Working the Divine Miracle
by Richard D. Poll
Stan Larson, editor

Lawyer and Lecturer

[p.59]Part of the folklore of the Utah legal profession is that Henry D. Moyle once carried a dispute over 35 cents to the state supreme court. The story is not true, but it is not unbelievable.

Henry Moyle never represented a client half-heartedly and he never lost a case without a fight. He was not opposed to negotiating; indeed, he often quoted the lawyers’ aphorism: “A poor settlement is better than a poor law suit.” But once litigation began, he was formidable. His analytical skill permitted him to get quickly to the heart of a controversy and shape a strategy favorable to his side. Imaginative as well as thorough, he could devise a legal theory when he could not discover one on which to base a case. His experience teaching courses in equity at the University of Utah Law School doubtlessly helped him to persuade judges and juries that the rights of his clients should prevail over technicalities or contrary legal interpretations. His direct and forceful courtroom style must have persuaded or intimidated more often than it alienated, for he won far more cases than he lost. Frank Armstrong, who started his legal career in Henry Moyle’s office, later described him as “the best lawyer I was ever associated with.” Many members of the Utah bar agree that he was one of the best.

When Henry came out of the army early in 1919, he was prepared to move in two directions. Governmental law work might lead in time to elective office or judicial appointment. Private practice would provide business and political contacts and a livelihood. For a time he pursued both options, and he did nor finally abandon interest in the allied occu-[p.60]pations of politics and government until World War II.

Although Democrats controlled both the White House and the Utah governorship at the end of World War I, Henry Moyle’s hopes for early appointment as United States district attorney were disappointed. Designations as assistant U.S. district attorney and assistant Salt Lake County attorney came soon, however. These patronage-related, part-time appointments meant that he was assigned cases and legal tasks by both governments. The federal post provided a modest monthly stipend for about two years and the county compensated on a per case basis. Following the Republican sweep of 1920 elections, Henry held the U.S. district attorneyship for a week in June 1921, between the resignation of the Democratic incumbent and the installation of his Republican successor. Thereafter Henry followed through with some of the criminal and civil cases that he had been handling for the federal and county governments, but this aspect of his practice was virtually finished by the end of the year.

The range of federal work was broad. Henry prepared and presented several criminal cases to a grand jury. He prosecuted persons charged with opium trafficking, food adulteration, land condemnation, bootlegging, white slavery, and immigration law violations. A headline-making rape case was carried through to a conviction. County duties mostly involved paperwork. Henry represented the law-enforcement perspective on the Utah Social Welfare Commission in 1920-21. He also made talks about legal and civic topics to business and women’s groups. Active participation in American Legion affairs led to his election as state commander of the veterans’ organization in 1922.

The private law practice of Henry D. Moyle began modestly enough in 1919. Even before his military service formally terminated, he agreed with another young Utah attorney to open an office together “Moyle and Ray, Attorneys and Counselors at Law” were in business in the Deseret Bank Building soon after the year began. The first income recorded in Henry’s ledger was $2.50 for a power of attorney and $5.00 “to demand retraction of libel in the Rocky Mountain Times.” The clients are not named. Among the first bills paid was $2.75 for “cuspidor and mat.” Several Japanese miners with industrial accident claims were early clients, and the largest single fee recorded in the first year, $275.00, was from a Japanese-American firm.

Paul H. Ray, Henry Moyle’s first partner, was quiet-spoken, courteous, [p.61]and politic. He was more of an office attorney than a courtroom lawyer. The nature of the Moyle and Ray partnership was a sharing of the costs of rent, secretarial and clerical help, law books and other overhead, with each partner handling mainly his own cases. Informal discussion of cases was common, but shared clients were the exception rather than the rule. The relationship was congenial and apparently satisfactory to both associates. It lasted for five years.

These were busy years for Henry Moyle. He became a husband, father, and home owner; a political worker; a government lawyer; a private attorney; and a teacher. He became his father’s legal representative in many business activities and a fellow investor in several. When James H. Moyle returned from his four-year term in Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he took an office in the Moyle and Ray suite. However, he was now past sixty and preoccupied with business and political activities. So Henry became counsel for Deseret Live Stock Company and handled the legal work in connection with many real estate, mining, and oil projects that his father and sometimes his brothers put together.

