120 years of law on the books
The Lackawanna Bar Association is celebrating more than 120 years, but its origins go back much further - to 1866, the year Scranton was incorporated as a city and the Mayor's Court formed. The region was still part of Luzerne County and was still growing. And its needs were still many.
Among them was the need for books. Some of the men who practiced law were fortunate enough to own considerable libraries of their own, but they were hardly adequate to meet the demands of the changing times. Those lawyers with limited means had difficulty getting access to the law books they needed.
A group of attorneys applied to the state Legislature in 1869 to pass an act incorporating a law library. The act was approved on April 17, and the Scranton Library Association was born. It was funded through the Mayor's Court.
In 1875, the Mayor's Court ceased to exist, and with it went funding for the law library. The next step in the evolution of the organization occurred in June 1874. Judge Edward N. Willard created an organization providing for the formation of limited partnerships or joint stock companies, to be known as the Lackawanna Library Association. Each of its members paid into a common fund for books.
The formation of Lackawanna County was still three years away. Without a courthouse here, law books were kept on the second floor of the Chittenden Drug Store Building in Scranton. Once the new organization formed and began to acquire more books, they set up the library in a building on Wyoming Avenue where the Globe Store would later stand.
Still, the library association had no regular income with which to maintain itself, and it fell into a state of neglect. The opening of the Lackawanna County Courthouse in 1884 offered some promise. The books were moved into that new structure, but the room was small and dark. Attorney Cornelius Comegys, in his 1925 history of the Mayor's Court, concludes that "those who planned, arranged and furnished it, apparently had little thought of space for law books, and none whatever for the lawyer."
From 1879 to 1890, the Lackawanna Library Association struggled along. During the years of planning and providing for a library, nothing had been done to form a proper bar association, one that would benefit its members and be a presence in the community.
Raising the bar
Then in 1890, some of the more active members of the Library Association put their efforts to dissolving it and forming a new Lackawanna Law and Library Association. It was to be managed by a board of seven members, including Edward N. Willard, Cornelius Comegys. Still, many lawyers did not join, and some who did neglected to pay their dues.
The bar association continued to evolve. In June 1918, several young lawyers met "for the purpose of forming a bar association (not interfering with the present Library Association), of which every member shall be a member without initiation and with only nominal dues." The Honorable Henry A. Knapp held the presidency of this newly formed organization until 1920, when he passed it to Cornelius Comegys.
The association took on an issue of immediate concern: the condition of the courthouse interior. With county commissioners unwilling to commit $200,000 - the minimum required for renovations - the issue was taken before the county's voting public, who supported the measure. An elevator was installed which allowed the third floor to be remade for a district attorney's office, an office for the clerk of the courts' records, a grand jury room and additional jury rooms and offices. The large court room on the second floor was remade into several smaller courtrooms. At last the law library was given attractive and appropriate space of its own.
Both the Lackawanna Bar Association and Law Library continue their proud tradition of service to the community.
Published: The Times Tribune; September 26, 2010
By: Cheryl A. Kashuba