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Mel Hawley became our twenty second Sheriff on January 3,1955. Mr. Hawley wrote a brief autobiography for me in 1993. Who better to write about someone than himself?
“I was born in 1920 and raised on the North Shore of Chicago, finally graduating from St. John's Military Academy in 1938. Never having visited California, I decided to come to Stanford for my freshman year. For reason which escape me, I decided to leave Stanford ( a veritable paradise ) and go east to college. Having made that mistake, I attended Yale and was there on December 7,1941. I had very wisely ( it turned out to be quite foolishly ) obtained my second lieutenancy in the field artillery and, therefore, found myself on my way to my unit in California within two weeks.
Our unit was sent to the Hawaiian Islands for staging for the Philippines, but in the process, through a series of very fortunate events, I was transferred to the Air Force as an aerial observer. Later on, I was sent to the Mainland for pilot training and graduated as an Air Force pilot. I finished off the war as a Captain and at the end of the war was training bombardiers in Texas.
After the war, my first job was with Hall Brothers in Kansas City who eventually acceded to my request to return me to California. While working for Hall Brothers, I decided to attend law school and entered Stanford Law School in 1949 and graduated in 1951. Being unemployed and nearly broke, it seemed like the perfect time to go to Europe so my wife, I and our two children went to Europe for six months, living mostly on the money that somebody paid us to rent the house I had built while in law school. The four of us traveled in Europe on a budget of $400/month! My wife and I are still living in that house that provided the rent.
When we returned from Europe, we were really broke so I looked around for some law experience which would get me before courts and juries. The only thing which appeared to be open at the time was with the District Attorneys Office. I applied and was grateful to District Attorney Menard for selecting me, and I became the fifth of five deputy D.A.s in the office. Each of us had a fair amount to do with law enforcement , dealing primarily with the California Highway Patrol and others. My office was immediately over the Sheriff's Office. I became aware, through rumor and otherwise, that the current sheriff was not performing as well as might be expected. As a result of that, I filed for sheriff against the Incumbent in 1954 and was elected to that office, taking the oath in January 1955. The first four years as Sheriff was an absolute delight for me, an experience I will never forget. I had the full support from some of the rather discouraged deputies and employees. With their abundant help, we really turned the department around and changed it from a cow county, politics ridden department to what I believe is a first class, professional police department. Of course, that four years was during the blossoming of Santa Clara County from a cow county into Silicon Valley and, therefore, our department went from a very modest beginning with relatively few people to a truly urban operation with literally hundreds of thousands of people having our department as their sole police protection.
I was re-elected in the primaries in 1959. Immediately after starting my second term, I received calls from Attorney General Mosk and Governor Brown ( the good one ) asking if I would take over the job of Deputy Director of the Department of Justice. After considerable soul searching, I went to Sacramento and took over the job in that I was promised that the reforms we had made in the Sheriff's Dept. in Santa Clara County would be carried out on a state-wide basis. I found working for the State Government totally frustrating. I was use to being a nice, happy dictator as Sheriff, but now found that I spent most of my time in committee meetings spinning my wheels and being essentially useless.
About 18 months of that was all I could take and I returned to private practice in 1960. I went into partnership with Paul Myers, Jr. Our firm has expanded since then and has been located in our own building in Los Altos since 1964.
Hawley, Melvin, Letter to Rick Sprain, May 1993.