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Tales from Kentucky Lawyers

Tales from Kentucky Lawyers

William Lynwood Montell
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Tales from Kentucky Lawyers
    Book Description:

    " "A woman was sitting on the witness stand, and the lawyer asked her, 'Did you, or did you not, on the night of June 23rd have sex with a hippie on the back of a motorcycle in a peach orchard?' She thought for a few minutes, then said, 'What was that date again?'" -- from the book Lawyers have long been known as master storytellers, and those from Kentucky are certainly no exception. Veteran oral historian and folklorist Lynwood Montell has collected tales from dozens of lawyers and judges from throughout the Bluegrass State, ranging from the story about the tough Jackson County judge who fined himself for being late to court to unwelcome dogs in the courtroom. Recorded just as they have been told for generations, these stories are sometimes funny, sometimes sad or frightening, sometimes raw and harrowing, but always remarkable. Far more than collection of lawyer jokes, Tales from Kentucky Lawyers recounts the most insightful, entertaining, and occasionally heartbreaking stories ever told by and about Kentucky lawyers and their clients, covering the spectrum from arson to homicide, domestic disagreements to sexual abuse, and everything in between. Tales from Kentucky Lawyers is a valuable resource for folklorists as well as an entertaining and vivid account of the often-surprising legal world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2713-2
    Subjects: History, Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Lawyers know how to spin a good yarn. They also know how to fascinate an audience. My announcement in early 2000 that I would collect stories from lawyers and judges was met with great enthusiasm by members of the legal profession, by academicians, and especially by the general public. Fortunately, many lawyers expressed great interest in participating—getting them to set aside time for a storytelling session and general interview was another matter. All those who found time, however, recounted wonderful stories: sometimes funny, sometimes sad or frightening, sometimes thought-provoking, but always interesting.

    Many people have had experiences with lawyers...

  4. 1 Kentucky Courts, Past and Present
    (pp. 9-22)

    Many of the stories in this book illustrate how Kentucky’s hardworking common people, the public personnel on all levels, and the occasional villains and rascals feel about peers, relatives, judges, and lawyers during periods of tension-filled social stress. Some lawyers and judges, in addition to sharing their favorite stories regarding courtroom confrontations, willingly expressed their personal views about changes in the legal profession over the years.

    While the following accounts are not like the stories in subsequent chapters, they will help readers better understand Kentucky’s court system, as well as the viewpoints, feelings, and assessments of contemporary lawyers and judges....

  5. 2 Theft
    (pp. 23-29)

    Most attorneys consider theft to be one of the most difficult crimes to defend, as the jury typically consists of persons who value honesty. Yet, on occasion a few jury members themselves might suffer lingering feelings of guilt for having stolen items in times past; to deny the reality of their own conduct and to condemn such behavior by others, even these jurors will likely find the defendant guilty of the accused theft.

    Stories in the theft category are not about jurors per se. Instead, these accounts tend to be on the humorous side, especially when the accused gives unexpected...

  6. 3 Court Fines
    (pp. 30-33)

    Court costs and fines, both past and present, are described in the first chapter. All who commented on this facet of the judicial system agree that legal fees and court costs have skyrocketed in recent times and will likely continue to do so. The three following humorous accounts about court fines take the reader back many years when fines were minimal and times were not so fast.

    When lawyers sat around and talked in earlier times, they talked about different cases. I remember a story they told about my father, John Hardin Jr., who was a circuit judge, and who...

  7. 4 Animal Stories
    (pp. 34-42)

    The following animal stories include separate accounts of an owl, a hog, a cow, a cat, a mule, horses, chickens, and dogs. Interestingly enough, men were typically the owners of these animals. The animals in these stories were almost always treated like family members.

    The charges include theft, death by shooting, and, in two stories, the use of animals for sex purposes. The bulk of these narratives reflect the importance that owners place on the friendship they have with their animals, a truism for past and present times. Domesticated animals, often treated as family, have been a part of Kentucky...

  8. 5 Ugly Words in Court
    (pp. 43-49)

    Ugly words are taboo in the courtroom, and are thus rarely used there by attorneys and judges. However, some bad words and off-color stories are said to be in vogue in the chamber, which is where judge and lawyers gather in the courthouse. Edward Jackson of Beattyville states that if someone uses an ugly word in an average testimony in court, the judge will tell them that if they know better words to use, then use them. But if they don’t, then go ahead and use the word(s) they just uttered. If a fellow says, “I saw him f—ing...

  9. 6 Adultery
    (pp. 50-56)

    Kentucky residents have a double standard on sexual conduct and other forms of behavior. Many persons think it is perfectly all right for two adults to have sex with one another without the benefit of clergy. Most states, including Kentucky, have eliminated adultery and fornication as crimes. For example, if a married man and a married woman not married to each other are caught having sexual intercourse in a parking lot, they may be charged with disorderly conduct, but they cannot be charged with any form of adultery. Thus, adultery never comes to court anymore.

    The stories in this category...

