The Good Judge Acton Cleveland
By Bonnie Wayne McGuire
hen you visit little Sierra town of Camptonville, California you'll see a main street named Judge Cleveland Avenue. Whenever I see it I'm reminded of an experience Mel had when we were in the trucking business. He was hauling logs in the area when a highway patrolman weigh-master pulled him over to weigh the load. The truck was in a bad position and the officer seemed to be having trouble. His scales said the truck was over-weight, so he wrote out a ticket. Then he weighed it again, when the truck was in the normal position. His scales revealed the load was legal. Mel asked him to nullify the ticket, but he refused, jumped in his vehicle and headed for Sacramento. When Mel got to a phone, he called the Nevada County District Attorney to see if they would stop him. The DA refused...adding that "Mel was on the other side of the fence."
Eventually, Camptonville's Judge Acton Cleveland heard about it and was very nice. He told Mel that if he ever had any trouble in the future to call him and he'd come down to mediate. The fine was a hefty $700, so we wrote to Governor Edmund Brown to see if he'd investigate the problem. We never heard anything from him, and paid the fine. Later another highway patrolman kept harassing Mel when he was on the road. He'd pull him over and try to find something wrong. Finally Mel blew up and asked him what was going on. He replied, "You tried to get my buddy's job." Typical of human nature to always blame someone else for consequences when we make bad choices. With the passage of time what goes around comes around. Evidently, Mel wasn't the only victim of the wayward officer who cost us so much grief and money. The officer was eventually barred from the area.
Acton Cleveland was the grandson of William Bull Meek and his family were long-time residents of Camptonville. Just after the turn of the century, Yuba County was divided into seven townships. Each township had its own judge, and Earl Cleveland, Acton's father, served as the judge in the Slate Range Township Court for years until the county supervisors consolidated all the courts into one district with one judge and constable. This one-court system operated until 1928 when supervisors, in response to complaints from Camptonville residents, created three districts (Camptonville, Marysville, Wheatland). Each was to have its own judge.
"The trouble was that nobody wanted to be judge," Cleveland recalled in an article in Judges', Marshals' and Constables' Magazine, the official monthly publication of the Judges', Marshals' and Constables' Association, in March of 1977. "Finally I talked my grandfather, William Bull Meek, into it, but only on the condition that I did all the work. That was the understanding."
According to Cleveland, Meek stepped down in May 1933 because "it was making him nervous," and Acton was appointed to take over the office. Acton Cleveland also represented the Camptonville area in road matters for 40 years and was Deputy Tax Assessor into the 1960s.
Acton worked for Yuba County for 53 years. He was first appointed Deputy County Assessor in 1923 and Justice of the Peace in 1933. In 1949, this title was changed to District Court Judge. In 1977, Acton was forced into retirement as a result of the consolidation of his district with the Marysville District Court and because he was not an attorney judge. In the 1960s Acton Cleveland began to write down his memories.