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Madera Biographies: CONLEY

William M. Conley

   HON. WILLIAM M. CONLEY.  Ever since the organization of Madera County, with which he was intimately identified, Judge Conley has been a Democratic leader in the county and one of the most influential citizens of the city of Madera.  His entire life has been passed in central California.  Born in Mariposa County July 17, 1866, he is a son of Matthew and Margaret (Ryan) Conley, natives respectively of Ireland and Maine.  When a very small child Matthew Conley was left an orphan and at the age of seven crossed the ocean to New York with older members of the family.  Few advantages came to his boyhood years, for he was obliged to earn his livelihood at an age when most boys are in school; yet by thoughtful reading and self culture, he gained a breadth of knowledge not always possessed by college graduates.  From New York he went to Chicago and later purchased from Colonel Beaubien the old Fort Dearborn hotel, which he sold in 1892.  During that year he came to California and took up mining in Mariposa County, but in 1870 removed to Snelling, Merced County, where he continued to reside until his death in 1871.  His wife, who now makes her home with Judge Conley, is a daughter of John Ryan who moved from Maine to Chicago and in 1849 crossed the plains to California with oxteam, settling in Coulterville, Mariposa County, where he engaged in mining from the time of his arrival until his death in 1890.  In the family of Matthew Conley there were only three children, William M., C. C. and J. T.  The latter since 1894 has served as the official reporter of the superior court of Madera and Mariposa Counties.
   After having completed the course of study in the Merced public schools and graduated from the Stockton Business College, William M. Conley taught school for four years in Merced and butte Counties.  In 189, he became chief deputy assessor of Merced County and continued in that capacity until the expiration of the term of the incumbent, M. D. Wood, whereupon in October 1890, he took up the study of law.  On successfully passing the required examination, January 13, 1891, he was admitted to the Supreme Court.  His initial experience as a practitioner was gained at Bakersfield, but ill health led him to return to Merced.  In 1892, as the Democratic nominee for District Attorney, F. G. Ostrander by a ninety majority defeated him.  December 4, 1892, he came to Madera, hi object in so doing being to assist the County in the county division struggle then being fiercely waged.  To promote the cause, he spent a considerable part of the winter of 1892-93 in the state legislature, endeavoring to interest assemblymen.  In a large measure it was due to his efforts that victory was won.  At the first County election on May 16, 1893, he was candidate for Superior Judge, and received a fifty-one plurality over the three independent candidates.  May 20. 1893, he was elevated to the bench and took the oath of office, being the youngest superior judge that had up to that time been elected in the state.  At the general election of 1894, as the Democratic nominee, he was elected for a term of six years, receiving a plurality of four hundred over the Republican and Populist candidates.
   During the session of the Democratic state convention at Sacramento in 1898 Judge Conley was nominated for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, over Judge James V. Coffey, Judge J. W. Hughes, Joe Hamilton (ex-attorney-general), L. D. McKiseck, ex-Chief Justice of Tennessee, and five others.  The contest was one of the most exciting in the history of the Democratic Party of California.  By the aid of the Santa Clara delegation he was nominated on the fourth ballot.  In addition, he was the nominee of the People’ s Party and the silver wing of the Republican Party.  However, in the general election the entire Democratic ticket suffered defeat.  It was a source of gratification to his ardent supporters that he ran sixteen thousand votes ahead of his ticket, being defeated by some three thousand votes, while the candidate for governor lost by nearly twenty thousand votes.  At the biennial session of the state legislature in 1899 he received the unanimous vote of the Democratic senators and assemblymen for the United States senate.  In 1900 the Democratic county convention placed him in nomination for superior judge over two competitors.  His election was bitterly opposed and the campaign was one that called for arduous labor.  When Election Day came the County went Republican for the first time in its history.  President McKinley receiving a majority of twenty-seven. Notwithstanding this, he was elected judge by a majority of one hundred and forty-eight, a fact which furnishes added proof of his popularity.  In January 1901, he entered upon the administration of his duties for a term of six years.
   One of the most remarkable facts in connection with Judge Conley’s experience in the bench is summed up in the statement that he has tried over thirteen hundred cases in the various counties of the stage and in the appealed cases only four have been reversed, two of the four having been tried by jurors.  Such a record is unsurpassed I the state.  While he is a stanch Democrat, politics does not enter into his service upon the bench, nor are personal reasons ever allowed to influence his decisions. Calmness and impartiality characterize his mental deliberations.  With a comprehensive sweep of mind, he reviews the disputed points in a case, weighs up the evidence logically and reaches a decision promptly.  Indeed, his attributes of mind are such as qualify him admirably for judicial labors.
   The marriage of Judge Conely was solemnized in Merced and united him with Emma Bedesen, who was born in Gallatin, Mo., and in 1875 accompanied her father, Philip Bedesen, to California, settling in Merced.  Judge Conley has two sons, Philip and Matthew.  In fraternal connections he is associated with Fresno Lodge, B. P. O. E.; Madera Lodge No. 130, K. of P., in which he is past chancellor; Yosemite Parlor No. 24, N. S. G. W., of which he is past president; Madera Parlor No. 134, N. S. G. W., in which he has likewise held the highest office, being further honored by election as grand president of the order, Native Sons of the Golden West, in 1898-99.  Few men in California are as well known throughout the state as he and none has accomplished more in promoting the welfare of his city and county through the distinguished character of his public services.