Henry’s engineering training was an asset in the law. Mining companies were perpetually being organized and reorganized in Utah, and he understood the intricacies involved. He could draw up incorporation articles and leasing contracts with the right phrases in the fine print, and he could effectively represent companies before state and federal regulatory bodies. So successful was he that banks and other business firms also became clients; the Salt Lake Federal Reserve Bank and Utah State National Bank appear along with Deseret Live Stock, Nevada-Idaho Mining and Milling Company, and Cherry Creek Mining Company in the early Moyle and Ray ledgers.1 Of course, there were also the bread-and-butter cases: divorces, child custody, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and estate settlements.2

By the end of 1923 Henry was doing well enough to have to pay a small income tax.3 The Moyles had moved into their new home in Cottonwood [p.62]and there, just before Christmas, they experienced the death of little James Henry. Coincident with this tragedy was a change in Henry’s working arrangements. On 1 January 1924 the firm of Moyle and Ray was dissolved.

As Henry D. Moyle pursued an increasingly successful practice of the law in the next two decades, he was associated with a number of attorneys. Richard W. Young, a classmate at the University of Utah, and Ashby D. Boyle were his partners in the firm of Young, Boyle, and Moyle until 1927. “I am satisfied,” Henry wrote to his father, “that it is more desirable to be connected with men of your own age, provided they have sufficient business, than to be under the direction of some older lawyer.” With the dissolution of this firm, Henry set up his own office in the Continental National Bank Building. Two fledgling lawyers were associated with him during these years. Frank Armstrong was a neighbor in Cottonwood; Captain Henry Moyle had sometimes visited with Armstrong’s parents when home from Logan during the war. J. Morris Christensen had been a Rhodes Scholar from Utah.

When Henry’s father went to head the LDS Eastern States Mission in 1929, he not only vacated an office in Henry’s suite but he took Henry’s secretary, who accepted a missionary call. Millicent Dewsnup came into the secretarial position, and, with brief interruptions for marriage and family, she continued to be Henry Moyle’s “Girl Friday” for more than thirty years. As Millicent D. Cornwall, she was still keeping his personal accounts when he died.

The late 1920s were neither unprofitable nor uninteresting. Henry did well enough to support memberships in prestigious clubs and to put significant sums in insurance and investments. Income was sporadic, however, and the older Moyle children remember times when economizing received extra stress in their home. They also remember surprise gifts to the children and/or their mother when a particularly good fee was received. Henry was admitted to membership in the American Bar Association and he enjoyed the professional and social relationships with other Chicago and Harvard law school alumni and Phi Alpha Delta members. His University of Utah faculty connection added another dimension to the lives of Henry and Alberta Moyle.

By choice Henry adjusted his lifestyle when he became a stake president. But he and Alberta moved freely in Salt Lake City’s best circles and he went golfing, fishing, deer hunting, and duck hunting with many of [p.63]Utah’s prominent citizens.4 Henry took an airplane ride with Gilbert and James in March 1928, and he soon became an enthusiast for this timesaving mode of travel. He once even considered taking flying lessons, to Alberta’s dismay.5

Corporate and other business clients usually monopolized Henry’s practice by the end of the decade. Several were oil and oil drilling companies, including Capitol Gas and Oil, the distributorship owned by his father, Gilbert, and James. As an attorney recommended by United States Fidelity and Guarantee Company, he handled many bonding and liability claims. He was appointed to the Code Commission that reviewed Utah statutes in 1928. Cases took him to a widening circle of courts in the West, and Alberta gradually became accustomed to absences that might extend to a week or more.

Henry’s role as counsel for Deseret Live Stock Company involved litigation over land titles, water rights, animal trespass, and related subjects. He charged the company the same $50 per day that he charged other clients, even though his father was a major stockholder and director, all the James H. Moyle family were shareholders, and some of them thought that he ought to give the company a break.7 He did not win all of his D.L.S cases, but one that he did is a landmark in the history of Utah irrigation law.

When the Mormon church attempt to colonize Hawaiians at Iosepa, in Tooele County, was abandoned during World War I, most of the settlers returned to the islands or moved to Salt Lake City and the Deseret Live Stock Company purchased the land holdings. One Coni Hoopiiaina chose to homestead a nearby tract and began raising sheep. For water he directed the flow of several springs on the public domain onto his land by ditches. Some of the springs had once drained onto D.L.S. land, but they had not been incorporated into the collector system of canals and ditches [p.64]more recently developed by the company. In 1919 the company filed claims to the springs, pursuant to state law, and then brought suit to prevent Hoopiiaina from appropriating the water. The district court ruled for the homesteader, but on appeal the Utah Supreme Court, in 1925, found for the company. The six-year litigation enhanced Henry Moyle’s reputation and led a few years later to a revision in the state irrigation code.

