Native American Judge

 Emerald Beach Motel, Biloxi

Emerald Beach Motel, Biloxi

Well, it was June again and the Jefferson Parish Bar Association had gathered at the Emerald Coast Motel in Biloxi, Ms. to hold its annual conference, while the rest of Louisiana attorneys and judges met at the more elegant Buena Vista Hotel down the road.

The Emerald Coast Motel had been the gathering place for our rowdy crew from the time my law partner Wally LeBrun persuaded our bar association to meet annually at this quaint little family-owned motel on the Gulf of Mexico. The Mancuiso family, who were Wally’s clients, built this family retirement business from profits of slot machines, that is until the righteous Senator Estes Kefauver investigated corruption in the gambling world of Jefferson Parish and in effect closed down their business.

The motel was a pleasant little affair with only two stories and no elevators. It had ample parking, a swimming pool, a small meeting room we used as a hospitality room, and a decent little restaurant. Members of our bar association with certain connections saw to it that our hospitality room was well stocked with booze and food. If we felt in need of local entertainment and beverage, there was a little lounge right next to the motel called Sharkey’s.

Emerald Beach Motel

Emerald Beach Motel

In my drinking days, some years prior to the tales I am about to tell, I was prone to consume great quantities of liquor at our bar conventions. One June after drinking three days straight, I woke up with the grandaddy of all hangovers. I desperately searched for booze to no avail. The morning was hot and mucky and I was in agony. I sought refuge in the ice making machine on the first floor. But when I stuck my head in the cool machine to relieve my misery, nature took over and the inevitable occurred. I up chucked all over the ice cubes in the bin. Later when some of my confreres lamented that some fool had violated the ice maker to the point that the owners of the motel had to replace it, I acted surprised and indignant.

By the time I now relate to you I had put a cork in the bottle and had been elected to the bench. At the time of this story, I could only look in amusement as booze deprived my fellow barristers and judges of their  good sense. Our hospitality room was the perfect venue for this enterprise.

Buena Vista Hotel and Motel

Buena Vista Hotel and Motel

Jimmy Wiedner had served as an Assistant District Attorney in my court. I had talked Sam Stevens into the low paying job of representing indigent kids brought before me. About ninety eight percent of the youngsters that came before me were poor. The other two percent went to private schools and had well-to-do parents that could afford expensive, private counsel. I had come to understand that these kids are the most disenfranchised people in our country. They had half-baked parents and no money to afford attorneys.  But that is the subject for a full length book.

Jimmy and Sam were good friends, but battled in court daily. On the occasion of this Bar meeting, the friendly adversaries decided to sail Jimmy’s newly acquired twenty-six foot Columbia sailboat from New Orleans to our conference on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This would not have been a remarkable feat for experienced sailors, but this crew was far from accomplished. Jimmy had just purchased the second hand craft a few weeks earlier and I doubt that Sam had ever set foot on a sailboat.

Columbia Sailboat

Columbia Sailboat

When Sam and Jimmy were eight hours overdue, we became concerned for their well being.  When they were twelve hours late we called the Coast Guard. They were found aground in Lake Borgne, but the good hands from the Coast Guard freed them and delivered them safely to us so they could regale us with their harrowing adventure.

Sam and Judge Pat Carr were good fishing buddies. They shared a fishing camp at Dulac just South of Houma, Louisiana. The pair spent weekends at the camp catching fish, telling stories and sipping whiskey and beer. Well maybe they did more talking and sipping than catching.

One evening before dinner, Sam came to our hospitality room where Pat sat talking to folks and nursing a beer. Sam tended to get a tad belligerent when he drank–which was about every day. He was fairly sauced when he tried to talk Pat into going somewhere with him to see a girly show. Now this was about as close to a girl that Sam cared to get. He was a confirmed bachelor who lived at home with his mother.

Pat declined the invitation, which caused Sam to retort, “You are chicken shit.” Pat, being good-natured and knowing Sam’s propensity to insult people when he drank too much, just ignored Sam. Pat had lived through trying life experiences that enabled him to cope with horny folks. During a bombing mission over Germany in WWII, Pat’s plane was shot down and he had to bail out. He endured the insults of the Nazis for the two years he spent in their prison camp, so whatever his friend Sam had to say just bounced off him like rain on a bird’s wings.

