Dueling Justice

Gov. Earl Long

Governor Earl Long
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Seeing the fiasco going  on in Wisconsin, where one male Supreme Court Justice apparently attempted to strangle one of his sister justices–after calling the Chief Justice a bitch, suggests to me that this good fellow must have some deep-seated mommie problem. I am reminded of a similar instance many years ago on the Louisiana Supreme Court. One might say, “Well you might expect this in Louisiana, but you should be surprised at this coming from the more civilized citizens of Wisconsin.” I think this just proves that human nature and Supreme Court Justices are the same, no matter where you find them.

Folks are always accusing my beloved Louisiana of having the most bizarre, corrupt politicians and judges to be found anywhere in this country. This is not so. True enough, some elected officials in Louisiana have engaged in bizarre behavior, but they were not hypocritical and did nothing to hide their unique behavior. As a matter of fact they seemed downright proud of their idiosyncrasies. Governor Earl Long took great glee in leading an entourage in a limousine caravan across the Southwest United States, while loyal state senators collected chickens and pigs along the way and and carried them in cages atop their cars.

When the good Governor needed extra inspiration, he would retire to his “pea patch farm” in Winn parish with his girlfriend Blaze Starr. Blaze, a Bourbon Street stripper, gave many men inspiration nightly when she disposed of her clothes to the rhythms of some sultry tune.

“Uncle Earl”, the affectionate title given our colorful Governor by many of his eager supporters, gave local and national reporters material that proved better than fiction. But the press hounded the stressed out Governor on his interesting exploits. Some sullen members of the media failed to see the humor in the antics of the man who was supposed to lead a state rich in natural resources. They wrote unkind things about the man. These unkind remarks angered Uncle Earl, and some say pushed him beyond the brink of sanity.

Uncle Earl fell completely out of favor with the Fourth Estate one hot summer day. The hoard of reporters followed him and Blaze into the Saint Charles Hotel, located naturally on St. Charles Ave. in downtown New Orleans. They pummeled him with questions as he and Blaze ascended the stairs to the balcony above the gracious lobby of the hotel. The mass of newsmen and women shouted questions from the lobby. By now the red-faced, paunchy Governor had had enough. He approached the rail of the balcony and with great ceremony, took his penis in his right hand and showered the astonished reporters below with urine. He did with deed what he had been telling the reporters all along.

This act of rebellion caused the Governor’s wife and nephew, Senator Russell Long, to have the troubled Governor put in the booby hatch–Louisiana for mental institution. When the chief doctor of all state institutions, whom Uncle Earl had appointed to the job, refused to release him, the livid Governor fired the doctor and replaced him with a physician that did release him.

The disturbed Governor had the good graces to die shortly thereafter, but not before he had proven to the world that he could outdo anything Blagojevich or any other Governor of Illinois could do. However, all of Uncle Earl’s supporters knew that for some time the Governor had just not been himself and dutifully forgave him any of his indiscretions.

Uncle Earl’s brother, Huey Long, wrote his own colorful chapter in Louisiana history. Huey preceded his brother Earl to the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge during the mean years of the Great Depression. He did so by promising the unwashed masses they would  have, “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” He did provide some good roads so people could get to the polling places to vote for him and free text books for schools. When his higher ambitions brought him to the United States Senate, he left the state in the hands of O.K. Allen, his personally chosen stooge.

Huey Long and armed bodyguards at State Capitol

Huey actually ran the State while in the U.S. Senate preparing for a run at the Presidency of the United States. Huey’s plans were cut short when a young dentist from a family Huey had offended gunned down the Senator at the back entrance of the State Capitol. Many times I have seen the pot marks the bullets left in the white marble columns. There have been many theories of what actually caused Huey’s death. Some surmise that bullets from Huey’s own bodyguards’ guns accidentally ricocheted off the marble into Huey’s paunchy body.  Some conspiracy theorists even suggest that Roosevelt himself had something to do with Huey’s death, because Roosevelt perceived Huey to be a threat to run for the Presidency.

Between the Longs, Louisiana had the respite of Jimmy Davis, the singing cowboy, for governor. Jimmy, a good old boy from north Louisiana, sang country songs to prospective voters. He even wrote the popular “You Are My Sunshine”–which I heard only yesterday in an advertisement on television.

