In this San Francisco Chronicle story from 1899, a North Beach street urchin defends himself in court. No, we don't know why he was allowed to act as his own lawyer -- or for that matter, why a six-year old was arrested in the first place! It's just another peep-hole into life during the Gilded Age:
John Manuel Parodi, aged six years, successfully defended himself yesterday in Judge Treadwell's court, where he was on trial for the alleged theft of a box of cigars from the store of Carlos Sobrano on Prescott place, near Vallejo street. Sobrano testified that he missed the cigars a moment after young Parodi left his store about 7 o'clock last Sunday evening.
"I'd like to ask him something" piped the boy defendant in a small treble voice, after Sobrano had told his story.
"Haven't you a lawyer, my boy?" asked the Court, leaning over the bench to get a better view of the tiny prisoner.
"No sir," said John Manuel Parodi. "I think I can acquit the case myself."
"All right; take the witness," said Judge Treadwell, with a poorly concealed smile.
"Did you see me take your cigars, mister?" queried Parodi.
"No, I did not." answered Sobrano.
"Then you don't know I took 'em. Don't you know, mister, that you sold a package of cigarettes to me which is against the law, and then you come and say I stole your cigars. You're all right, you are."
Sobrano was excused, and Giovanni Cerino, a larger boy than the defendant, took the stand. Cerino said he saw Parodi leaving the store with a box of cigars under his arm.
"Where were you then?" inquired the amateur attorney.
"On the opposite side of the street," replied the witness.