Sam persisted. With a wide-brimmed straw hat atop his flame red hair, Sam stuck his left hand on his hip and leaned his pudgy body forward. He thrust his pale face flaked with red within a foot of Pat’s head. Sam’s crystal blue eyes dazzled with excitement when he reiterated, “You are chicken shit.”

Those of us in the room were astonished to see Sam treat a sitting judge with such disrespect even though he was his fishing buddy and friend. We held our breath to see what the easygoing Judge Carr would do. Judge Carr, a lean muscular man, was not one to back away from confrontation. He finally had enough of Sam’s verbal abuse and just calmly told Sam, “Sam you are drunk. Just go to your room and sleep it off. If you don’t, I just may have to knock your block off.”

Sam jerked up straight, looked up Judge Carr in the eye, gave a little snort, turned and silently walked out the door. Sam, even in an inebriated state, knew when his friend who had grown up on a dirt farm in Mississippi had had enough. Sam also knew that Pat did not issue idle threats.

Lionel Collins was the first black judge elected to the 24th District Court Bench of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Well Lionel was not real black. He was more the shade of cafe au lait with a slight tinge of red. Lionel had I had duked it out in court on many an occasion when I was an Assistant District Attorney trying felony cases and he was defending his innocent clients. Lionel thought all his clients, who happened to all be from our black community, were innocent. He tried to convince me of their innocence every time we met in court, which rarely met with success.

Lionel was always well-prepared. He was a good attorney–well grounded in substantive criminal law and criminal procedure. Although passionate about his representations he was level headed for the most part and held no grudges when he lost a case. When trials concluded we always had frank discussions about what went right and what went wrong in the case. We respected one another and learned much from each other.

At some point in this convention, Jimmy, Lionel and I became bored and decided to go next door to Sharkey’s Lounge to see what the locals were up to. By this time I was comfortable hanging in places where booze was consumed. After all I sobered up in New Orleans, where the city was awash in booze. I learned I could listen to New Orleans Jazz at some of my favorite haunts in the French Quarter with no apprehension. All I had to do is to sit at the bar with a ginger ale and a twist of lemon and nobody cared about what I was drinking.

Jimmy, Lionel and I found a small, round, cocktail table at Sharkey’s and were soon greeted by a young cute, freckled faced, red headed, petite Mississippi girl who introduced herself as Bobby Sue. For those of you not from the South, you must understand that our parents insisted on giving us children two front names.

Greetings from Biloxi Mississippi

Greetings from Biloxi Mississippi

Now sitting with a black man, no matter how light-skinned a sitting judge he might be, in a lounge in southern Mississippi in those days could cause problems. But child-like Bobby Sue was a cheerful, chatty person who did not seem to be upset with our trio. We later learned she came from just below Laurel, Mississippi. After she dropped out of high school, she left her family’s dirt farm and her seven siblings and came to the Gulf Coast to make her way in the world.

Jimmy, always playful, decided to introduce Lionel to Bobby Sue and his father. Jimmy embellished the story by telling Bobby Sue that Lionel was full-blooded Cherokee Indian.

“Wow,” Bobby Sue exclaimed “I never met an real Ingine before. Do you live on a reservation somewhere? Will you be all right if you drink alcohol?”

Lionel, quick to go along with Jimmy’s little charade, told Bobby Sue, “I will be all right with just one drink and no I don’t live on the reservation anymore. My son Jimmy here, came and got me off the reservation and brought me to live with him in New Orleans. He got me a job making costumes for a group that call themselves Indians and march in Mardi Gras parades. I enjoy the work and it pays enough to keep me going with Jimmy’s help.”

“Wow” Bobby Sue exclaimed, “I never been to New Orleans before much less a Mardi Gras parade. Soon as I make enough money I am going to New Orleans and go to one of them parades. I hear it is a real hoot.”

“You must do that.” Lionel told Bobby Sue. “You will not want to leave The City That Care Forgot once you get there.”

“The City That Care Forgot, What does that mean?” Bobby Sue asked.

“You will know after you have gone to your first Mardi Parade?” Lionel told this curious little Mississippi girl.

Bobby Sue hustled off and brought the Cherokee Indian and his son their drinks and me my ginger ale with a twist.

At lunch at Whiteside’s Restaurant back home during breaks from court, Jimmy, Lionel and I regaled our fellow barristers and judges with the story of how the full-blooded Cherokee Indian and his son came to know the delightful Bobby Sue.

Judge Lionel Collins

Judge Lionel Collins

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