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Tales from Tennessee Lawyers

Tales from Tennessee Lawyers

William Lynwood Montell
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Tales from Tennessee Lawyers
    Book Description:

    Perhaps no one has keener insight into human nature than the small-town trial lawyer. All but lost in an era of corporate law firms and specialized practice, this charismatic figure was once at the political center of a community and was the holder of its many secrets. A small town attorney's only specialization was the town itself. Serving as both defender and accuser, these lawyers witnessed communities and individuals at their best and worst. Men and women of the legal profession often exert influence in seemingly small realms, but they play an important role in the lives of many people and help shape the American legal system. Veteran oral historian and folklorist William Lynwood Montell has brought together a fascinating collection of tales gathered from lawyers and judges throughout the Volunteer State. Montell searched small towns and cities across Tennessee for the law's older and middle age practitioners, and he shares the wealth of their experience in Tales from Tennessee Lawyers. These stories are recorded exactly as told by the lawyers themselves, and they reveal candid and unusual snapshots of the legal system -- both past and present. With a tape recorder and an ear for detail, Montell uncovers events and lives ranging from the commonplace to the extraordinary. A man resorts to prostitution to alleviate the debt brought about by divorce proceedings. Identical twins are tried for a string of murders. A convict flees his trial by stealing the judge's car. A prosecutor tries the nation's first school-shooting case. Judge George Balitsaris, a former University of Tennessee football player, escorts a special prosecutor out of a notorious rape trial as a precaution after the defendant's family issues threats. These and similar stories illustrate the strange, complex cases argued daily from Tennessee's largest cities to its smallest towns. Far more than just a collection of lawyer jokes, these recollections shed light on the tense and often dangerous lives of those who work to see that all receive fair representation and treatment in court.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7178-4
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

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

    Drive anyplace across the beautiful state of Tennessee, ask for the names of good storytellers, and you’ll always be provided with the names of several persons, including many local lawyers and judges. In doing this, beginning in May 2001, I came up with the names of certain legal professionals who truly know how to tell a good story, whether it is an honest-to-goodness description of a case in which they were involved or simply a universal tale that has been passed along across the years around the state and nation.

    When I began this Tennessee lawyer project, many of the...

  4. 1 Viewpoints
    (pp. 9-27)
    Raymond Fraley, Don Dino, Larry Rice, David G. Hayes, Alan Highers, Selma Cash Paty, William Val Sanford, Lynne Swafford, Martin Lacy West, Jim T. Hamilton, Nathan Harsh, Shirley B. Underwood, F. Evans Harvill, Cecil D. Branstetter Sr. and James H. Bradberry

    The following accounts in this chapter are not stories per se; they are commentaries on attitudes within the legal profession and court systems, then and now. These accounts provide commentary about present-day judges, the rising cost of court fees, the lack of appropriate trial time, the lack of socializing among lawyers these days, the presence of fewer visitors in courtrooms in recent times, and commercial advertising.

    Favorable commentary is found in several instances in these accounts, especially in relation to female attorneys, who began to make inroads into the profession in the mid-twentieth century, lawyers and judges who reach out...

  5. 2 Courtroom Blunders
    (pp. 28-31)
    F. Evans Harvill, John Acuff, James H. Bradberry and John M. Roberts

    Lawyers and judges are highly skilled and seldom make mistakes in the courtroom. On occasion, however, these legal professionals do make mistakes, some of which are indeed serious, while others are somewhat humorous, at least to those present in the courtroom when the described event occurs. Often, it is the judge who blunders by asking the wrong question, or by simply misunderstanding the nature of the case. Other stories in the blunders category include lawyers, judges, and police officers who do the wrong thing both inside and outside the courtroom.

    The first case I tried dealt with this underage girl...

  6. 3 Legal Humor
    (pp. 32-45)
    Larry Rice, William J. Peeler, David G. Hayes, W. A. Owen, Craig H. Caldwell, F. Evans Harvill, John Acuff, James H. Bradberry, James W. Chamberlain, Lynne Swafford, Don Dino, Martin Lacy West and Paul R. Summers

    Humorous stories are the Viagra of the legal profession and of the American populace as a whole. The following accounts describe humorous events that took place in courtrooms and elsewhere, primarily in urban settings. Some humor, both inside and outside the courtroom, portrays speech impediments; whispering lawyers; sexy persons; naked persons; animals in court; incorrect words (sometimes humorous, sometimes naughty) spoken in court; intentional pranks performed by lawyers, judges, or clients; political motivation; and misunderstandings.

    My feeling about humor is that we always get picked on because we’re the last safe group for everybody to pick on. Nobody seems to...

  7. 4 Divorce and Adultery
    (pp. 46-61)
    F. Evans Harvill, Raymond Fraley, Sarah Cripps, Alan Highers, William J. Peeler, Nathan Harsh, John Acuff, Jim T. Hamilton, Lynne Swafford, Larry Rice, John M. Roberts, Shirley B. Underwood and Cecil D. Branstetter Sr.

