54 U.S. 478 (1852), U.s. v. Hodge

Citation:54 U.S. 478, 14 L.Ed. 231, 14 L.Ed. 2319
Case Date:May 27, 1852
Court:United States Supreme Court

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54 U.S. 478 (1852)

14 L.Ed. 231, 14 L.Ed. 2319




United States Supreme Court.

May 27, 1852

THIS case was brought up, by writ of error, from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

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It was the same case which was twice previously before the court, as reported in 3 How. 534, and 6 How. 279.

The facts and points of law are set forth in the opinion of the court.


It was argued by Mr. Crittenden, (Attorney-General,) for the plaintiffs in error, and Mr. Johnson and Mr. May, for the defendants in error.

The arguments of the counsel were so connected with an examination of, and reference to, the accounts, which were very voluminous, that it would be difficult to present an abstract of them.


Mr. Justice DANIEL delivered the opinion of the court.

This case comes before us upon a writ of error, to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The plaintiffs in error instituted in the Circuit Court an action at law against the defendants, to recover the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars, the penalty of a bond executed by those defendants with W. H. Ker, and by which the obligors bound themselves jointly and severally for the faithful performance by Ker, of the duties of postmaster at New Orleans. The amount claimed by the United States, upon the statement of the account of the postmaster, at the Treasury Department, was, on the 18th of August, 1839, $70,126.72, nearly three times the penalty of the bond.

This cause was first tried in the Circuit Court in February, 1843, when, under a charge from the judge, the jury found a verdict for the defendants. A writ of error was sued out to the judgment of the court, but was afterwards dismissed here for the irregularity that it was signed by the clerk of the court and not by the judge. Vide 3 How. 534. Upon a new writ of error, the case was brought up to this court, was heard upon exceptions to the rulings of the judge, when the decision of the Circuit Court was reversed, and the cause remanded for trial upon a venire facias de novo. 6 How. 279.

In pursuance of the mandate of this court, the cause coming on to be finally heard in the Circuit Court on the 8th of May, 1851, the judge refused to allow any of the statements of the accounts with the postmaster or any of the transcripts from the Post-Office Department, relating to the accounts of the postmaster, or any of the monthly returns of that officer which were offered in evidence by the plaintiffs to be read to the jury, but excluded the whole of them, whereupon the jury found a verdict for the defendants. The case is now before us upon exceptions

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to the rulings of the judge, and which exceptions are as follows:

'But it remembered, that on the trial of this case, the attorney of the United States, after having read in evidence the bond sued on, offered in evidence the following certified transcripts of statement of accounts, copies of quarterly returns of W. H. Ker, late postmaster, and of the other papers pertaining to the account of the said postmaster, hereto annexed; to the introduction of which, as evidence, the defendants, by their counsel, objected, and the court sustained the objection, and refused to allow the said transcripts, or any of them, to be read in evidence to the jury; to which opinion and decision of the court, in excluding said evidence, the attorney of the United States excepts and prays that this bill of exceptions may be signed, sealed, and made matter of record, which is done accordingly.

'THEO. H. McCALEB, U.S. Judge.' [SEAL.]

By consent of the counsel of the United States, the court here states the grounds upon which it rejected the transcripts above mentioned as follows:

'1st. That the said statement of accounts, between the United States and said W. H. Ker [were] as audited and adjusted only, and did not purport to contain the statement of credits claimed by him, and disallowed in whole or in part by the officers of the government.

'2d. That the items charged to the said W. H. Ker in said accounts, prior to the year 1836, as balances of quarterly returns, do not purport on the face of said accounts to be balances acknowledged by him, nor are they supported by any proper vouchers, but merely purport to be the balances of said quarterly returns, as audited and adjusted by the officers of the government.

'3d. That the quarterly returns were not the basis of the action, and under the law could not be admitted as evidence before the jury, except as vouchers to sustain the account, (which) having been rejected by the court, the quarterly returns could not be given in evidence without it.

'THEO. H. McCALEB, U.S. Judge.'

In order to test the accuracy of the decision by which the competency and legal effect of the transcripts were passed upon by the court, and by which they were ruled out at the trial, some reference will be proper to the statutes by which those documents have been authorized and directed, and the mode of their application prescribed in the prosecution of claims on behalf of the government. By the 8th section of the act of Congress for the reorganization of the Post-Office Department, passed on the 2d of July, 1836, (vide Stat. at Large, vol. 5, p. 81,) it is provided,

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'that there shall be...

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