A case involving an industrial accident award and a Utah brick company took Henry Moyle clear to the Supreme Court of the United States in January 1928. He lost the case,8 and he never forgot an exchange with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. As he later told a Brigham Young University audience: “I laid down a proposition of law to the Court and Mr. Justice Holmes took exception to it. I read and quoted from his own opinion and the only comeback that he had was, ‘Mr. Moyle, that opinion is twenty years old.’ That put it in the discard as far as his feelings at that moment were concerned, although it still stood as the law of the land. …”

The fact that the decision against Henry’s client was written by Justice George Sutherland, the law school roommate of James H. Moyle and now one of the court’s most conservative members, suggests that more than Holmesian pragmatism determined the outcome. Still, one of the justices of the Utah Supreme Court had earlier written a dissent based on Henry’s brief, and it is not surprising that Henry Moyle remained convinced that the law was on his side, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Through these years freshman law students at the University of Utah met Henry D. Moyle the first thing every academic morning. When he joined the faculty as a part-time teacher in 1916, the law school was only nine years old and its student body numbered about thirty. Enrollment picked up after the war, however, and classes of thirty to forty students heard Professor Moyle lecture on equity in the fall and winter terms and irrigation or mining law in the spring. By 1922-23 his contract as lecturer brought him $1,000 for the three terms.9 He never made a whole lot more than that from his teaching, but he carried on because he enjoyed it.

Henry used the case method but with little tolerance for variant inter-[p.65]pretations of the law. Alumni remember kidding about “majority rule, minority rule, and Moyle rule.” One argumentative freshman disputed a Moyle interpretation with such vigor that at the term end he asked if another professor might grade his final examination. It was arranged. On a one-on-one basis, Henry Moyle was a friendly and helpful teacher. He sometimes took a student with him when he went to confer with a judge in chambers. More than once he took his whole mining law class to Park City to go through the Silver King Mine. The engineer in him had free rein on such occasions.

In the 1920s and 1930s Henry Moyle ranked with Dean William H. Leary and Professor Willis Ritter among the powerful teachers in the law school. When he and Ritter opposed one another in moot court, other teachers as well as students came to witness the fireworks. As business and church assignments took him away more and more, his students came to expect substitutes and their remembered impressions of Professor Moyle are less vivid. At least one law school graduate remembers David Lawrence McKay, Henry’s partner, as having taught much of the equity class.10 By the time Henry Moyle completed his last term at the law school in 1942, the pulpit was replacing the lectern as his primary teaching station.

On the eve of the Great Depression, and in his fortieth year, Henry Moyle accepted the invitation to associate with Mahlon E. Wilson, a colorful cigar-chewing attorney with a very successful practice. Picturesque and blunt of speech, Wilson is remembered for having once described an opposing argument as “keeping the placenta and throwing the baby away.” Henry was reluctant to give up the freedom of running his own office, he wrote to his father, but “this is an opportunity that I cannot afford to let go by. I must make the next ten years count, and with Wilson I will immediately be thrown into more important, more interesting, and more profitable litigation than I now have.”

The association with Mahlon Wilson proved beneficial, even though some observers could not understand what the two men had in common. Henry was proud to send copies of Wilson’s Federal Courts11 to a number of friends. In a letter accompanying such a gift, he wrote: “A law partner-[p.66]ship is a very delicate relationship; in fact, I know of none more delicate, other than that of the marriage relationship itself.” The informal Wilson-Moyle connection extended through the years of deepening depression. The Utah economy; dependent primarily on agriculture and mining, had not flourished during the 1920s, and now it was severely affected by the worldwide economic collapse. Henry Moyle’s work as a stake president brought him close to the problems of the unemployed and impoverished, but his legal practice was only marginally affected. Foreclosures and bank failures generated business for lawyers; the problems of Sugar Bank of Salt Lake City engaged much of Henry’s time in 1931-32.

Millie Cornwall recalls that Henry had inside knowledge that Utah Copper Bank was in trouble but elected not to pull out his savings and was rewarded when a merger saved the institution. The amount of savings could not have been large, for Henry Moyle did not believe in letting money lie idle in bank accounts. He continued to borrow and invest in real estate, Deseret Live Stock Company shares, and mining and oil company stock on a small scale, often in association with other Moyles. When clients were slow to pay—and the Depression magnified this problem—Henry found himself pressed by his own obligations. Plans to remodel the Cottonwood home were postponed in 1932 because, he wrote to the architect, “with conditions as they are at present, it is impossible for us to consider even making minor alterations. …” With the improvement of the national mood after Roosevelt’s inauguration, Henry’s optimism returned and the remodeling went ahead. The Moyle children remember many deliveries of wholesale-priced groceries and some free produce by Angelo Ravarino, whom their father successfully represented in a lawsuit, but they were not personally touched by “hard times.”

