John S. Dean, of Topeka, has been a Kansas lawyer for over thirty years, was for five years United States district attorney and by the force of his ability and his acknowledged service in many capacities is undoubtedly one of the foremost living lawyers of the state.
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His birth occurred in Seneca County, Ohio, November 11, 1861, and he is a son of William O. and Harriet J. (Curtiss) Dean. Mr. Dean was well educated, having attended college at Oberlin and determined upon the law as a profession when quite young. He became a student in the office of Judge James Pillars at Tiffin, Ohio, and in 1883, at the age of twenty-two, took the examination before the Ohio State Supreme Court. He was admitted to the bar, and in the same year came west to Kansas and established his home and office at Marion. Being well grounded in the principles of law, a hard worker, and possessing natural qualifications to an unusual degree for his chosen profession, success followed almost as a matter of course. It is likely that he would have made a success of medicine, the ministry or in commercial lines, for he is the type of man who would succeed in almost any environment and in any line of endeavor he might select.
In the language of a well known citizen of Kansas Mr. Dean has “by sheer ability and force of character fought his way to an enviable position among the best lawyers and citizens of the state.” It was in 1901 that the President appointed him United States district attorney, an office to which he gave the entire store of his ability, experience and energy for five years.
He was serving as district attorney of Kansas. when the mutiny broke out in the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth resulting in the murder of a guard and the escape of a large number of prisoners. When these prisoncrs were retaken, Mr. Dean prosecuted them for the murder, and at one trial convicted eight of the convicts for murder in the first degree, each being given a sentence of life imprisonment. So far as known, this case stands unique on the records of the Federal court.
Another important case handled by him and with a bearing on Kansas history was the action brought by Mr. Dean against the railroad company for obstructing the mouth of the Kansas River. In that case he succeeded in establishing the fact that the stream was navigable, and thus compelled the railroad company to raise bridges in order to permit the passage of vessels underneath. The special master who heard the evidence in that case was the present attorney-general of Kansas, S. M. Brewster.
As a lawyer, probably the most important litigation with which Mr. Dean has been connected was a case that attracted especial interest in the State of Kansas, Perkins v. The New York Life Insurance Company, wherein Perkins had secured $650,000 insurance from the company, giving notes for the premium and committing suicide–which fact was proved–immediately prior to the maturity of the first note. The body was exbumed several months after burial and the autopsy disclosed poison. Mr. Dean was attorney for the insurance company in this case. As other cases of a similar nature depended upon the outcome, it was bitterly contested, and while a nominal sum was granted the plaintiff, the result was really a victory for the defense.
Another case that attracted much attention was the contested gubernatorial election case, in which Mr. Dean was attorney for Governor Hodges.
In 1912, Mr. Dean served as chairman of the regular and only recognized republican league of Kansas. In 1896 he was delegate to the Republican National Convention. At various times he has been a delegate to state and other conventions, and has been one of the stalwart leaders in republican circles in Kansas for many years.
He is a member of the Cooperative Club, is vice president of the Topeka Commercial Club, is a director of the Country Club, a member of the Saturday Night Club, and is a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason and a member of the Mystic Shrine.
In 1883, the year he was admitted to the bar, Mr. Dean married Miss Jennie Laird of Tiffin, Ohio. They are the parents of six children: Ethel, wife of Claude Ball and the mother of two children named George and Elizabeth; Imogene, Mrs. Paul Billings; Mary E., William Laird, John and Morris. The family attend the Presbyterian Church.