Friday, June 16, 2017

Distinguished Federal Judge and Legal Educator Ray McNichols [otd 06/16]

Judge McNichols.
Photo courtesy of
University of Idaho College of Law.
Federal District Judge Raymond C. McNichols was born June 16, 1914 in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The family moved to Lewiston at some point, and Ray later graduated from the University of Idaho. During and after World War II, he served as an aviator in the U.S. Navy.

After leaving the service, McNichols attended the University of Idaho College of Law, graduating with his LL.B degree in 1950. He then opened a law practice with a partner in Orofino.

In 1954, Ray “threw his hat in the ring” for the Democratic nomination to run for Idaho’s U. S. Senate seat. He later withdrew (Idaho Falls Post-Register, May 30, 1954) from the race so as not to “dilute” the Democratic vote. (The Republican won the seat anyway.)

In 1960, McNichols served as Vice Chairman of the Idaho delegation to the Democratic Presidential Convention (Idaho Falls Post-Register, March 14, 1960). That convention selected John F. Kennedy as the party nominee. Several months after Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson appointed McNichols as a Federal Judge for the District of Idaho. During 17 years of full-time judicial service, McNichols presided over some 2,000 cases, achieving "legendary" status on the Federal bench.

In late 1976, a three-judge panel that included McNichols declared one provision of the original Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to be unconstitutional. They ruled (Idaho State Journal, Pocatello, January 2, 1977) that a clause authorizing inspections of a business site without a search warrant violated the Fourth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The U. S. Supreme Court later affirmed that decision. Thus, except in cases involving “closely regulated” industries, an OSHA inspector must obtain the owner’s consent or have a judge issue a search warrant.

During that same period, McNichols presided over a case brought by computer disk maker CalComp against International Business Machines (IBM). CalComp was a so-called “plug-compatible manufacturer” (PCM), which built computer peripherals for IBM personal computers. CalComp insisted that IBM had engaged in illegal monopolistic behavior, causing great harm to their company. The suit was filed in late 1973 and three years of discovery followed.

The actual trial began in mid-November 1976 and CalComp’s presentation ran into February. As soon as they finished, IBM countered with a motion for a directed verdict against CalComp, supporting it with a substantial legal brief. Judge McNichols weighed the evidence and then ruled in their favor, taking the case out of the hands of the jury. CalComp appealed, but a three-judge panel affirmed McNichols’ decision.

In 1981, McNichols chose "Senior" judicial status. After that he handled cases only part-time, but remained active in legal affairs for the rest of his life. In 1984, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America presented McNichols with the Outstanding Federal Trial Judge Award.

University of Idaho Law Library.
In addition to his legal activities, Judge McNichols taught classes for a time at the University of Idaho College of Law. After his death from a heart attack in December 1985, numerous prominent leaders – former governors, senators, and legal professionals – offered tributes to McNichols' judicial skills, wit, and "gentlemanliness."

He is honored at the University by the "Judge Ray C. McNichols Memorial Fund" and the "Raymond C. McNichols Moot Court Competition."

In moot court competitions, students prepare legal briefs and argue hypothetical appeals cases, often before real judges. This is training for appellate arguments, which involve arguing specific points of law after a trial verdict has been made. Unlike a trial, there is no presentation of testimony or other evidence and decisions are made by judges, rather than a jury.
References: Bruce H. Bruemmer, Kevin D. Corbitt, “Historical Note,” California Computer Products, Inc., and Century Data Systems, Inc., vs. International Business Machines Corporation Records, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota (December 1996).
“District Judge Ray C. McNichols,” U.S. Courts, District of Idaho.
“Idaho Federal Judge Ray McNichols Dies,” Spokane Chronicle (Dec 26, 1985).
Robert L. Knox, “New Developments in the Law on Monopoly: The Impact of the IBM West Coast Cases,” Vol. 14, Golden Gate University Law Review, San Francisco, California (1984).
“Raymond Clyne McNichols,” Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, Federal Judicial Center.

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