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Among the prominent lawyers of Boise is Judge James Heber Richards, who has practiced at the bar of this state for nine years, winning an enviable reputation by his erudition, his ability to give to each point of a case its due prominence, his force in argument and his mastery of the intricate problems of jurisprudence. In a witty after-dinner speech Chauncey M. Depew once said, “Some men achieve greatness, some men are born great, and some men are born in Ohio.” The first and last clauses are both applicable to Judge Richards, who is a native of the Buckeye state, his birth having occurred in the town of Mount Vernon, on the 5th of May 1852. He is of English and Scotch descent, his ancestors being among the early settlers of New York and Ohio. They were enterprising, progressive businessmen, and thrifty farmers. The father of the Judge, Daniel Richards, was born in Syracuse, New York, and married Miss Clarissa Allen, a representative of one of the distinguished families of America. Among its members was Colonel Ethan Allen, who in connection with his “Green Mountain Boys” won fame in the Revolutionary war. Her uncle, I. J. Allen, was an intimate friend of John Sherman, a journalist of considerable prominence, later was consul to China, and is now writing on the legal department of the new Standard dictionary. Another uncle, William Allen, “stumped” the state of Illinois in company with Abraham Lincoln, and was one of the warmest friends and supporters of the martyred president. Daniel Richards engaged in the manufacture of linseed oil in Ohio, and was also the agent of the Ohio state penitentiary for the sale of its manufactures. He died in 1884, at the age of seventy-eight years, after which his widow came to Idaho with her son, the Judge, and died in Boise, in 1896, at the age of seventy-eight years. They were members of the Congregational church and their upright lives won them the confidence and esteem of all with whom they came in contact.
Judge Richards was the fifth in order of birth in their family of eight children. He attended the schools of his native town, and after the removal of the family to a farm continued his studies in the country schools until fourteen years of age, when he started out to make his own way in the world, working on a dairy farm for seven dollars per month. He was employed in that way for two years, during which time he saved the most of his small earnings, whereby he was enabled to continue his education in Belleville, Ohio, where he studied for two years. On the expiration of that period he rented a farm of one hundred and forty acres in Huron County, Ohio, for two years, and dealt quite extensively in stock. Later he was elected a teacher of the First grammar school of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and subsequently served as its principal for four years. Desiring to further perfect himself along educational lines he next entered the Ohio Wesleyan University, at Delaware, Ohio. On the completion of his collegiate work there he returned to Mount Vernon and took up the study of law under the direction of the firm of McIntyre & Kirk. In 1879 he removed to Denver and continued his preparation for the bar in the office of Markhan & Patterson, prominent attorneys of that city, who aided him in his reading for two years, when in 1881 he was admitted to the bar.
Judge Richards entered upon his professional career in Breckenridge, Colorado, where he continued in practice for six years, and in 1889 he removed to Boise, for the benefit of his wife’s health. Here he has since continued actively in the work of his profession. He throws himself easily and naturally into the argument with marked self-possession and deliberation, There is no straining after effect, but a precision and clearness in his statement, and acuteness and strength in his argument, which exhibit a mind trained in the severest school of investigation and to which the closest reasoning has become habitual. In addition to his law practice he has also been an active factor in promoting some of the most permanent and valuable public improvements in southern Idaho. He undertook the construction of the Payette ditch, which enterprise he pushed to a successful termination. He organized the Payette Valley Bank, and the Payette Land and Improvement Company, and of the latter was made president and still holds that position. He has been instrumental in bringing half a million dollars of capital into this part of Idaho since his arrival, a sum that has gone a long way toward the substantial development and improvement of the state.
The Judge has also held a number of import-ant offices and through his faithful service in se-curing an able administration of public affairs has also promoted the welfare of the communities with which he has been connected. He was attorney at Breckenridge, Colorado, and county commissioner of Canyon County, Idaho, which county he aided in organizing and in placing it on a good working foundation. He early became identified with the Republican Party, and was chosen chairman of the Republican state convention, which met in Boise in 1894. He attended the judicial convention of the same year, was nominated for judge of the third district and was elected by a large popular majority. He was the choice of a very large percentage of the bar, and his service on the bench reflected credit upon himself and the profession which he represents. He found the calendar far behind, but by his splendid executive and administrative ability he brought the court business up and cleared the calendar in all of the counties of his district. During his two years upon the bench he tried four hundred and forty cases, among which were nine murder cases, and in one of these the prisoner was sentenced to be hanged. After two years’ service on the bench Judge Richards re-signed and resumed the private practice of law. He has a distinctively representative clientage, and is retained as counsel or advocate on nearly every important case tried in the courts of southern Idaho.
On the 18th of November, 1881, Judge Richards was united in marriage to Miss Fannie Howe, a native of Fredericktown, Ohio. They have a pleasant home in Boise, and enjoy the warm regard of many friends.
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The life of the Judge has been one of unusual activity and has not been without its desirable results. Blessed with good health, from the age of fourteen years he has not only provided for his own support but also for others dependent upon him. By capable business management, indefatigable energy and perseverance he has won a handsome competence, and now enjoys a most enviable reputation in industrial circles, at the bar and in the field of politics.