Indeed, the Depression decade saw Henry Moyle reach the peak of his influence as an attorney in Utah. He is described by people who saw him in action-competitors and colleagues like F. Henri Henriod, Herbert B. Maw, and Frank Armstrong—as one of the most respected, feared, admired, disliked, and successful lawyers in the state.12 He represented his clients not only in the courts but as a lobbyist with the legislature. No advice carried more weight with Governor Henry Blood than that of the man who managed his reelection campaign in 1936. As chief legal counsel [67] for the Utah State Liquor Control Commission, Henry Moyle devoted much time to the establishment and enforcement of the laws that followed the repeal of Prohibition, and he did not escape unscathed from the political battles that attended the effort. He was often in Washington in the interest of his industrial, livestock, and financial clients; by now he was a director of both Deseret Live Stock Company and the young Wasatch Oil Company. His brother Walter was associated with a prominent law firm in the Capital and his father was Collector of Customs under Roosevelt. These contacts were helpful to Henry.

What made Henry D. Moyle so successful as a lawyer? “He was very aggressive and very imaginative” is the judgment of David Lawrence McKay, who became associated with him after graduating from Harvard in 1936.

Henry’s ability to persuade jurors, lead witnesses, and intimidate opposing counsel and even judges became proverbial. Finding himself once being regularly overruled by a judge who found his objections unconvincing, Henry walked out of the courtroom with his client, saying loudly enough to be heard: “Let’s go to a court that understands the law.” He won the case on appeal. Believing a witness to be lying, he questioned her for two days, courteously but relentlessly, and finally got the truth. He was not always so courteous.13 Frank Armstrong witnessed Henry take a case that seemed hopeless and win it by sheer courtroom pyrotechnics. When Janet Moyle, as a little girl, went to see her father in action, she was surprised that “Daddy could get so fierce.”

Janet was also surprised that her father could shake hands with the opposition lawyer afterwards. James Moyle once saw Henry in such a vitriolic courtroom exchange, followed by friendly banter outside the courtroom, that he called his brother a “hypocrite.” Henry replied that that was just the lawyers’ way of doing things.14 Testimony on Henry Moyle’s hard-hitting forensic style is abundant. There is also consensus that he would take advantage of every technicality of the law, but that he was quite ethical and honest in his practice.

[p.68]Of course, the courtroom tactics would not have won so many victories if they had not been backed up by solid preparation. U.S. appellate courts and state supreme courts were often convinced by the logical and forceful manner in which Henry Moyle combined precedent, legal theory, and imagination in his briefs. Days of pouring over Utah irrigation law and history preceded the successful argument in the Hooppiania case. Oil company counsel thought they knew the law on property condemnation when they tried to push a pipeline across Deseret Live Stock land, but when they had heard Henry Moyle’s brief they recommended that the controversy be settled out of court. After his plea before a U.S. circuit court in Montana, one of the judges said, “Mr. Moyle, I want to shake hands and get acquainted with you.” According to McKay, Henry won the appeal. Another Montana case, involving a public utility company and a federal regulatory agency, kept several people in Henry’s office working for months. The victory for the utility produced the largest single legal fee that Henry Moyle ever received. Coming about the same time that his oil ventures were becoming profitable, it permitted him to give freer expression to his generous and charitable impulses.

Millicent Cornwall witnessed attorney Henry D. Moyle in action over many years. She remembers another case in which a Utah firm was charged with selling burial contracts in violation of Montana law. Every day she received telephone instructions and saw that witnesses were provided with railroad tickets and shepherded to and from the Salt Lake train station. She mourned when the case was lost in trial court and rejoiced when the decision was overturned on appeal. She worked through her honeymoon period because her employer needed her, and she handled all kinds of tasks without special coaching. Henry Moyle might say before he left town on business: “Qualify Mr. Blank to do business in Oregon,” or “File a trademark for Company X.” Because she met his expectations, he was generous with gifts and time off in quiet seasons.15

The working relationship was informal. In time Mrs. Cornwall handled Henry Moyle’s personal accounts, contribution records, and income tax returns. When he moved to the LDS church office building, she sometimes substituted for his regular secretary and she continued to keep some of his personal records. She knew his public image well [p.69]enough not to be surprised when he lost the Democratic governorship nomination in the 1940 primary. “I never felt,” she adds, “that he would get a second term if he won the first time.” She also knew his family well enough to report on their welfare in the business letters that she wrote when he was out of town. Alice and Marie Moyle worked for a while in the law office under her tutelage.

