Decisions, Decisions

As an honest, smart judge, Frank Fadol had one flaw. He agonized with making  decisions. I always wondered why he chose the profession that required him to make many important decisions daily.

Frank, fastidious about his person and dress, also suffered with a tinge of neurosis. Everything had to be “just so” in his world, including the two martinis he indulged in each evening before dinner.

In the early 1960s only thirty-seven lawyers practiced in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana–thirty-six men and one woman. Ava Snell, the lone female attorney, who mostly passed Acts of Sale, never subjected herself to indignities of the Jefferson Bar’s annual smoker which served as the yearly Bar Meeting and election of officers. Those members elected to hold office for the next year were folks absent from the current meeting. Official business consumed about ten minutes. The balance of the evening was dedicated to telling the latest raunchy jokes, drinking, and eating.

Every year, Judge Frank Fadol arrived early at the Colonial Country Club for the annual Bar Meeting. Diligent about arriving early for Bar Meetings, Judge Fadol, who never took the bench on time, sometimes making busy lawyer cool their expensive heels for more than an hour past the appointed court time.

As a young lawyer just commencing my practice, I attended one of these celebrated Bar Meetings. I witnessed Judge Fadol approach the bartender in charge of providing our drinks. The precise judge produced a small, ornate crystal vial from the watch pocket of his three piece navy blue suit. Not willing to let his martini be subjected to just any old common vermouth, the good judge brought his personal booze in this diminutive, extravagant container. “Sam”, He instructed the barkeep, “You know how to concoct my martini. Remember, just two drops of my special vermouth.”

“Yes Judge, how could I forget,” Sam dutifully replied.

Judge Tom

Once, as an Assistant District Attorney, I handled a case that caused considerable public interest. Local media, cameras ablaze, invaded the halls of our courthouse in rowdy droves to see a celebrity witness I took to the Grand Jury. By then Judge Fadol had ascended to the lofty position of Chief Judge of the Twenty-Fourth District. His passion for order caused him to issue an edict that there would be no noise in the hallways during court sessions. My witness caused a media melee outside Judge Fadol’s courtroom as we proceeded to the Grand Jury. The distraught Judge emerged from his courtroom and shouted to me, “What is going on here? Make these people quiet down.”

As respectfully as I could, I told the irate judge, “I can’t do a thing with all these reporters, Your Honor. Maybe you could remind them of your orders.”  Being fearful of media attention, Judge Fadol retreated to the sanctuary of his courtroom when he heard the word “reporters”.

Hypochondriac adequately described the good judge. One could easily glimpse a great variety of pills, potions, vitamins and health food supplements on the credenza in his well-manicured office. If he came down with so much as a cold, his docket would be canceled for the day.

A tuberculosis case I had to try fell to his court. Will Short, a tuberculosis patient, escaped from the hospital that confined him and returned to his home in Jefferson Parish. Louisiana law at that time required that the patient have a fair hearing before a judge to ascertain if the patient needed further confinement. According to doctors, Will’s disease was not active at the time, but he still needed treatment at the hospital.

When I told Judge Fadol the nature of the case, he complained, “Why do they have to bring that case to my court? Why not just take the man back to the hospital?”

Showing him the Code of Civil Procedure, I replied, “Judge, as you can see the law is clear that the man is entitled to a hearing to determine if further treatment is necessary.”

“But the sick man won’t be in my court, will he?” the anxious judge inquired.

“Of course he will be there with his attorney,” I replied.

The court procedure turned into a comedy to rival that of “The Three Stooges”. When Will took the witness stand next to the judge’s bench, the skittish judge moved as far away from the sick man as he could and commanded him to put a handkerchief over his mouth as he testified. This caused the court reporter to complain, “I can’t hear what the witness is saying.”  Naturally, this made Will to remove his handkerchief from his mouth to speak clearly, which in turn drew another admonition from the fearful judge. This went on all morning.

Mercifully the hearing concluded in about two hours. Judge Fadol issued an order returning Will to the hospital and left the bench for the remainder of the day.

An attorney friend of mine advised me to be aware that an unscrupulous attorney would appear in court with a client charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana. In those days it was the policy of my District Attorney’s Office to agree to a probationary sentence for defendants charged with personal use quantities of weed. In order to justify an exorbitant fee, the disreputable attorney  he told his frightened young client, that part of the fee would have to go to the judge and part to the Assistant District Attorney to assure that the defendant did not serve time in jail.

I happened to be on duty conducting arraignments in Judge Fadol when the unethical attorney appeared with his hapless client. I immediately asked for a recess to consult with the judge in his chambers. I told the judge I would not take a plea in that case and revealed to him the warning that had been given to me. The judge agreed that no plea would be accepted. Instead, he brought the brought the greedy attorney and his client into his chambers with a court reporter.

“We are not going to let you plea to anything today”, Judge Fadol advised the attorney and his client. “But I do need to ask your client a question counselor if you agree” the judge asked the attorney.

“Well, sure”, the nervous attorney responded, knowing something must be amiss but not wishing to offend the judge.

Judge Fadol then addressed the very anxious client, “Is it a fact that your attorney told you that part of the fee you paid him was to go to the judge and the Assistant District Attorney to insure that you get a probated sentence?”

The young man squirmed in his chair, dropped his head on his chest and looked sideways at his attorney. The attorney just looked away.

“Well, what is your answer?” the judge insisted.

In barely audible voice, with head still bowed, and eyes cast upon the floor, the defendant replied “Yes,Your Honor, that is what my attorney told me.”

Judge Fadol ordered the court reporter to transcribe the proceedings in his chambers so he could send the transcript with a cover letter to the Bar Association’s Ethics Committee.

The most exciting day Judge Fadol may have had in court came when a prisoner at the end of the “Daisy Chain”–a steel chain shackling prisoners together for an appearance in court–grabbed deputy Jay Hecker’s 38 caliber revolver from its holster. The prisoner was now boss of Judge Fadol’s courtroom.

Witnesses described the judge’s reaction to this unexpected, dangerous event in various ways. Some said he swooped down from the bench toward the protection of his chambers like Zoro, black robe bellowing in the air currents he created. Others stated he looked more like Batman making his escape. A few described his descent to the safety of his chambers as a great black bird swooping down to safety of its nest. No matter how one described it, the situation became serious.

An attorney in court who had fought with Special Forces in Viet Nam, helped train the New Orleans Police SWAT team, and was a knowledgeable gun collector saved the day. Wiley snuck up behind the prisoner and grabbed the cocked pistol, placing his left hand between the cocked firing pin and the percussion cap of the live round in the revolver’s chamber. With his right arm, he exerted a chokehold on the desperate man’s neck until the prisoner decided he would rather relinquish his weapon than die.

Despite his idiosyncrasies, which all of us possess in abundance, Judge Fadol brought honesty, integrity and hard work to his profession. True, he wrestled with making decisions, but he eventually made them. The good judge is no longer with us physically, but he still lingers in many memories.


 

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