to Handle Harassing Husbands,” DICTA published by San Diego Bar Association, Volume 4, Number 8, pp. 7-8.

However, in his interview on October 30, 1984, John Brady was quick to state that Holt would “represent a man with the same vitality he would a woman.” Holt learned by representing women how to represent men and vice-versa.

See also Mary Harrington Hall’s article “The Lawyer” San Diego Magazine, May 1963, Vol. 15, No. 7, p. 61. Jonathan Edwards, the electronic millionaire was represented by Holt.

33. Holt interview, October 25, 1984.

34. In an interview on October 25, 1984, Holt stated “I’ve made lots of love, been in love and had my heart broken,” but “every one of them was my good friend.” “I can’t be cruel ever.” In fact, to enhance his love affairs he invented a special bed. Holt felt that a bed should be more than just something to sleep in. His bed included a hot coil to cook breakfast, a phone, a bar and a library. These additions were added by “wings” on each side of the bed. “Everything was close to the love nest.”

35. In an interview with the author on November 5, 1984, Phyllis Holt said that during her twenty-four years of marriage to John he has always been supportive and most generous. She added that he was a strict but caring father to her two sons.

36. Brady interview, October 30, 1984.

37. This was mentioned by Retired judge Richard B. Ault during an interview on November 8, 1984.

Superior Court judge Gilbert Harelson also mentioned this during an interview with the author on October 12, 1984.

38. Geitner interview, October 24, 1984.

39. Ault interview, November 8, 1984.

40. Both judge Richard B. Ault and Judge Franklin B. Orfield mentioned in their respective interviews that John Holt had given them cases when they were young attorneys.

41. For more information on the Hervey-Holt feud see Mary Harrington Hall’s article “The Lawyer”, San Diego Magazine, April 1963.

judge Ault in his interview November 8, 1984, was one of the few people who would talk about the feud. He mentioned the similar personalities of Holt and Hervey stating that they served as foils for each other. According to Ault, the feud also resulted in business for Holt and Hervey because if the wife was represented by Holt the husband would want to be represented by his enemy Hervey.

42. Ault interview, November 8, 1984. Mary Harrington Hall’s “The Lawyer,” San Diego Magazine, April 1963 also mentions the amiable partnership between Holt and Macomber.

43. Baugh interview, November 13, 1984.

44. In an interview with the author on October 25, 1984 Holt said of his partner, “He is one of the best trial lawyers in the State of California and he tries all of our complicated cases.” Holt further mentioned that Baugh is held in the “highest esteem” by both the Bench and Bar of San Diego. He has been called upon repeatedly to come and sit as a Judge of the Superior Court of San Diego in marital dissolution cases.

45. In an interview with Mike Neil, attorney, on November 1, 1984, Neil mentioned this to the author. Both Mike Neil and Holt are active in “The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick”. It is through this organization that Mike Neil met John Holt. In addition DeWitt Higgs, attorney, in an interview October 24, 1984, shared a three page letter with the author which John Holt had written to him. He framed this letter because it was so special.

46. Neil interview, November 1, 1984.

47. Judge Gilbert Harelson in an interview on October 19, 1984, explained how Holt had I -ned his Rolls Royce for Harelton’s daughter’s wedding.

Judge Orf ield in his interview on October 24, 1984, had a similar story of Holt loaning his Rolls Royce for Orfield’s son’s wedding.

Holt also loans his car for the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade according to Mike Neil in an interview on November 1, 1984.

48. Morgan interview, October 17, 1984.

49. During the interview on October 25, 1984, Holt displayed a book he had sent for depicting Lord Holt’s cases. He also opened his wallet and took out his special mementos.

The verse by Doyle was copied from the wall of the Sherlock Holmes Pub in London. Holt is a Sherlock Holmes “fan.” Holt is founder and president of the San Diego Chapter of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.

50. Holt has been active in the San Diego County Bar Association. Retired Judge Richard B. Ault said in an interview on November 1, 1984, that Holt would often make financial contributions to the association.

In conjunction with this Librarian James 0. Werner of the San Diego County Law Library, in an interview with the author on October 11, 1984, mentioned that Holt had contributed numerous books to the library. These books are mainly biographies of famous judges and attorneys. Many of them are first editions.

As a learning tool, Holt also donated cassettes entitled “Persuasion in Advocacy.”

51. The American College of Trial Lawyers is a prestigious group comprising only one percent of all practicing attorneys. There is a stringent selection process. As DeWitt Higgs explained, in an interview on October 24, 1984, “It is the most distinguished group of trial lawyers in America.” Holt was one of the founders of this group.

52. Geitner, in his interview on October 24, 1984, and Mike Neil in his interview on November 8, 1984, both mentioned this fact.

53. In an interview on October 24, 1984, Geitner referred to Holt’s association with the Am- bassador from India, Nani A. Paikhivala. Holt’s association with Palkhivala began with the loan of Holt’s Rolls Royce for a parade and has resulted in a close friendship,

54. This was mentioned by Judge Ault in an interview on November 1, 1984. Also Paul Geitner mentioned this fact during an interview on October 24, 1984.

55. Holt interview, October 25, 1984.

56. Hall, “The Lawyer”, San Diego Magazine, April 1963.

57. Geitner interview, October 24, 1984,

While doing research on John T. Holt the author’s interviews with the following people also served as a background for this paper: Howard B. Turrentine, Federal Court judge, interviewed on November 5, 1984, William Schall, attorney, interviewed on November 24, 1984.

The following works were also examined and are referred to in passing: “John T. Holt (Mastodon Juan) “Tracks on the Trial Trail in San Diego by Leland G. Stanford, (San Diego: Law Library Justice Foundation, 1963). Stickney’s Cracker Barrel, by Jefferson Stickney, published by Law Library Justice Foundation, San Diego, n.d. A letter of commendation dated October 22, 1984, from John F. Duffy, Sheriff. An official transcript from a luncheon honoring John T. Holt, June 6, 1980, San Diego.


Photographs from this article are from the San Diego Historical Society’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.