A July 1930 item in the voluminous “Dear Mr. Moyle … Sincerely, Millicent” correspondence throws light on the relationship, the Moyle-Wilson partnership, and Henry Moyle’s sense of humor:

Remember the gentleman … who was there the day before you left? You remember he left his straw hat on your desk, and when he went back for it after talking to Mr. Wilson he found a pin stuck through the exact center of the crown in a manner nicely calculated to crash into his almost undecorated head when he put it on. He suspects you put it there-and he doesn’t think it was a very funny joke. I did not talk to him, but Mr. Wilson did, and you may be sure Mr. Wilson said nothing to acquit you or anybody else of blame. He wishes he had thought of it himself. …

Henry Moyle and Mahlon Wilson decided to go their separate ways after three or four years. Henry moved one flight upstairs in the Newhouse Building, took Millie Cornwall with him, and soon brought Lynn S. Richards into his office. The firm of Moyle, Richards, and McKay was formed in 1936 and continued into the war years. Gordon B. Affleck and Richard L. Bird, Jr., were associated with the law office at different times but without designation in the firm title. Woodrow David White’s name was added in 1944; then when Richards moved in another direction, Wilford Moyle Burton, a former city judge and a nephew of Henry, came into the office. The association of Moyle, McKay, Burton, and White continued until Henry became an LDS general authority. Although politics, business interests, and church assignments took most of Henry Moyle’s attention from the time he became a member of the original Church General Security Committee in 1936, he continued to practice law until, as a new apostle, he finally sold his law books and took his name off the office door in 1947. He never lost his zest for the profession, however. David Lawrence McKay continued to be his close associate in many Mormon church projects with legal ramifications, including the Deseret Farms in Florida and Georgia. One of the exciting [p.70]challenges of his service in the First Presidency was quarterbacking the unsuccessful effort to secure tax-exempt status for the new British temple.

The enthusiasm in his reports to his colleagues suggests a man at the threshold, rather than the close, of a career before the bar.


1. At this point Poll wrote the following sentence and then deleted it: “Covey Ballard Motor Company was a regular client, which explains why the first automobiles Henry Moyle’s children remember riding in were Nashes.”—Ed.

2. In a few years Henry Moyle had no time for such controversies, except as he dealt with them in an advisory capacity as an LDS stake resident.

3. Already his income placed his family within the top 1 or 2 percent of all American households. The applicable tax rate in those days, when Calvin Coolidge presided benignly at the White House and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon set federal fiscal policy, was less than 5 percent.

4. Duck hunting had been a favorite Henry Moyle hobby since boyhood. James Moyle remembers with mixed emotions some of the forays in which he planted decoys and served as a two-legged retriever for his older brother.

5. At this point Poll wrote the following three sentences and then deleted them: “As a Mormon apostle later on he urged the substitution of air for rail and sea travel for missionaries and church officials. Policies were changed and most of the general authorities overcame whatever reluctance they may have had. But Henry was never able to convince his friend and mentor, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., that flying was the way to go.”—Ed.

6. He pursued the same even-handed policy when his fee schedule was a good deal higher later on.

7. Deseret Live Stock Company v. Hoopiioina et al., 239 Pacific Reporter 479.

8. Bountiful Brick Company v. Giles, 276 U.S. 154.

9. Alberta was typing some of his exams for him then.

10. McKay himself recalls one hectic two-week period in which he picked up Henry at the university at 9:00 a.m. and they drove to Provo for court sessions at 10:00.

11. Mahlon E. Wilson, Federal Courts (Salt Lake City: Grocer Printing Co., 1930).

12. At this point Poll wrote the following sentence and then deleted it: “Some said he was the best.”—Ed.

13. At this point Poll wrote the following sentence and then deleted it: “Millie Cornwall remembers his physically ejecting a caller whom he found leafing through papers on his desk.”—Ed.

14. Later he defended the same lawyer against disbarment proceedings—for friendship’s sake.

15. A piano in her home is a reminder of several Christmas bonuses.