This Partner May Have Observed The Punctilio Of Honesty But Perhaps Not Honor

Nearly a century ago, Benjamin Cardozo waxed eloquent regarding the fiduciary obligation of co-venturers:

A trustee is held to something stricter than the morals of the market place.  Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive, is then the standard of behavior. As to this there has developed a tradition that is unbending and inveterate.  Uncompromising rigidity has been the attitude of courts of equity when petitioned to undermine the rule of undivided loyalty by the "disintegrating erosion" of particular exceptions ( Wendt v. Fischer, 243 N. Y. 439, 444).  Only thus has the level of conduct for fiduciaries been kept at a level higher than that trodden by the crowd.  It will not consciously be lowered by any judgment of this court.

Meinhard v. Salmon, 249 N.Y. 458, 464 (1928) (emphasis added).   

The high standard enunciated in Meinhard was not evident in the following tale of two partners in early twentieth century Goldfield, Nevada:

Jack Britt, another saloon man, had a partner named Jimmy Dunne.  Early in their operations they alternated as their own bartenders.  One day Jimmy wearied of the monotony, closed the doors, took seventy-five dollars from the cash register and went out to buy himself a time.  He bought it, and returned some hours later, full of liquor, headache and remorse, to fall asleep in a chair behind the bar.  When Britt came on duty he awakened his erring partner.

"Jimmy," he said sadly, "you've been drunk."

"I have," said Jimmy, just as sadly.

Britt stepped to the cash register, opened it and noted its emptiness.

"Jimmy, " he said more sadly than before, "did you take the money out of the cash register?"

"I did."

"Did you spend it all?"

"I did."

"Are you sorry?"

"I am."

"Are you going to pay me back?"

"Hell, no! We're pardners, ain't we?"

C. B. Glasscock, Gold in Them Hills 166 (1988)

I frequently pass through Goldfield on my trips to central Nevada.  Early in the last century, it was the largest city in Nevada.  It remains the county seat of Esmeralda County, but lacks a single gas station.  It is home, however, to one of my favorite radio stations - KGFN Radio Goldfield.


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