Order Your Copy of Historic Clermont County An Illustrated History
Historic Clermont County
Order Form

Orville Halbisch. Retired judge recalls bootlegging cases

From: Cincinnati Post, 9/20/1977. Steve Kemme

Milford Liquor Court

Milford Liquor Court. It appears to have been quite active during the actual years of Prohibition, 1920-1930. Proceeds from the fines helped lawyer Murphy build 122 Main Street, the Murphy Building

The system of justice in the 1920s and '30s had its idiosyncrasies just as it does today One man who vividly recalls those quirks of the past is Orville Halbisch, former Clermont County Probate Court Judge.

Bootlegging cases were the most interesting ones, said Halbisch, 79, sitting in an easy chair in his house at 400 Old Boston Road, the home in which he was born. He was not a direct participant in the bootlegging cases, just a bemused observer.

Bootlegging was apparently very big business in Loveland and Milford. "Loveland and Milford probably made a total of $1 million in bootleg fines," said Halbisch.

Bootleg cases in villages were usually tried by the mayor or a justice of the peace. If the alleged bootlegger was convicted, the village and the arresting officers would receive a percentage of the fine.

Halbisch said plea bargaining was very common in those cases.

The justices of the peace were always anxious to settle the bootlegging cases in their courts because of the defendant appealed his case and was found innocent, the village and the arresting officers would have no fine money to split up.

During the height of bootlegging activity, Halbisch was working as a court reporter for the Clermont County Common Pleas Court.

Attorneys for alleged bootleggers would sometimes ask him to come to the trial and transcribe the testimony. When an attorney brought a court reporter to such a case, it meant that the defendant planned to appeal if necessary.

As a result, the mere presence of a court reporter could usually induce the justice of the peace to let the defendant off with a $100 fine for a guilty plea.

Since bootlegging fines could run as high as $500 to $1000, the defendant was happy to pay only $100.

"A bootlegger could make that $100 back in one evening," laughed Halbisch. In those days, you could buy a gallon of moonshine whiskey anywhere for a dollar on up."

The political affiliation of a defendant's lawyer would often determine the outcome of a case in justice of the peace court, said Halbisch. "They really played politics," he said, shaking his head. "A Democratic lawyer's case wouldn't stand much chance before a Republican justice and vice versa."

Halbisch had an intimate knowledge of the practical operation of the justice system before he ever became an attorney. He worked as a court reporter from 1921 to 1923 for $75 a month, and then served as secretary and clerk for a Batavia law firm. In 1929, he again worked as a court reporter, this time for $125 a month.

In 1927, Halbisch began attending the Chase College of Law at night and graduated four years later.

But because of the difficulty of starting a law practice on his own, he continued as a court reporter and practiced law on the side.

Just as he was getting ready to practice law full time in 1935, the Probate Court Judge died and Halbisch was appointed to replace him. He was elected to the position the following year and did not relinquish to post until he retired in 1967.