JUSTICE OR “JUST US” IN GIBBS COUNTY

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(Today, for a change of pace, I thought I would offer another “war story” from my unpublished memoir about my days as a prosecutor.  Names and places have been changed, but otherwise, this is a true story!)

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx

Gibbs County, whose county seat is Statesville, was the least populated county in our judicial circuit.  So, justice in Gibbs County was more like “just us.”  In other words, nobody lives there!  At least not human beings!  It is actually also one of our entire state’s poorest and least populated counties, with a population of only about 1,100, counting hunting dogs, gators, and possums.  It is located in the extreme south, nestled between Briggs County and the Florida panhandle.

Court is held there only once each year, every January.  This means that if you want to kill somebody in Gibbs County, you should wait and do so in December, right before court, because otherwise, you may literally sit in jail without bond for up to a year, until the judge comes back to town to hear your case!  There is no courthouse and there are no restaurants, (not even a McDonalds, and certainly not a Starbucks), in Gibbs County.  Each January, the judge holds court in the lunchroom of the (one and only) elementary school.  The clerk brings lunch for the judge, lawyers, and jury!

There is a true story which pretty well sums up justice in Gibbs County. One year, there were only two trials held there.  In one of the two cases, one man had killed another man, and in the other case, another man had killed another man’s bird dog. In the first case, the defendant who had killed a man was acquitted. In the second case, the man who had killed the dog was found guilty.  I have always wondered whether this proves, at least in Gibbs County, that you can kill another man, but you had better not kill his hunting dog!

THE “DELIVERANCE EXPERIENCE!”

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(Today, for a change of pace, I want to share another one of my true “war stories”

from my unpublished memoir about my early days as a Southern prosecutor).

THE “DELIVERANCE EXPERIENCE!”

We were waiting on the jury’s verdict.  It had been a long day.  And I had to go to the bathroom badly!  I had not peed since lunchtime and I was about to burst.  So, I quickly told old Mr. Jones, the bailiff, where I was going.  I then turned to go to the men’s restroom, located just outside the back entrance to the courtroom.  The men’s restroom at the Timmons County courthouse has an interesting looking urinal.  It appears to be a turn-of-the-century model and resembles a long, porcelain horse trough.  It’s located on the left, just inside the restroom door. As I pushed the bathroom door open, I immediately started to turn to the left, while simultaneously unzipping my pants.  But then, I stopped, cold, in my tracks, with my fingers still poised on my zipper!  There, surrounding me, all along the walls of the men’s restroom, was the defendant’s clan.  To my left, I saw a toothless redneck who was a dead ringer for the mountain man who had assaulted poor Ned Beatty’s character in the movie “Deliverance.”  And out of the corner of my right eye, I could have sworn that I saw the odd banjo-playing boy from the same movie.  To this day, I do not know why, on that day, these “men folk” from the defendant’s family chose to congregate in the men’s restroom.  Had they never before seen such fancy indoor plumbing?   Or did they have a special surprise in store for me?  I’ll never know.  But I didn’t wait around to find out either.  Almost mid-zip, and before I could hear the first chords of “Dueling Banjos,” I wheeled around and left the restroom.  As I left, I heard laughter emanating from the clan inside.  But I didn’t care.  They could have their laughs, as long as they didn’t have me, exposed and vulnerable at the porcelain urinal horse trough!  Suddenly, my urge to pee had vanished!

One lesson I learned from this harrowing experience is that a trial lawyer should avoid eating or drinking a lot during a trial.  What goes in must come out.  I also learned that you need a huge cast iron bladder, if you wish to be successful in the courtroom.  But most important, I learned to never, ever, ever go alone into the men’s restroom at the Timmons County courthouse!