In March, 1907, after three
years of delays, attorney Levy Mayer (1858-1922)
Will J. Davis, Iroquois
Mayer's thirteen-hour argument before judge
Kimbrough in Danville, IL asserted that Chicago's
building ordinances were so vague as to be
unenforceable. The ordinances were applied to
classifications of buildings that were designated by
such nonspecific terms as "large audiences," and
required equipment and construction conditions
without specifying the responsible entity --
builder, owner or tenant. The second point in
Mayer's argument was that it didn't matter how well
or poorly the ordinances were written since Chicago
didn't have the authority to write them at all.
According to Illinois state laws for cities and
villages, passed in 1872, Chicago's authority
insofar as fire regulations was limited to
demarcating zones in which wood buildings could not
be built. It had no power to pass ordinances
regulating fire preventive practices or equipment.
Since none of the charges brought in the Iroquois
Theater trial had to do with wood buildings or
zoning, and the ordinances at the basis for the
prosecution's charges were invalid under Illinois
state law, there wasn't a law with which to
prosecute Will Davis.
The jury was recessed during
Mayer's lengthy argument, brought back to deliver a
directed non-guilty verdict, then dismissed.
The jury included eight farmers, one miner, one
blacksmith, two merchants and zero women. They
jurors: Enos Campbell, Andrew W. Carrington, Jay C.
Foreman, Fred Gibbs, L. Giddings,
Paris H. Mendenhall,
George Miller and
J. L. Soale.
delivering his ruling, judge Kimbrough said that
while Davis might be morally
guilty, Chicago's defective ordinances prevented his
being found legally guilty.
"If it were in my
power to bring back those young girls to life by
putting the defendant in this case in the
penitentiary for the rest of his natural life, I
believe I would do it, but I cannot."
Mayer was born in Virginia to German immigrants
who came to America in 1850 and located in Chicago
around the time of his birth. He graduated from high school at age
sixteen and from Yale law school before he was old
enough to legally practice law. He worked at a law
library in the Rookery for $4 per week until he was
old enough to take the bar exam. He was admitted to
the bar in 1881 and went to work for Kraus &
Brackett where he he remained throughout his career,
through its various partner changes. At his death it
was named Mayer, Meyer, Austrian & Platt.
reputation and wealth was built on defending
corporations in anti-trust and
litigation, as well
as counseling the city of Chicago. He argued seven
cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was known
for hard work, preparedness and exemplary time
Mayer married Rachel Meyer in 1886. Their two
daughters were schooled in Boston where the Mayers
retained a second home. He was an avid rare book
collector (giving him something in common with
J. Davis, and firm partner,
Alfred S. Austrian).