Harold Haley

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Harold Joseph Haley (November 14, 1904 – August 7, 1970) was a Superior Court judge in Marin County, California. He was taken hostage in his courtroom, along with several others, during the course of a trial, and was killed during the attempted escape of his captors with their hostages.


Harold Haley was born in San Rafael, California, and graduated from San Rafael High School.[1][2] After receiving his law degree from the St. Ignatius College; later known as the University of San Francisco) in 1928, he served as a San Rafael city attorney and as a Marin County district attorney.[2][3][4]

In 1956, he was appointed to be a municipal court judge by California Governor Goodwin Knight, and he was named to the superior court by Governor Pat Brown in 1965.[2][3] While an assistant district attorney, Haley married his high school classmate, Gertrude Ahern (born ca. 1904 – died June 6, 2002), at Mission San Rafael Arcángel on May 24, 1933.[1][5] The couple had three daughters.[4][5] Haley's niece, Maureen, is married to former Marin County assistant district attorney and Superior Court judge Gary Thomas, who was left paralyzed in the shooting spree in which Haley was killed.[5][6]

Marin County courthouse incident[edit]

On August 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson brought guns into Judge Haley's courtroom, where San Quentin inmate James McClain was on trial. McClain was freed along with two other San Quentin inmates, Ruchell Magee and William Christmas, who were present at the trial as witnesses. Jackson and the prisoners took Haley, Thomas, and three female jurors hostage and attempted to escape.

Haley, Jackson, McClain and Christmas were killed as the abductors attempted to drive away from the courthouse. Haley was apparently hit by fire from a sawed-off shotgun that had been fastened to his neck with adhesive tape by the abductors. Magee was severely wounded, Thomas was shot in the spine and left paralyzed, and one of the female hostages was also wounded.[7]

A ballistics expert would later testify that Haley was hit in the face by a shotgun blast fired within the van, as well as in the chest by a bullet from a .357 magnum that one of the gunmen had taken from a deputy.[8]


At the Marin County Civic Center, Judge Haley Drive and a memorial near the lagoon are named in his honor;[9] the faculty of the University of San Francisco School of Law also awards the "Judge Harold J. Haley Award for exceptional distinction in scholarship, character, and activities".[10] Notable alumni of the USF law school who have won the award include author Cupcake Brown,[10] former United States federal judge Martin Jenkins, and a former mayor of Daly City, California, Sal Torres.

Further reading[edit]

  • Courthouses of California: An Illustrated History edited by Ray McDevitt (ISBN 1-890771-49-X) includes photographs of Judge Haley and others being held at gunpoint during their abduction.
  • The Road to Hell (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996) by Paul Liberatore includes photographs and an account of the incident.


  1. ^ a b "Miss Ahern is Bride of Harold J. Haley". San Rafael Independent. San Rafael, California. May 25, 1933. Retrieved July 5, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c "Shootout: the cast of characters". Marin Independent Journal. San Rafael, California. August 7, 2005. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Abrahamson, Eric (1987). The University of San Francisco School of Law, A History, 1912-1987. San Francisco, California: University of San Francisco School of Law. ISBN 9780961808105. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Courtroom Escape Attempt; Convicts, Trial Judge Slain; 2 Other Wounded". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sarasota, Florida: Lindsay Newspapers, Inc. AP. August 8, 1970. pp. 1A, 3A. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c "Gertrude (Ahern) Haley profile". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California. June 8, 2002. Retrieved July 5, 2010.
  6. ^ "He's On The Job Though Paralyzed". The Spartanburg Herald. Associated Press. November 11, 1971. p. B4. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  7. ^ "Justice: A Bad Week for the Good Guys". TIME. August 1970. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  8. ^ "Ballistics Expert Details Escape Van". Beaver County Times. Beaver, Pennsylvania. UPI. April 18, 1972. p. A10. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  9. ^ Marin History Museum (2012). "Frank Lloyd Wright Designs an Icon: Marin County Civic Center". Modern San Rafael 1940—2000. Images of America. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. p. 82. ISBN 9780738593074. LCCN 2011938567. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Fimrite, Peter (May 21, 2001). "Law degree marks victory over drugs, poverty, abuse". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 6, 2010.

External links[edit]