Jimmy Davis

Jimmy Davis Singing “You Are My Sunshine”

Jimmy divided his time between “The Red Stick” (Baton Rouge) and  Tinsel Town. He did little for the State of Louisiana other than make us residents look like hicks. But this good Christian man had a repertoire of gospel songs that could just tear your heart out.

The glib, brilliant Edwin Edwards made Blagojevich seem like a clumsy choir boy. Self-assured, Edwin dodged the wrath of Federal Prosecutor Johnny Voltz three times, but was finally done in by a fourth attempt from another prosecutor. He has just recently been released from prison. While running for a second term for governor, Edmund, an avowed ladies man, proudly announced, “The only thing that would defeat me was to be found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”

Edwin Edwards

When David Duke, the acknowledged head of the Ku Klux Klan or the American Nazi Party–take your pick–challenged Edwards for a third term, the former Governor printed bumper stickers encouraging potential voters to “Vote for the Crook, not the Kook.” I have learned from recent media that Duke is thinking of seeking a nomination to run for President of the United States. This will be the best show on television. Ain’t a free country great?

But I digress. I started talking about one Wisconsin male Supreme Court Justice attempting to strangle one of his female sisters on his bench. His defenders assert that the jurist had to defend himself from the potentially lethal fist of his diminutive, sixty-something-year-old cohort on the court.

Again, lore has it that we can best that in Louisiana. The story goes–and I submit this is pure hearsay because I was not present to witness this event–that two of our elderly supreme court justices went at one another with their walking canes in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel. From the descriptions I heard it sounded like a duel of sorts, walking canes being the weapons of choice. They did not stage the duel under the Dueling Oaks out in City Park, as was the custom of Creole gentlemen of old who felt they had been insulted and needed satisfaction. Whatever the grievances the elderly jurist had for one another, they felt it proper to seek satisfaction in the lobby of the venerable old hotel in downtown New Orleans with their walking canes.

Roosevelt Hotel Lobby

I had heard the story of the duel in the Roosevelt around the legal community long before I was to argue my first case before the Louisiana Supreme Court. The two old combatants still sat on this august bench and still detested one another. One, who was appointed by Huey Long to the court, had become Chief Justice of the Court and his old adversary sat two justices down to the Chief’s right.

As an Assistant District Attorney in Jefferson Parish, I had gotten a conviction in a murder case. The defense attorney exercised his right to appeal the conviction directly to the Supreme Court of the State. This would be my first appearance before the seven justice Court to defend my conviction. The name of the Attorney General of Louisiana and my boss’s name, the District Attorney of Jefferson Parish, would precede mine on the brief I had researched and written, although neither of them knew an iota about the case. I would would be left to argue the case all by myself. An Assistant Attorney General was on hand to show me around the Court and teach me how to use the fancy lectern which stood in front of and way, way, below the seven jurists who would fire questions at me.

When the bailiff called my case, I approached the electrically controlled dais and fiddled with it. I tried with marginal success to adjust it to my height. In short order the Chief Justice ordered me, “Quit fooling with the machine son and begin your argument.”

I promptly obeyed only to be interrupted by a question from the Chief. I answered as best I could, but the Chief, being hard of hearing glared at me and said, “Speak up son. What did you say?”

Before I could reply to the Chief, his old adversary leaned forward and glared at the Chief then snarled at the Chief, “Turn up your hearing aid. He said defense counsel made no objection to the introduction of the gun.”

This began a verbal duel between the aging adversaries that I could only watch in disbelief and with amusement. After several minutes of oral combat between the old foes, which seemed like several hours to me, the Chief looked at the clock on the wood paneled wall, then turned to me and announced impatiently, “Son, your twenty minutes are up.”

So throttle one another if you must, Wisconsin justices. You can never be as colorful as the jurists we grow down in the bayous of Louisiana.

Louisiana Jurist

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One Response to Dueling Justice

  1. Dan Fox says:

    Wow! The extra pictures, and especially the YouTube clip of Jimmy Davis singing “You Are My Sunshine,” really make this posting special. But the best part is your hilarious rendition of Louisiana politics in the 20th century. A masterpiece in the Mark Twain tradition!

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