A few months ago, a father and daughter from out of town stopped by my office and asked for information about Judge Gregory P. Maushart.
I told them that before he became judge he was a Merced County district attorney who effectively fought vice-related crimes in Merced in the late 1940s. They were surprised that I even recognized the Maushart name.
They explained to me that they only knew of him as a judge. The father was Maushart's nephew and the daughter, who was studying law in the Bay Area, wanted to learn more about her great-uncle.
Apparently, Maushart's stint in the district attorney's office was so brief that very few people or historical records documented his time in that post. From my research of "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Colorful History of Merced County" exhibit in 2011, I discovered that Maushart's legal career was an interesting one.
His predecessor, Frank C. Hale, was elected district attorney in 1946, took office on January 1, 1947, and resigned from office on May 17, 1948.
Hale left office because he was charged with "wilful (sic) and corrupt misconduct" in office by the Merced County Grand Jury and the state attorney general's office.
In his letter of resignation to the Merced County Board of Supervisors, Hale defended himself when he wrote, "I assure you that I have made every endeavor to conduct the District Attorney's office to the best of my ability and while I may have made mistakes, I have never intended to do a wrong thing or commit a dishonest act either in connection with my duties in the office or otherwise (Merced Sun-Star, May 17, 1948)."
With his resignation, the charges against Hale were dropped.
The fall of Hale gave rise to Maushart when he was appointed to finish the remainder of Hale's term by the supervisors.
Born on October 30, 1900 in New York, Maushart was a son of German immigrants Gregor and Josephine Maushart. He came to California in 1921, served four years in the Navy during World War II and had practiced law in Los Banos for 15 years by the time of his appointment.
Maushart's appointment signaled a new era of clean government and trustworthy prosecution in Merced County.
Mer-ced County in the 1940s was plagued by vice. Gambling and prostitution were partially to blame for Hale's downfall. The city of Merced had a thriving vice sector because of the corruption in law enforcement and government, and the presence of a large number of unattached military personnel at Castle Air Force Base.
When Maushart came to office, he launched a campaign to crack down on vice in the county. Just 11 days after he took office, he declared, "All places in the county have had more than sufficient warning and to the best of my knowledge they are now closed.
"I expect them to remain that way. If not, abatement proceedings will be commenced (Merced Sun-Star, May 28, 1948)."
During his brief tenure as district attorney, Maushart created such a hostile climate for the vice trade in Merced County that the downfall of "vice king" Rusty Doan was attributed to him.
In January 1950, after nearly two decades of running an underworld of illegal drugs and prostitution, Doan and three others faced federal grand jury indictments of operating a statewide criminal enterprise.
In commenting on these charges, Maushart said, "We have been successful to the point where we feel organized vice in Merced is at an all-time low. The indictments of (Rusty) Doan, (B.C.) Bowden, (Lloyd) Secrist, and (Ed) Dollins may be the final blow needed to end forever the threat of this group to the peace and security of the homes of Merced (Merced Sun-Star, Jan. 20, 1950)."
Maushart's successful campaign on vice no doubt helped him get appointed to the bench. He took his oath as Merced County Superior Court judge on Feb. 1, 1950, administrated by Associate Justice Jesse Carter.
Judge Maushart continued his career through the mid-1960s.
He died Dec. 12, 1967. Even though Maushart was never elected to the district attorney's post, his effective leadership helped guide that office through one of its most difficult times.
To view the courtroom where Maushart's swearing-in ceremony took place and to learn more about the legal history of Merced County, please visit the Merced County Courthouse Museum.
Currently on display at the museum is the "Young Historians at Work: Merced High School Oral History Project" exhibit.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at email@example.com.