Guinn, J. M., History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley, California, (Chicago: Chapman Publishing, 1905)

WILLIAM M. CONLEY - Judge William M. Conley was born July 17, 1866, near Dog Town, Mariposa County, the son of Matthew and Margaret (Ryan) Conley.  His maternal grandfather came to California in the gold rush in 1849; his father was also a miner.
    W. M. Conley attended school in Merced and Stockton, and studied law in offices in Merced and San Francisco.  He
started practice in Bakersfield where he continued for eight months.  Then he removed to Madera, and in the first election under the first Madera County Government act, in 1893, he was elected judge of the superior court.  At the time he was only twenty-six years of age, and the youngest man ever elected to a court of record in California and possibly the United States, to that time.  Re-elected again and again, at six years intervals, he continued in this position for twenty-eight years and three months.
    On September 1, 1921, Judge Conley resigned from the bench and removed to Fresno, taking up practice at first in
partnership with Carl E. Lindsay, as Lindsay & Conley, Later this firm was dissolved and he formed his present partnership with his sons; Phillip M. and Matthew Conley.  This firm, with its offices in the Pacific Southwest building, represents numerous large corporations in Fresno and elsewhere.
    During his long period on the bench, Judge Conley tried many famous cases, including the Clarence Darrow case in Los
Angeles.  By assignment from the governor—this was before the state judicial council was before the state judicial council was established—Judge Conley sat in nearly every county in the state, presiding in cases in which the local judges were disqualified.  Then he acquired a wide reputation as a trial judge throughout California.
    In 1898, when only thirty-two years of age, Judge Conley was nominated by the Democratic convention of California for
associate justice of the supreme court of the state, but was defeated by small majority in an overwhelming Republican election year.
    Judge Conley served as chief deputy assessor while residing in Merced County.  In 1914 he was candidate for congress on
the Democratic ticket, and was a delegate to the Democratic National convention in 1908.  He has been a delegate to State
Democratic conventions for the past twenty-five years, and before the days of popular election of United States senators, on one occasion he received the complimentary vote for United States senator of the Democratic minority of the State legislature.
    Judge Conley married Emma Bedesen, a native of  Missouri.  He is a member of the Native Sons order, of which
organization he was president in 1898 and he also belongs to the Elks, Eagles, Knights of Pythias and the various bar associations.
From the History of Fresno and Madera Counties, 1933, Joseph Barcroft, editor for Madera County.

Transcribed by Harriet Sturk

Last update: March 19, 2002
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