by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The bitter and protracted struggle between the talented writer Yda Addis and her lawyer and politician husband Charles A. Storke led to a somewhat ambiguous Santa Barbara Superior Court ruling early in 1892 that concluded that Addis committed cruel acts, but these were mitigated by her mental and emotional state, though she was not deemed insane. Storke, meanwhile, was absolved of cruelty, but still required to provide some monetary relief to his wife, particularly for the costs of continuing litigation.
Not willing to give an inch, however, Storke appealed the ruling to the state supreme court and, with the case load that such a court has, it is not surprising that a ruling did not come until October 1893, close to two years later. The high court determined that the superior court ruling was valid, including the initial determination of August 1891 that Storke had to pay Addis $50 per month alimony and $50 for legal fees.
He, instead, filed an answer claiming she was insane and requesting that there be a court-appointed legal guardian, so he could evade any maintenance for her. Storke added that the lower court had no right to rule on alimony without first holding a hearing about her purported insanity.
The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument, averring that, if the superior court judge had to determine the issues raised by Storke first, “the entire purpose of allowing alimony during the pendency of such an action would be defeated.” Further, the body “grants a modification of the order for counsel fees, directing the $50 be paid to the plaintiff instead of her attorney.”
The prior spring, Yda published an article on a well-known Mexico City canal, the Viga, in the Californian Illustrated Magazine, but her productivity and stature as a published author had certainly diminished in recent years and the strain of the prolonged battle with Storke and his strategy to delay and defer at all costs could well have played a part in her diminished output as a writer.
After the Supreme Court ruling, the Santa Barbara Superior Court, during its normal probate session toward the end of January 1894, heard the Storke divorce case once more. Judge Cope, who’d presided over the previous hearings, hauled Charles into his courtroom to answer a charge of contempt and show cause for his continued inaction with Cope’s prior rulings.
Finally, Storke ponied up, filing his answer, and paying $360 to the court in what appears to be something like an escrow account, because Cope set a hearing date on “a motion to have this money paid over to” Addis. Now this was Yda’s suit against Charles, but he one against her, as well.
So, when that came up a few days later, Judge Cope heard a motion from Addis that Storke “be ordered to pay into court a reasonable sum to defray the expense of her defense” as well as “such monthly alimony as the court might deem just.” Consequently, the jurist ordered Charles to remit $40 for Yda’s legal expenses “and anything further which may seem proper to the court in future.”
When the Charles vs. Yda case finally wore its way through the court by the end of 1894, and a new judge, Campbell, presided, a divorce decree was finally granted to Charles. Yet, Storke was ordered to pay $250 in alimony and $200 in attorney fees to Yda, so, although Charles secured a technical victory, the fact that he had to provide remuneration to Yda was in no way satisfactory.
So, his next step was to file for insolvency and a decree to that effect was entered in court in the early part of 1895. This, in turn, led Yda to petition the judge for a citation to Charles to appear on another contempt of court charge. Because, however, Storke got his insolvency decree, this meant that “all proceedings against him [were] stayed” and the Santa Barbara Independent observed that “there will be some interesting legal complications.”
While the matter dragged on, another strange little sideshow ensued, reflecting on how Yda Addis’ persona became part of something approaching “popular culture” in mid-1890s California. Specifically, there was a bizarre wedding in San Jose, in northern California, involving Lord Sholto Douglas, whose father John Sholto Douglas, was the Marquis of Queensbury, a Scottish nobleman whose name was attached to the rules that still govern the sport of boxing today. One of the other sons of the Marquis was Lord Alfred Douglas, who was Oscar Wilde’s lover and a famous row began in February 1895 that eventually led to Wilde’s imprisonment for gross indecency.
On the last day of May 1895, Lord Sholto Douglas wearing “a cheap checked suit” and with a visage that “that betokened that the world had not been treating him kindly of late,” was under the advisement of a San Francisco insurance broker, F.H. Robertson. This was, apparently, so much the case that the 22-year old Douglas “was very awkward and very quiet” as Robertson managed the nuptials.
It was the bride, however, who attracted attention for her “vivacious manner while in court” even while her diminutive stature standing next to Douglas led the reporter to observe that”they made an odd looking couple.” Even odder was the name of the young woman, said to be listed on the marriage license as 18 years old, as the actress, whose real name was Miss L.M. Mooney, was known on whatever stage she performed on as none other than Yda Addis.
Speaking of drama, that continued in the Santa Barbara Superior Court as, on 11 June, the real Yda secured yet another judgment against her ex-husband. The judge “ordered that the plaintiff pay to the defendant $150 as attorney’s fees, and incidental expenses for a new trial.” Once again, however, Charles filed another Supreme Court appeal, so further delays ensued.
At the end of October, Addis was back in court, petitioning for alimony while the matter of payment of court expenses continued. The matter was back with Judge Cope, who, however, denied the motion. It was decided to try again before his associate, Judge John L. Campbell, who, on 27 November, heard the alimony request and also denied it. Yet, Campbell also overruled Storke’s demurrer (an objection raised on a point offered by opposing counsel), which claimed that Addis had no statutory grounds for seeking alimony.
This effectively ended the alimony pursuit and the divorce case was all but wrapped up, though, on 1 February 1896, Storke’s attorney filed a motion with the state Supreme Court to dismiss Addis’ appeal of the divorce ruling made at the end of 1894. It was revealed that the matter of financial remuneration for Yda dating back to 1891″was set aside on December 28th last  when the court found that after the action had been decided originally Storke had gone through insolvency and had deeded 600 acres of land to his mother without consideration.” This, of course, meant that he sought to hide assets to avoid paying Yda what he was legally obligated to provide her by court decree.
On 14 March, the Supreme Court refused to hear Addis’ appeal and, though earlier coverage showed the a divorce decree was made by Judge Cope in late 1894, an article in the San Francisco Examiner for this last Supreme Court decision stated that the divorce was granted in mid-January 1895 and appealed by Yda’s counsel just shy of a year later, two days before a statute of limitations would have taken effect.
To make things even more complicated, the Examiner noted that, eight days before that last appeal, on 8 January 1896, Addis procured a Santa Barbara Superior Court order “vacating the decree of divorce.” The high court, however, determined “that she cannot now appeal from a judgment which has been vacated on her own motion.”
Yet another year passed before the Supreme Court, in February 1897, set aside that order on Yda’s behalf, which decision was made because Storke, yet again, refused to pay a sum decreed by the judge for Addis’ continuing legal expenses. The high court determined that the lower court could not vacate the divorce decree because of Storke’s continued obfuscation, but only on the merits of the original decision to grant the divorce. The ruling did, though, provide Yda “recourse to collect the amount ordered by the court.”
Even this last court action provided a wrinkle, as Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Beatty dissented from the majority opinion on technical grounds—namely, that the high court’s setting aside of the vacation of the divorce decree meant “that the judgment is now revived.” That, in turn, prejudiced Yda’s right to appeal because it was suggested in the Supreme Court’s ruling that “an appeal from a vacated judgment could not be taken.”
So, Yda Addis and Charles Storke were married all of nine months before the relationship crashed and burned (literally, given the incident of her dress catching fire), but the tragicomedy of their divorce stretched out over five years. Yda’s bitter battles with the Storkes, however, were hardly over and we move on to a “family fracas” with Thomas Storke for the next post.