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SOLICITOR OF THE CUSTOMS FOR THE PORT OF NEW
May 15, 1862.-Ordered to be printed.
Mr. SHEFFIELD, from the Committee on Commerce, made the following
The Committee on Commerce, to whom was committed a bill " to expe.
dite the final disposition of revenue actions in the collection district of the city of New York, and for other purposes," and the letters of the
" Secretary of the Treasury of December 19, 1861, "relative to the ap
, pointment of a solicilor of customs for the collection district of New York, and to expedite revenue actions in said district,'' report:
That they have considered the subject referred to them, and have come to the conclusion to recommend to the House that it the bill with sundry amendments.
The merits and demerits of the bill have been fully discussed in the public press and otherwise. The grounds upon which those who sustain the measure base their support of it are, that the revenue laws, comprising acts of Congress, treasury directions, and the usages of trade, constitute a separate and distinct department of our jarisprndence, and that it requires a peculiar and special knowledge of these laws in the legal adviser of the officers of the customs to facilitate the collection of the revenue, and that the same knowledge is requisite to the successful prosecution of revenue cases before the judicial tribunals; that the vast and complicated business at the custom-house in New York, requires a person who will be competent and ready to give advice upon and to direct action with becoming promptitude under the revenue laws; that this is necessary to protect the interest of the government, and to afford just facilities to those who transact business at the custom-house. It is said that the district attorney selected, as he too often is, from the ranks of the profession, more with reference to his claims upon a political party than to bis qualification to discharge the duties which may be required of him; or, that if he is not so selected, and is selected solely with reference to his general professional qualifications, that he may be very little versed in the knowledge of this speciality in our jurisprudence, and be very illy qualified to advise and direct with becoming promptitude, upon the construction and proper mode of executing the revenue laws.
Great delays are necessarily incident to the present system, which occasions losses to the government and to those doing business at the custom-house. These delays add to the expense of the government in taxes and often costs, and subject it to great losses by the insol. vency of litigants and their stipulators.
It is represented that there are about six hundred cases, arising under the revenue laws, now pending in the courts of the city of New York, some of which were commenced some ten or eleven years since. Four hundred and eighty of those suits are pending against collectors, and involved therein is several hundred thousand dollars. Again, delay operates peculiarly adverse in revenue causes. Many of these cases depend upon evidence to be elicited from seamen-a class of witnesses that cannot be detained from their business but at great cost to the government, and sometimes much inconvenience to those from whoin the testimony is to be obtained, and whose absence may sometimes be facilitated, if not procured, by parties whose interest is adverse to that of the government. The other taxable costs, too, incident to these delays, are heavy charges upon the treasury, or upon property, the proceeds of which ought to go to the treasury. Again, it is said that the duties of the district attorney, other than those arising under the revenue lays, are quite sufficient to occupy the attention of that officer ; and that the passage of the bill will diminish the expenses of the office of the district attorney, well as the judicial expenses in collecting the revenue.
If half what is claimed for this measure is realized, the saving in witness, marshal, and clerk's fees, with the per diem of attendance of the other officers of the court, will save to the treasury far more than the mere expense of the salary of the officer created hereby.
In opposition to the bill, it is alleged that the delays referred to are occasioned by the want of additional judicial force in the southern district of New York; and that it provides for the creation of a new office, which would add to the expenses of the government.
The first of these arguments must be slightly changed now, according to a proposed change of the facts upon which it is based. The Senate have already passed an act giving an additional judge to this judicial district.
The case then is presented in the aspect of the present state of the judiciary in the city of New York, and in the light of the proposed addition to that force. Your committee could hardly bring their minds to the belief that the facts before them justify the conclusion that these very great and injurious delays in the trial and determination of revenue causes can be properly attributed to the want of sufficient judicial force. It is well known to this committee that the judges of judicial districts out of the city of New York, have been frequently called in to aid the very accomplished magistrate who presides over the court in that district, in the discharge of his onerous duties. And with such aid, it cannot be that so many causes have
been delayed to be tried for so long a time for the want of judicial force.
The fact that the law authorizes the district judge in the city of New York to ask such aid, with the additional fact that the labors of the judges in the districts in the neighborhood of New York are not so arduous but that some one of them could generally be had to aid in the disposition of the business of this district, goes far to dispel the force of this argument. But the experience of every lawyer at all familiar with the practice of the district courts would seem to justify the conclusion that the successful prosecution of the business there may require the attendance, or perhaps more correctly speaking, the court should be able to command the attendance of the prosecuting officer of the government at all times. This could not be done if two courts were in session at the same time, and for this reason the court might be delayed in the disposition of its business and the government put to great expense, and defendants or claimants might be subjected to great inconvenience and expense. Delay often operates to deny justice, and it seems to your committee to be but just that if the government bring parties into court, that the government should provide the means reasonably necessary to bring those parties to trial, and in revenue causes, from the mode by which these causes are commenced, usually by seizure, this argument applies with extraordinary force.
Now it is impossible for the district attorney to attend to the business of the government before two tribunals, such as two district courts in session at the same time, or a district and a circuit court in session at the same time, without often disarranging and embarrassing the transaction of the business of both. But if the revenue causes were assigned for trial in one of the courts, and the government causes, other than revenue, were assigned to be tried in the other, by creating the office of solicitor of customs, the courts could be enabled to proceed in the discharge of their respective duties, each aided by the proper government officer, without embarrassment, and justice could be properly and speedily administered before each judge. From the general character of the evidence it is almost impossible for the gov. ernment to obtain justice in a revenue cause, unless it is tried soon after the seizure, and experience has shown that the trial cannot be so had under the present system. The delays under the present system have involved the government in large and unnecessary expenditures and losses. This evil ought to be remedied, and the creation of this office, in the judgment of your committee, will go far towards accomplishing this object; wherefore they unanimously recommend the passage of the accompanying bill with the amendments they have reported.
The sixth section of this bill your committee deem to be of importance to facilitate the adjustment of a class of cases arising under the revenye laws; the adjustment of which, under the existing laws, is surrounded with difficulties, and involves expenditures in costs and counsel fees which in most instances fall heavily and often unjustly upon a class of persons who are not well able to sustain their onerous burden. These fines, forfeitures, and penalties often, and perhaps your committee may say generally, arise from the defective execution of duties devolving upon the masters or owners of vessels, or opon persons other than those engaged in regular business, rather than from any design to defraud the government. It does not follow that because a man is competent to command a vessel, that he will neces. sarily be competent to have his crew lists, clearances, invoices, and even his register, enrollment or license, or some one of the numerous other things which are required of him in exact conformity to law. It is this class who bear the burdens of the present system, which involves seizures and trial with the prolific bills of costs which the exuberant fancies of the officers of the admiralty jurisdiction can alone conceive. And it is to ameliorate these burdens that this section is introduced into the bill.