  10. 7 Homicide
    (pp. 57-85)

    The following tales, which recount homicidal actions and the perpetrators’ motivations, number among the most truly bizarre stories in the book. The stories describe deadly family feuds; murders fueled by drugs, alcohol, and affairs; spousal killings; and numerous other accounts of victims and their killers.

    I tried a murder case last summer, the only one I’ve tried in my career. I was disappointed but not surprised that we lost the trial. My client was convicted of murder. The case involved the death of one spouse by the other. My client shot his wife—shot her through the head. However, his...

  11. 8 Blunders
    (pp. 86-98)

    Legal professionals do the same thing day after day, much like persons who work in machine shops; thus, because courtroom proceedings are routine, judges and lawyers rarely commit blunders in court. However, those professionals who have never previously served as a judge, defense lawyer, or prosecutor often make errors, some of which are downright humorous to those witnessing them. As the following stories show, even seasoned courtroom participants occasionally commit laughable mistakes.

    Judge Winn was a pretty rough acting fellow. He was a pretty good judge, but he could be kind of rough, too. We were over here in court,...

  12. 9 Misunderstandings
    (pp. 99-107)

    Although many of the lawyers and judges interviewed are superb storytellers who can express themselves clearly, they often must use legal terminology that average citizens do not fully understand. Some of the more humorous stories in this book are the result of witnesses, plaintiffs, defendants, jurors, and others who either misunderstood what was being said or tried to speak in what they considered to be proper “legalese.”

    The funniest story that comes to my mind involves an estate case that I had about fifteen years ago. This lady died and she really had no assets of any value other than...

  13. 10 Unexpected Responses
    (pp. 108-122)

    Skilled trial lawyers are particularly adept at examining witnesses on the stand in an effort to uncover the truth. Unexpected responses to their questions can make the task enormously difficult and occasionally very humorous. As the first story in this category reveals, judges also sometimes receive funny responses to their questions.

    My cousin Wendell Wilson is a great big fellow, about six foot six, good looking, has a big smile, and a wonderful personality. During his first race for political office, he made a door-to-door campaign. He’d never been in the courtroom. He was elected sheriff and won by quite...

  14. 11 Moonshining
    (pp. 123-132)

    Of the various folk heroes who have captured the imagination of Americans, few occupy such a prominent position as the moonshiner. With the ability to rig up stills in remote mountain hollows and outsmart revenue agents, these brewers of illicit alcohol were nonetheless no strangers to the Kentucky court system over the years. The following stories illustrate the cleverness—and occasional fierceness—of those practicing a traditional craft that has increasingly been displaced by the manufacture and sale of other illegal drugs.

    There was a woman in Pikeville named Emma Morton [pseudonym], and she stayed in court a lot, probably...

  15. 12 Coal Mining
    (pp. 133-143)

    Coal mining was at one time the most important economic enterprise both in the eastern Kentucky mountains and in some of the state’s western counties. Mines constituted the major source of employment for numerous men and a few local women from the early to middle years of the twentieth century. Mining is still an important operation in a few mountain communities, but its significance is rapidly diminishing.

    Coal-mining stories were at one time told and retold on a daily basis at the mines during breaks and at home by the miners and family members. Lawyers and judges became especially important...

  16. 13 Mentally Disabled
    (pp. 144-150)

    In the words of Beattyville judge Edward Jackson, “Mentally retarded persons fall into two categories. One category consists of those that have always been mentally retarded, and, two, those who get retarded when they get a little old. When these matters come to court, they get a twelve-person jury and usually they are uncontested. The jury decides whether they are mentally retarded or incompetent, then the court appoints someone to handle their affairs.”

    Although humor is not intended, some of the stories in this category conclude with what rings forth as humorous commentary and actions, primarily on the part of...

  17. 14 Domestic Mistreatment and Divorce
    (pp. 151-159)

    Stories in this category are diverse, ranging from verbal abuse to cruel, sometimes violent, mistreatment of spouses, and sometimes even of children. Many domestic violent petitions are filed in contemporary times, especially by mothers who go to the courthouse to get a divorce and to win custody of the children; on occasion, fathers file for custody as well. Whatever the reason for court action, these are not pleasant stories.

    Lawyers shared few divorce case stories for inclusion in this book. Perhaps they feel that these stories would be of no interest to the readers because so many divorce cases go...

  18. 15 Family Disagreements
    (pp. 160-167)

    Stories in this category are about family feuds and other fonus of family disagreements, misunderstandings, and lack of love and respect. In most story categories, humor is an ever-present reality, but such is not the case in family disagreement stories. These are about serious matters.

    We had one case where we tried it over in Webster County, and it was a very interesting [family] will contest. This man had been declared incompetent, and that was sort of back in the days when maybe incompetency proceedings were not as foolproof as they are now. We have some safeguards now to try...

  19. 16 Elections and Politics
    (pp. 168-178)

    Stories in this category demonstrate both that a rigid political division persists between Democrats and Republicans across the years and that some persons run for office several times but are never elected. Physical encounters between contestants, such as the one described below, have occurred in all portions of the state, as has ballot theft on election days, especially in times past. Some people still feel that honest political campaigns and elections, something to which all Kentuckians should aspire, are yet to come.

