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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


The New York Times
December 31, 1909

Ex-Supt. Collins Steals a March on Him by Taking Charge in the Night.


Bodyguard with Him to Enforce a Court Order and Help Collect $38,000 Back Salary.

When George F. Scannell, Superintendent of Highways, entered his office on the sixteenth floor of the Park Row Building at 9:30 o'clock yesterday morning he found somebody sitting calmly at his desk smoking a cigar and wearing an air of authority.  The placid visitor was James H. Collins, former Superintendent of Highways, who was ousted from his place six years ago to make way for Scannell.

"What are you doing here?" demanded Scannell.

"Holding down the job," retorted Collins.  "How do I look?"

"You look so out of place that I'll order you out," replied Scannell.

"Order me out?" echoed Collins.  "Not so.  I've got an order from the court that beats yours, and I'm going to stay."

Whereupon Collins flourished an order which his counsel, John W. Browne, had obtained on Wednesday afternoon, from Supreme Court Justice Davis giving him the right of physical possession of the office of Superintendent of Highways.  Judge Davis had granted the order on the representation of Collins's counsel that if his client did not take possession of the office before to-night at 12 o'clock he would forfeit a judgement rendered in his favor by the Court of Appeals recently by which Collins was reinstated to the office from which he had been dismissed and awarded $30,000 in back salary and interest, and $1,800 in counsel fees.

Scannell was aware that Collins, after a bitter fight in various courts, had succeeded in winning the place back, but he was not aware that Collins's counsel had obtained the order from Justice Davis and taken care of things overnight.  He considered Collins an intruder, and told him so.

"If you want to call it that, go ahead," replied Collins.  "I've been camping here all night, and I'm going to keep on camping until the next regime comes in."

Scannell stormed around and insisted that Collins get out.  Collins, who was accompanied by two stalwart friends, would allow Scannell into the office no further than the outer railing, and asserted that he, Collins, would conduct the business of the office, and that Scannell might as well move along.

Thoroughly angry, Scannell called upon Borough President Cloughen, who this week succeeded Ahearn, and together they went to the office where Collins was holding the fort.  This time the door was locked.  They pounded on it until Collins opened it about an inch.  Cloughen demanded that Collins vacate the office, but Collins only laughed.  He allowed Cloughen to enter the office, but kept Scannell outside.  Cloughen argued that Scannell was Superintendent of Highways, and Collins replied that he (Collins) was under the court order, authorizing him to take charge.

Cut Off the Telephone.

The Borough President read the court order and then, after a conference with Scannell in the hallway, they disappeared.  A short time later the telephone communication leading to the office of the Superintendent of Buildings was discontinued and Scannell, establishing an office on the ground floor of the building, ordered the clerical force on the sixteenth floor to report to him and ignore Collins.

The unique situation which found Scannell barred out of his office came about as the result of Collins being dismissed from the office without the formality of charges having been preferred and a hearing granted.  Collins was appointed to the office by ex-Borough President Jacob A. Cantor in January, 1902, during the Low administration.  It was not an appointment that met with the approbation of Tamany Hall.

When Borough President Ahearn took office under Mayor McClellan in 1904 he summarily ousted Collins and put Scannell in his place.  Collins had been appointed from the civil service list, and he at once went to court to get his place back, contending that the civil service prevented his dismissal without charges having been preferred.  He asked for reinstatement, the $5,000 salary that goes with the office, interest, and counsel fees.  The fight dragged along for nearly six years.

Collins's lawyer took the case to the Supreme Court under thirty-three different actions and motions; eight times it went before the Appellate Division and twice before the Court of Appeals.  In most instances Collins was upheld, but at many turns the city, through the Corporation Counsel's office, succeeded in gaining delays for Scannell.  The city was concerned in the litigation because it had been named as a defendant, along with Borough President Ahearn and Scannell.

When the litigation was first started Scannell, under a ruling of the court, gave a bond to return any money he drew as salary.  For a time he did not touch the salary, but in the last two years he has drawn a large part of it. Now, under the ruling of the court, that will have to be returned or the bond he out up will be forfeited.

Court Ousted Scannell.

The last ruling that clinched the case for Collins was rendered by the Court of Appeals three weeks ago, when it threw out all argument made by Scannell through the Corporation Counsel's office and declared that Collins must be reinstated and that the salary from the time he was ousted up to the end of this year be paid back, with $8,000 interest.  But the court held that for Collins to come into possession of the salary he must take actual charge of the office.  It left him to find the way to get back.

Collins demanded that Scannell vacate, and Scannell refused.  Collins's lawyers made threats, and Scannell only smiled.  As a last resort, Mr. Browne, late on Wednesday, appeared before Justice Davis and laid the facts before him.

"What advantage is the order of reinstatement going to be if my client is to be kept out of the office?" he asked of Justice Davis.

The court listened for two hours while Mr. Browne went over the history of the case, and then spent another hour looking over the papers that had come down from the Court of Appeals.  The Corporation Counsel's office was not represented, as there was an impression there that Justice Davis would throw the case out.

Collins, with his counsel and two friends, Herbert Smythe and Charles Sanders, went around to the Park Row Building  after 6 o'clock on Wednesday.  The offices of the Superintendent of Highways were deserted except for scrubwomen.  In marched Collins and his bodyguard and proceeded to make themselves comfortable.  The scrub women were dismissed for the night, Collins ordered up dinner from a restaurant in the building, and, his counsel having departed, Collins and his bodyguard dined substantially.  The surest way to keep the office, Collins maintained, was to stay there all night.  There was a comfortable lounge for him and some easy chairs for his bodyguard.  So they curled up and slept until it was time for breakfast, when they telephoned downstairs to the restaurant.  They had just finished their meal when Scannell arrived.

Found the Doors Bolted.

To prevent Scannell from getting in by way of the maze of offices that lead from the Superintendent's private office in both directions, Collins and his stalwarts had put on heavy padlocks and bolts, which they brought along.  The door leading from the Superintendent's office to the hall was also padlocked.  While Scannell established himself in his temporary office on the lower floor of the building and the clerks reported to him, Collins had some of the private books of the office, which he had extracted from Scannell's desk.  Without these, much of the work of the office could not be carried on.

The lack of telephone communication did not bother Collins, as he sent one of his bodyguard for a messenger when he needed to get in touch with the outside world.  During the day Collins received quite a few callers, and, being familiar with the office, he handled their business for them.  He signed some papers and acted as though he were the real Superintendent.

Last night Collins and his bodyguard were still in charge of the office.  They announced at 9 o'clock that they would stay there for the night.  They were still getting meals from the restaurant below, and were in fine spirits.

"I'll stick here until Borough President McAneny is sworn in, anyhow," declared Collins.  "I am the Superintendent of Highways, and can't be put out.  I'm going to get that $38,000, and I expect to keep on being Superintendent of Highways right along.  I don't see that there are any grounds on which Mr. McAneny will be able to remove me."

Collins added that he proposed having his counsel go into court to-day to get an order for contempt of court against Borough President Cloughen for having violated the order of Justice Davis in having the telephone service cut off.

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