JUSTICE OR “JUST US” IN GIBBS COUNTY

gavel2

(Today, for a change of pace, I thought I would offer another “war story” from my unpublished memoir about my days as a prosecutor.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!”

courthouse

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from my unpublished memoir about my early days as a Southern prosecutor).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

ANOTHER COURTROOM “WAR STORY”

courage

[As a change of pace, the following is a true story from my unpublished memoir about my early days as a prosecutor.  Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.]

I will never forget one night in particular.  It was 3 a.m.  I was alone.  And I was scared. No one is brave, in the middle of the night, especially after receiving a death threat.  I was a scared, inexperienced assistant district attorney, fighting against a crooked cop. And the crooked cop was out to get me, before I got him!

More specifically, I was investigating a crooked sheriff in one of the counties in which I had recently been hired by D.A. Loren Hatcher to handle the criminal cases. I had been on the job for only a few months.  I was still learning my way around the courtroom when another Asst. D.A. and I had stumbled across evidence which suggested the Sheriff was helping a local drug ring by providing firearms for their protection. The Sheriff was also being paid to “look the other way” by drug dealers, loosely organized in a “Dixie mafia.” My fellow Asst. D.A. was Doug Marsh. Jim Bob Thornton was the alleged crooked Sheriff. As I would learn, I had the impossible task of learning how to prosecute a caseload of cases, while simultaneously investigating the Sheriff whose department was providing me with the caseload of burglaries, robberies, and thefts!  Jim Bob knew about my investigation of him, too, and didn’t like it one bit!  Trying to intimidate me, the Sheriff had begun a pattern of bullying, harassment, and, now, death threats. He was clearly determined to get rid of me, one way or another.

The latest telephone death threat had been received earlier that day at the D.A.’s Office. An anonymous caller had told Ms. Jones, the D.A.’s secretary, to “tell Mr. ______ I am coming to his house tonight and will blow his f_ _king head off!” That was all he had said.  It was enough!  Poor Ms. Jones was so shaken by the call that you’d think he had threatened her, instead of me!  But it was me, not her, who now sat at home, alone, and afraid for my life.  And it wasn’t just my life I feared for.

My precious wife, who was eight months pregnant with our first child, was asleep in our bedroom down the hall. I sat on guard in our den recliner with my .38 Smith & Wesson revolver, still in its holster, on the t.v. table in front of me.

No one ever showed up that night. I finally drifted off to sleep around four in the morning. I knew who was behind the threat and that it was mainly designed to intimidate me. But it still scared me. I wondered what I should do. Should I look for a new job? Should I drop the investigation? Or should I continue to target this crooked cop?

 

 

THE PERFECT PIROUETTE

gavel

As a change of pace, please enjoy the following true “war story” from my days as a prosecutor!

I learned a very valuable lesson while trying a case in Parks County with my fellow Assistant D.A., Doug Morgan.  I learned that you should always check your fly before going into a courtroom!  Doug was making the opening statement in a drug case.  He was busy outlining the facts of the case.  I was sitting at the prosecution table, while assisting him as his “second chair.”  Doug’s opening statement was going fine.  All of a sudden, mid-sentence, Doug spun around, away from the jury box.  To everyone’s surprise, he quickly reached down and zipped up the fly of his pants!  Then, he quickly spun back around and again faced the jury box.  Both spins and the zip didn’t take over two seconds to complete!  It was a perfect pirouette!  Doug immediately resumed his opening statement without missing a beat!

I learned later that he had been alerted by a Sheriff’s deputy who had noticed the unzipped fly while sitting at the clerk’s table located in front of the judge’s bench.  The deputy had written a note on a legal pad, in large letters, and pushed it forward on the table in Doug’s direction where he stood nearby.  Simultaneously, the deputy managed to make eye contact with Doug and get his attention during the opening statement.  He had nodded slightly and motioned for Doug to read the legal pad note on the table.  The note read, “Your fly is open, Dumb Ass!”

 

A True “War Story” From the Courtroom

gavel

A True “War Story” From the Courtroom

Being a good trial lawyer involves skill and experience, but sometimes a little luck helps, too!

My first jury trial as a young state prosecutor involved the armed robbery of a south Georgia convenience store. The store had been held up by a lone gunman at about 7:30 one evening. The store clerk and a customer had positively identified the defendant as the gunman. The customer had even gotten a good description of his vehicle, along with a partial tag number.

The defendant offered an alibi defense. He contended that he couldn’t have robbed the convenience store, because he was at home at the time of the robbery. He claimed that he and his family were all gathered around the television set, watching the old game show, “Name That Tune.” The defense attorney also put the defendant’s sister on the stand. She likewise testified that her brother had been at home, with the rest of the family, watching “Name That Tune.”

As a struggling young trial lawyer, I had no clue about how to cross-examine the defendant’s sister. Law school had clearly not prepared for this situation. I stood up and, as I approached the lectern, I still had no game plan for my cross-examination. Then the idea hit me. Throwing caution to the wind, I simply asked her, “Ma’am, you say that your brother was at home at 7:30, can you tell this jury whether he robbed the store BEFORE or AFTER “Name That Tune?” Incredibly, before she could think it through, the defendant’s sister stupidly blurted out, “Before!” I was shocked. The defense lawyer was shocked. Everyone in the courtroom was shocked. Then the laughter began. First, it was just a few scattered giggles. But then it spread, like butter on a hot biscuit. Soon, everyone in the courtroom, including the jurors, was laughing! Everyone laughed, that is, except the defendant and his attorney! The jury promptly “named the defendant’s tune” in one note, with a guilty verdict! I won my case! I was so happy that I could have jumped a stump backwards!

I learned from this case that God looks after not only drunks and fools. God also looks after inexperienced trial lawyers! But if I try cases until I am one hundred years old, I will never again be this lucky in cross-examining an alibi witness!