Thursday, March 28, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 13): In the News

Judge Winje and the Curious Case of Mortification

My great great grandmother Thibertine's second husband, Eric Larsen Winje, was a self-taught attorney and served as a Municipal Court judge in Duluth and Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.  Due to his high civic profile, there is more to be found about him in newspapers than many of my ancestors.  One of the most unexpected things I have discovered involves an embarrassing mishap Winje suffered while riding on a train.

Eric L. Winje, ca. 1905.
In April 1904, Judge Eric L. Winje became the focus of an entertaining piece published in several Minnesota newspapers when he sued the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad for $5,000.  The case, concerning alleged mistreatment, was originally handled by the twelfth judicial court but was transferred to federal court.  Earlier in the year, on January 16, he had boarded a train at Granite Falls in Chippewa County.  Intending to catch some rest, he requested a wake-up call from the conductor.  "It was 2:30 a.m. and Winje was soon sleeping the sleep of the man who gets up at that hour of the night to catch a train," a news article reported.  He planned to disembark at Sacred Heart but no wake-up call was issued.  He did not awaken in time and the train continued on.  When it made the next stop at Renville, he tried to leave.  The conductor, however, insisted that Winje owed another 21 cents for fare, even though his wake-up call never occurred.  When Winje refused to pay, on principal, the conductor became verbally abusive and said, in part:  "You are a thief and you are in the habit of stealing rides on trains.  I could have you arrested!"

Winje declared himself humiliated and "damaged" by the strong language of the conductor and brought suit.  The railroad company filed a counter claim for 21 cents.  For some reason, Winje asked to have the case dropped, but the rules of the court were such that it could not be done with the intervening claim having been set up.  Winje did not appear in court, possibly because of a conflict in his duties. When the case was called. the attorneys for the railroad demanded a verdict of 21 cents, which was approved.  The news article indicated that Winje would institute another suit against the corporation.

As one of the first Norwegian attorneys to come out of Chippewa County, Minnesota, Eric L. Winje was widely known as a responsible and credible person.  He held the love and respect of his large family through both good and trying times.  I can imagine how the unfairness of this incident piqued his determination to prove himself innocent and to formally refute the harsh treatment offered him by the conductor.  It did not help that the news media caught wind of the trouble and published the story for his ancestors as well as his contemporaries to read.  On this occasion, at least, Judge Winje had the misfortune to discover what it was like being on the wrong side of the bench.


--"Duluth man would withdraw suit against Milwaukee Road," Duluth Evening Herald, April 6, 1904, p.1.
--"Nap cost him 21 cents," Minneapolis Journal, April 21, 1904, p.13.

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