Noah Brooks Kent Pettingill (1899-1900)

Noah Brooks Kent Pettingill  (1899-1900)Judge Noah Brooks Kent Pettingill was born in Augusta, the capital of Maine, on December 23, 1862. It has been said that Judge Pettingill migrated to Puerto Rico in 1898, a few days before the Spanish-American war broke out. This comes as no surprise because during the last years of the 19th century, personal and commercial contacts were frequent between the United States and Puerto Rico. Judge Pettingill was not a soldier, an adventure seeker, or some unimportant or unemployed attorney who could not find a job anywhere else but Puerto Rico. He was a member of a prestigious family of scholars. His name and experience are still well-recognized in Maine.

After attending public schools in Augusta, he entered one of the oldest and prestigious schools in New England, Bowdoin College, and graduated with an A.B. degree in 1883. He moved to Tampa, Florida in 1884. He then moved to Boston to attend Boston University Law School, obtaining a law degree in 1888. He was admitted to the Massachusetts bar that same year and, a few months later, to the Florida bar. On October 30, 1894, he married Achsah Deborah Pickels at Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. The couple moved to Tampa where Judge Pettingill began to practice his profession. He was also a Notary Public [Clergy]. He entered into a partnership with Hugh, Campbell, Macfarlane (his brother-in-law) & Pettingill, and later with T.M. Shackleford as Shackleford & Pettingill.

On June 27, 1899 Judge Pettingill was appointed as Law Judge of the United States Provisional Court, which was created on that day by the military government pursuant to General Order No. 88. The Provisional Court was duly installed on July 1, 1899 with appropriate ceremonies, the military governor and staff, foreign consuls, supreme court justices, members of the civil cabinet, and other officials being in attendance. The court proceeded to business holding terms not only in San Juan, as was the practice with the local insular court, but also in Mayaguez, Ponce, Guayama, and even once in Vieques. The Provisional Court was in existence for ten months until May 1, 1900 when the Civil Government for the Island was established in by an Act of Congress.

During its existence, the Provisional Court transacted a large amount of business, exerting a most beneficial influence throughout the island, strengthening the administration of justice by peaceable, orderly, and efficacious means, thus fully justifying the hopes that been entertained at its creation. Judge Pettingill heard the first criminal jury trial in English on September 20, 1899, of a Puerto Rican accused of larceny. The jury was composed of eleven Puerto Ricans. A guilty verdict followed. Judge Pettingill complimented the jury on its work. The trial in Vieques was against an American soldier accused of rape and murder. Judge Pettingill found the soldier guilty and imposed the death sentence, but it was subsequently commuted by President McKinley to life in prison.

When the Provisional Court was substituted by the United States District Court, Judge Pettingill was not appointed as district judge. Rather, the President appointed him as the United States Attorney for the District of Porto Rico. He served as United States Attorney from June 1900 to 1906.

Judge Pettingill remained in Puerto Rico. On October 8, 1900, he was the first attorney to sign the roll of counselors of the United States District Court. He was also admitted to practice by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court on January 9, 1905 (attorney number 200), and became a distinguished litigating attorney, earning widespread recognition as one of a handful of American and Puerto Rican lawyers who handled all the major cases.

Judge Pettingill remained in Puerto Rico until 1914, when he returned to Tampa to resume the practice of law with the firm of Macfarlane, Pettingill, Macfarlane & Fowler. He was a member of the Propeller Club, the Zeta Psi fraternity, the American Bar Association, of which he had served as President. He died in Tampa on April 23, 1934 at the age of 71. He is buried in the Loma Vista mausoleum in Orange Hill cemetery. James Harlan, Puerto Rico's Attorney General, wrote that Word is that there had never been another court in Puerto Rico that had earned the trust of all the people in the way the U.S. Provisional Court, established by military authorities and American judges, had earned it. It was a fitting tribute to the first federal judge who blazed the trail for all who have followed.