    “Diverse” is a key word for describing the contents of these typically unpleasant stories about divorce, even if humor, off-color words, or curse words are involved at unexpected times. Most divorce cases are settled by nonjury decisions. Critical matters include verbal and physical spouse abuse, disagreements involving bigamy, affairs with another single or married person, and total lack of child support or inadequate child support. In a more unusual vein, one story herein describes an argument between a husband and wife regarding ownership of a pet hen, and two accounts tell about couples seeking divorce after having been married for...

  8. 5 Homicides
    (pp. 62-88)
    William J. Peeler, James W. Chamberlain, F. Evans Harvill, John Acuff, Nathan Harsh, Raymond Fraley, Sarah Cripps, James H. Bradberry, Jim T. Hamilton, Lynne Swafford, Don Dino, John M. Roberts, Chester S. Rainwater Jr. and John Richardson Rucker Sr.

    Persons across the nation commit atrocious deeds for which they typically go to court, but the truly gross offense is homicide, or “killings,” which is the term used by many locals in the Upper South. Regrettably, verbal accounts of these episodes are plentiful, but they are also insightful and interesting from beginning to end. The stories in this section describe spousal killings due to physical abuse; sexual misconduct; killings of persons, both male and female, guilty of sexual activity with another person’s spouse; a son guilty of killing a parent; or gang killings, even by college and high school students,...

  9. 6 More Stories about Lawyers and Judges in the Courtroom
    (pp. 89-136)
    William J. Peeler, Don Dino, Raymond Fraley, Alan Highers, W. A. Owen, David G. Hayes, F. Evans Harvill, James H. Bradberry, John Acuff, Jim T. Hamilton, Larry Rice, John C. McLemore, James White Jr., John M. Roberts, Bruce E. Myers, Sarah Cripps, Shirley B. Underwood, Claude G. Swafford, Martin Lacy West, Foster D. Arnett, Chester S. Rainwater Jr., William Val Sanford, Selma Cash Paty and John Richardson Rucker Sr.

    Most of the numerous accounts in this story category are first-person narratives. However, the focus of each story is not the storyteller but another lawyer or judge. These stories describe incidents involving lawyers and judges both in and out of the courtroom, primarily the latter. They deal with various issues, including frequent appropriate or inappropriate confrontations with other lawyers and judges, and judges trying to influence the jurors. Other accounts in this broad category are stories about judges who try to favor certain clients, public visitors and courtroom incidents in earlier times, settlements involving lawyer fees, lawyers’ first cases in...

  10. 7 Sexual and Physical Abuse
    (pp. 137-146)
    Sarah Cripps, James H. Bradberry, Jim T. Hamilton, Lynne Swafford, Foster D. Arnett, Nathan Harsh and John Acuff

    Perhaps the most traumatic court cases involve those related to rape and other forms of mistreatment committed against little girls by their fathers, stepfathers, brothers, or other family members. It is of considerable interest to note that some of these stories tell that the guilty men subsequently committed or attempted to commit suicide, perhaps in an attempt to wipe away their guilt. Equally sad is the stated claim that numerous persons commit sexual abuse and that some mothers ignore their abused daughters’ plight.

    The first account of physical abuse in this chapter provides a detailed summation of reasons for divorce...

  11. 8 Courtroom Misbehavior and Jury Justice/Injustice
    (pp. 147-155)
    Raymond Fraley, James H. Bradberry, Jim T. Hamilton, Sarah Cripps, John Acuff, James W. Chamberlain, Don Dino and Larry Rice

    Various types of events occur in the courtroom, some of which involve physical attacks typically instituted by the accused, curse words uttered in loud tones, or guns pointed at someone on the opposition’s side. Although curse words were and are rather commonly used in some instances, physical attacks and other forms of misbehavior are not common in modern times, especially among lawyers in the courtroom. On the other side of the picture, clients have been known to thank their attorneys by hugging and/or kissing them in the presence of others in the courtroom. Interesting, uncommon incidents took place during courtroom...

  12. 9 Illegal Sales
    (pp. 156-160)
    Nathan Harsh, John Acuff, Ed Bailey and James W. Chamberlain

    One of the stories in this category is not about illegal sales per se, but it does portray a man who intentionally placed his cows in the road in hopes of collecting payment from the assailant’s insurance company. Although there are only three stories relative to illegal sales in this chapter, such sales were very common in earlier times, and court cases about illegal sales frequently occurred. However, back then many persons who made moonshine whiskey were never captured and brought to court, as they typically were hill country or mountain farmers whose available crop acreage was often too small...