    One of Dad’s favorite stories occurred when he filed suit to contest an election in Pike County back...

  20. 17 Judges’ Support of the Accused
    (pp. 179-184)

    Judges are typically highly respected, both by lawyers and others appearing before them during court sessions. However, on occasion, judges do make judicial mistakes, thus causing lawyers to appeal the decision for reversal. At other times, the judge may dismiss all charges against the accused, only to find out later that the accused was indeed guilty and continued to commit illegal acts.

    Stories in this section portray judges engaged both in various courtroom proceedings and, sometimes, in questionable activity outside the courtroom.

    I represented a widow whose husband was killed in a truck accident. And before he was killed, his...

  21. 18 Physical Abuse
    (pp. 185-189)

    The narratives in this category discuss abuse—occurring at home and in public places—which sometimes results in homicidal activities. The general public and members of the legal profession typically view physical and verbal abuse as something that should never take place.

    There was one case we had in which this lady lived with a fellow. Whenever she’d get mad at him, she’d come in and swear out a warrant that he’d beat her: jumped on her, threatened her, or something. The judge would give her a restraining order against him for coming around her. Then she’d be back with...

  22. 19 The Bench and the Bar
    (pp. 190-203)

    Lawyer and judge stories are about incidents both in and out of the courtroom that typically do not fit other story categories in this book. These accounts describe judges in life-threatening situations; judges who are not in favor of prosecuting the person(s) charged, perhaps due to personal relationships; judges who support the accused; judges who respond to humorous situations; and so on.

    Additional stories in this section are about lawyers, in and out of court, who deal with personal confrontations with other lawyers and judges on occasion; homicidal behavior; possession of and/or consumption of whiskey; lawyers’ awesome legal fees; and...

  23. 20 Sexual Charges and Sexual Abuse
    (pp. 204-213)

    Lawyers and judges prefer not to tell stories that relate to sex, sexual abuse, and sexual charges. Due to the offensive nature of the bulk of these sexual charge and sexual abuse accounts, the author suggests that they be read, if at all, only by persons who feel they can cope with the contents. The various themes range all the way from bestiality to rape and incest; often, the victim is a girl or young woman and the abuser is a member of the family or the surrounding community. In one case, the victim slays her abuser.

    This is a...

  24. 21 Illegitimacy
    (pp. 214-218)

    Like stories regarding sex crimes, those about illegitimacy are seldom shared by lawyers and judges; only six were obtained for inclusion herein.

    One of my most interesting cases is about the case in which I was involved after I had been a lawyer for only about fifteen minutes. A young man walked into my office and said, “My father died without a will. I’m one of his illegitimate children, and I would like to inherit from his estate.”

    At that time, which was in 1975, Kentucky statutes said that an illegitimate child could inherit from the mother but not from...

  25. 22 Jury Justice/Injustice
    (pp. 219-232)

    Lawyers who must try their cases before jurors hold diverse opinions as to the fairness of the jury system. One lawyer, who recalled a time when indecisive jurors “would pitch a coin up to determine whether to find the defendant guilty or not guilty,” told me that the jury system safeguards the public against overly zealous judges. Another believes that juries, which sometimes include at least one of the accused’s friends who “can hang the jury,” are too lenient. A third lawyer told me that juries often act on their belief of what should be done, rather than the facts,...

  26. 23 Disorder in the Court
    (pp. 233-238)

    Seldom are there contemporary episodes of physical conflicts in court. However, verbal disagreements are still very common in some instances, especially in the hallway or other areas outside the courtroom. When lawyers and judges were asked about physical conflicts in or just outside the courtroom, a few stated that they or their colleagues experienced a desire to become physical on occasion, but common sense, accompanied by the need to maintain respect for the legal system, prevented any physical response. Thus, as the first two stories in this category indicate, most physical conflicts in court are initiated by the accused.


  27. 24 Prisoners
    (pp. 239-241)

    Many stories in this book tell about court cases in which the guilty persons were sent to prison. However, few accounts were recorded that featured individuals who were actually in prison at the time. Perhaps it is a truism that once a trial is completed, lawyers and judges seldom have contact with those persons who go to prison.

    I always emphasize in court to these defendants that they’re never going to straighten up until they take the full responsibility for their conduct. You blame Mama, you blame your wife, you blame your defense lawyer, you blame this, you blame that....

  28. 25 Miscellaneous
    (pp. 242-260)

    Most stories in the miscellaneous category are closely related to themes found in the regular story categories in this book, but not really close enough to be assigned to one of the various other categories. Nevertheless, some of these miscellaneous stories, such as those about the TVA dams and the famous fiddle are among the more interesting accounts in the entire book.

    There were a lot of cases taken to court when the TVA started buying up the land between the rivers [now called Land Between the Lakes, except by local people]. There were very hard feelings. Actually, I’m a...

  29. Biographies of Storytellers
    (pp. 261-265)