Evelyn Hazen's Attorney, Stephens L. Blakely

Blog Post #30

by Jane Van Ryan

Lucille LaBonte once told me that Evelyn Hazen, the last resident of the Mabry-Hazen House, was “smart and cunning.” When she made this statement, I was a little surprised by the word “cunning.” At the time, I had not conducted any independent research on Evelyn and her landmark suit against her former fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus. Later I began to understand.

As it turned out, Lucille’s use of the word cunning was quite appropriate. Webster’s Dictionary defines “cunning” as “dexterous or crafty in the use of special resources (as skill or knowledge) or in attaining an end.” That word certainly depicts Evelyn’s savvy choice of her Kentucky lawyer for her court case.

Initially she and her Knoxville attorney W.T. Kennerly had filed suit against Ralph in Knox County, Tennessee, alleging breach of promise to marry and seduction. However, Ralph had moved to Kentucky to avoid legal action.  After one of Evelyn’s “spies” had found him living in Erlanger, Ky., Evelyn and Kennerly filed suit in Covington, Ky., and had him served him with a summons.

By moving the court proceedings to Kentucky, Evelyn was required to hire a lawyer in that state. She and Kennerly found the right man—with the right history and temperament—for the job.

He was Stephens L. Blakely, who was a seasoned courtroom litigator with strong ties to the Covington community. His resume was impressive. He was serving as the City Solicitor, who was tasked with representing the City of Covington, and he had been a Commonwealth Attorney, a position that had won him respect and admiration among the judges and his bar-member colleagues.

Perhaps most importantly, Blakely was fearless and honest. As a young man, Blakely maintained a diary in which he recorded his daily experiences, including his boyhood pranks. His near-daily entries describe his studies at law school, his trips to the Licking River to swim, as well as the classes he cut.

Some of the most intriguing entries deal with the 1900 threat of civil war in Kentucky, just after Blakely graduated from law school and had joined the U.S. Armed Forces. According to a brief Wikipedia account, the trouble began after a large number of German immigrants settled in Kentucky, and leader William Goebel became a state senator and assumed control of the Kentucky Democrat party in the mid-1890s.

One of Goebel’s actions was to remove vote-counting from the localities and put it in the hands of the Democrat-controlled Assembly. As a result, Goebel was certified as governor in 1900, although Republican William S. Taylor was believed to be the duly elected candidate in 1899. After the Kentucky Senate assembled a special Committee of Inquiry packed with Democrats, Taylor’s supporters picked up their weapons and converged on the state’s capital.

Blakely soon found himself on the front lines of the armed conflict in Frankfort, Ky., where the Taylorites and the Goebelites were threatening to kill each other and take over the state government by force. On January 30, 1900, as Goebel approached the Capitol building, he was shot by a sniper. The next day he was sworn in as governor and died on February 3. For the next four months, Kentucky was ruled by two executives: Taylor, who claimed he had been elected; and J.C.W. Beckham who had been Goebel’s running mate. Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Beckham was entitled to be the state’s governor.

In his diary, Blakely reported that armed confrontations had occurred in Barbourville and Frankfort, and a group of Kentucky mountaineers had marched into Frankfort to help keep the peace. The situation was tense, leading Blakely to opine on a possible solution. “The battle of the two rival military organizations at Frankfort will not end the contest although every man should die. It seems to me there is no resolution save a return to the principles of Democracy….” 

Evelyn Hazen outside the courtroom, 1937. Image courtesy of Knoxville News Sentinel.

Blakely also lamented the political strength of the federal government.  He wrote, “’States rights’ has almost lost the meaning it had with the founders of the Constitution.”

Blakely’s experiences during the Goebel/Taylor controversy likely had a strong impact on his political views and sentiments regarding German immigrants. When World War I broke out, he attended the first meeting of the Citizens Patriot League in Covington, which was formed to stamp out virtually everything associated with the German enemy. The league demanded the schools to stop teaching the German language and sought the closure of German-language newspapers. Blakely also was one of many men credited with leading mobs against Covington residents suspected of supporting the German cause.

In short, Blakely was precisely the attorney Evelyn needed to confront Ralph Scharringhaus—whose father was a German immigrant—in a court of law. Hiring him was a brilliant move, and it helped her attain the verdict she wanted.

Lucille LaBonte, a paralegal and Evelyn’s primary care-giver at the end of her life, knew Evelyn better than anyone and had witnessed both her intellect and propensity for anger. Lucille was right. “Cunning” was the right word.