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Harry Luther Conn

Harry Luther Conn, court reporter, criminal trial lawyer, county prosecutor and Ohio Commissioner of Insurance, was one of a small number of individuals who were appointed or elected to the Supreme Court of Ohio in the 20th century without prior experience on an Ohio court bench.

Conn, the son of Perry C. and Sophronia Saltzgaber Conn, was born in Van Wert, Ohio on April 28, 1867 and entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1886. Conn studied for two years at West Point, but was forced to resign his commission due to poor health.

Following his resignation from the academy, he moved to Indianapolis and took business classes until his appointment as a court stenographer for the common pleas courts of Allen, Auglaize, Mercer, Paulding and Van Wert counties. Conn passed the Ohio bar examination in 1894 and opened a private practice in Van Wert, where he continued to work as a court stenographer.

In 1903, Conn’s political career began with his election as Van Wert county prosecutor. He was re-elected to the office in 1905, but was defeated in his attempt to earn a third two-year term in 1907. Conn returned to private practice in Van Wert and soon earned recognition as an eloquent and effective criminal trial lawyer.

In January 1923, newly elected Gov. A. Victor Donahey appointed Conn Ohio Commissioner of Insurance and Director of the Department of Insurance. He held the position for 18 months when Gov. Donahey appointed him to the Supreme Court of Ohio on June 18, 1924. Conn served on the high court for six months and left the Supreme Court in December, following his defeat by Reynolds R. Kinkade in the November 1924 general election.

Conn authored 16 majority, concurring, or dissenting opinions. One of his majority opinions in 1925, Ohio Farmers Insurance v. Todino, called on his experience as an insurance regulator. The case involved whether the insurance company was liable for damages to an automobile of an insured owner who was not the sole operator of the vehicle. The high court also was asked to rule on whether a gift is a proper transfer of ownership of an automobile.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the appeals court and reinstated the judgment of the Jefferson County Common Pleas Court. Conn noted in his opinion that the Todino insurance policy included a clause that stipulated that only the owner and holder of the title to the automobile was an insured operator and able to be awarded a claim for damages. Conn also noted that no bill of sale existed to show title was passed from Mr. to Mrs. Todino. He cited Building Association v. Clark (1885), Holliday v. Franklin Bank of Columbus (1865) and Vining v. Bricker (1863) to show that payment, such as a bill of sale, together with a legally authorized note or contract was required to show a transfer of ownership and that a gift was not a transfer of ownership for insurance purposes.

Conn returned to the director’s office at the Ohio Department of Insurance in 1925 and resumed his private practice in Van Wert following his resignation as director.

Conn also served as chairman of the board of directors of the First National Bank of Van Wert and was a member of Van Wert’s First Presbyterian Church, as well as a charter member of the Van Wert Elks Lodge.

He married Minnie Irene Balyeat in 1898. The couple raised two children. Conn died June 14, 1939 in Van Wert from injuries that he received in a fall down the stairs from the second floor Elks Lodge meeting rooms to the sidewalk.

Quick Details

b. April 28, 1867

d. June 4, 1939

91st Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio

Jun 18, 1924
to Dec 1, 1924

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