  13. 10 Political Elections
    (pp. 161-166)
    David G. Hayes, William J. Peeler, Alan Highers, Claude G. Swafford, Cecil D. Branstetter Sr. and William Val Sanford

    Stories in this category are interesting and very informative. Of significant note is that the political division between Democrats and Republicans was and still is of major importance across the state, even between husbands and wives in some instances. Stories herein describe a man who campaigned in the wrong state, another who campaigned for Congress while drunk, and still another who was advised to identify himself as his opponent in order to obtain more votes. These accounts, regardless of the theme, tell us that political campaigns are very serious, but in some instances also humorous. One thing is for sure:...

  14. 11 Thievery
    (pp. 167-170)
    Alan Highers, John Acuff, James White Jr., Cecil D. Branstetter Sr. and Martin Lacy West

    Theft is typically a difficult crime case involving many attorneys. It is generally not an easy charge to defend nor to prove the accused is guilty. Occasionally, jurists may also have trouble voting to convict the accused because they, too, may have been guilty of theft one or more times across the years. The following stories are related to animal theft, car theft, armed robbery, music theft, and even religious conversion while in jail. As is true in most other story categories, humor plays an occasional role when theft is illustrated in story form.

    This is what a lawyer told...

  15. 12 Executions and Race Relations
    (pp. 171-173)
    William A. Owen, Cecil D. Branstetter Sr. and Raymond Fraley

    The following account of a legal public execution, the first story in this chapter, is the only one available for inclusion in this book, although in early times public hangings were rather common in Tennessee and other states in the Upper South.

    The second story in this chapter provides a description of the historic Highlander Folk School and the racist activities that occurred during efforts to revoke the school’s charter. The next story is related to typical Ku Klux Klan activities in the South up until the 1950s.

    Do you remember the public hanging of the Negro Andrew Sanders? I...

  16. 13 Bad Words in Court
    (pp. 174-179)
    Jim T. Hamilton, Ed Bailey, John Acuff, Raymond Fraley and James W. Chamberlain

    Dirty words and curse words used in court are not typical, but on occasion they are uttered, sometimes shouted. It is rare for lawyers to use abusive words during court procedures, but occasionally they do, as indicated in one of the stories in this chapter. In other instances herein, a prisoner used a dirty word when responding to the judge, and a convicted person cursed the judge verbatim. Two other accused men also cursed the judge, and one of them tossed feces at him. Lawyers occasionally use curse words against opposition lawyers. Such instances are rare, but they have occurred...

  17. 14 Animals in Court
    (pp. 180-189)
    Jim T. Hamilton, John Acuff, Lynne Swafford, John C. McLemore, Martin Lacy West and John Richardson Rucker Sr.

    Animals typically constitute valuable property, whether they are raised for commercial purposes or simply beloved pets. The first story, which received national and international media coverage, is about an already divorced couple that received joint custody of a pet dog. Court cases are often the only means of settling disputes relative to ownership or custodial care. The animal stories herein thus provide descriptive accounts of pet dogs, including the one just mentioned and another that belonged to the judge, a pet deer that was shot and killed, a mare that was accidentally fenced away from her colt, a humorous story...

  18. 15 Domestic Relations
    (pp. 190-198)
    Larry Rice, Nathan Harsh, John Acuff, Don Dino and Bruce E. Myers

    Domestic relations is a broad story category related to family matters. These stories describe serious episodes, ranging from physical spouse abuse to threats to kill a spouse with a gun, adultery as appropriate cultural behavior, custodial cases, failure to pay child support, unsuccessful attempts to verify parentage, bankruptcy, changing a probate will, a young man flirting with an elderly woman in order to obtain her money, and typical domestic problems that appear in court. Humor is not a factor in these stories, which portray serious domestic problems that are typically settled in court. Divorce and adultery, also related to domestic...

  19. 16 Bankruptcy
    (pp. 199-209)
    John C. McLemore

    The New American Heritage Dictionarydefines “bankrupt” as “an individual or corporate debtor, who, upon voluntary petition, . . . is judged legally insolvent and whose remaining property is therefore administered for the creditors or distributed among them in accordance with the law. . . .” The three stories in this category, all told by the same attorney, fit nicely within this definition. The first focuses on a goat brokerage company whose owner paid for nonbusiness, personal items with checks written against the business account. The lawyer’s advice on how to handle monetary matters worked things out successfully. The second...

  20. 17 Miscellaneous
    (pp. 210-220)
    Jim T. Hamilton, John Acuff, Craig H. Caldwell, James W. Chamberlain, Don Dino, Selma Cash Paty, Paul R. Summers, F. Evans Harvill and Raymond Fraley

    The stories in this chapter are somewhat related to other themes in the book, but not closely enough to be assigned to any of them. Nevertheless, these accounts are interesting and insightful, providing information about local life and culture and attitudinal behavior. These stories present accounts of stolen whiskey, a lie, an anticipated duel, use of metal detectors, a city located on the state line, a humorous painting on the courtroom wall, the exorbitant cost of beer, medical malpractice, a potential increase in a teenager’s automobile insurance rate, a teenage defendant who was reluctant to cut his hair, and two...

  21. Biographies of Storytellers
    (pp. 221-225)