Gavels and Fountain Pens

The local bar association gives you one when their president puts the black robe on you after you have spent a  a ton of money to get elected to the bench. It is a gavel. For most judges, it sits on their bench as a symbol of authority and gathers dust over the years. Mine, a modest mid-sized wooden mallet, did just that. It was a good paper weight and simply a reminder of the day I was sworn in  as a trial level judge in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

Judge Tom at Robing Ceremony

Judge Tom at Robing Ceremony

The imaginative folks who make movies and TV shows seem to believe the gavel is an essential tool for maintaining order in a courtroom. We see judges turning scarlet with anger, banging a gavel the size of croquette mallets and shouting at the top of his or her lungs, “Order in court. Order in court. If I don’t get order in court I will  clear out my courtroom.” These dramatic renditions remind me of the childhood limerick that goes something like this, “Order in court. The judge has got to spit. All that can’t swim better run.”

Another pet peeve I have is how fantasy land illustrates the houses judges live in. In the movies and on TV judges live in palatial mansions. The judges I have known including myself, with rare exception, were not wealthy and lived in ordinary homes.
Well, I am here to tell you that banging on a gavel is just not the way things really play out in a courtroom. If a judge has let things get to this state of affairs, he or she has already lost control of the proceedings before them. And excluding the public from a trial is antithetical to the principles of our judicial system. FISA  courts seem to be the only judicial systems we are willing to let operate in secret.

When on vacation in Costa Rica, I discovered that citizens of other countries have this illusion about judges. Even Carlos, the eight-year old Costa Rican son of the owner at the Lookout Lodge in the jungles of the Osa Peninsula asked me in Spanish, “Did you use the ‘mantilla’ (little hammer) to hit lawyers who were fighting in court?”

Carlos at Lookout lodge

Carlos at Lookout Lodge

I told him, “Most judges I knew used their pens to keep order. When necessary, they tapped them vigorously on the bench or pointed them at rowdy attorneys.”

“Con su pluma?” (With your writing pen?), the lad inquired in disbelief. The properly used pen kept order in my courtroom and most courtrooms I frequented. Besides, the light, frail little mallet was no match for the hard head of some lawyer in full rage.

Judge J. Bernard Cocke broke a lot of ballpoint pens fighting with attorneys and witnesses. Socially, Cocke could be Prince Charming, especially in the presence of women. When off the bench, he played Falstaff and other characters in Shakespearean plays. His rotund physique especially lent itself to portray Falstaff. When dealing with quarreling attorneys, Judge Cocke assumed a less cordial persona. The undisputed authority on Louisiana Criminal law, Cocke spent forty years in the criminal courts of New Orleans as the District Attorney and a Judge. He knew every trick in the book and could smell a lie before it fell from a witness’s lips.

Judge Tom's gavel

Judge Tom’s gavel

Once, Defense Attorney Ralph Barnett brought a motion to suppress evidence in Cocke’s court. The evidence, consisting of illegal drugs, had been obtained by a young, arrogant deputy sheriff on the Narcotics Squad. As Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case, I interviewed the young deputy in preparation for the hearing. He told me, “The suspect gave me permission to open the trunk of his car after I pulled him over for faulty taillights.”

“Are you telling me that Randy Russo, a known drug dealer, just gave you permission to search for drugs in his car without any dispute?” I asked the hapless young deputy. I further attempted to warn him, “And that is what you are going to tell Judge Cocke?”

“That’s the way it went down,” he insisted. I figured that it was about time to throw the over-eager, self assured, young narcotics cop into Judge Cocke’s lion’s den.

The hearing took place after Cocke had his customary lunch of a Mrs. Drake sandwich from the coffee stand and a few slugs of Old Commisky whiskey from a half-pint fruit jar which he kept in his chambers. This practice caused him to appear to be napping on the bench in the afternoon, but most of the time he heard and fully understood every word a witness said.

At another instance in Cocke’s courtroom, attorney Bobby Broussard and I were arguing a motion before Cocke in the afternoon when the good judge went dead asleep and started snoring. Bobby looked at me and said, “He is asleep. Wake him up.”

“Hell no,” I responded. “It’s your motion. You wake him up.” Bobby dropped a pile of heavy law books on the table in front of us, bringing the judge back from the land of Morpheus.

But on this day with Ralph, the young narcotics cop was not so lucky. While appearing to be dozing, Cocke heard every preposterous word the deputy said under oath.
Cocke came alive with rage, grabbed the nearest pen available, waggled it menacingly in the face of the young officer and snarled, “You are a damn liar, you little punk. I know Randy Russo and his whole good-for-nothing, drug dealing family. There is no way he gave you permission to search his car without a warrant.”

Cocke then turned his wrath on me, pointing the pen and  saying, “And you, Mr. D.A., if you had any genitalia, (except he was much more explicit in describing my private parts) you would charge this little liar with perjury.”

I didn’t charge the prevaricator with perjury. I figured Cocke’s tirade shook the young deputy so badly he would probably not dare play fast and loose with the truth in the future.

With all due respect to the creators of TV shows and movies, I am here to tell you that not only is the pen is more mighty than the sword, it is much more effective than a ceremonial gavel.

Judge Tom with his gavel

Judge Tom with his gavel

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Stanley

There I was in the back of this old pickup truck in the Wal Mart parking lot in Defuniak Springs, Florida with six other muling, grumbling mutts, some old tires and an assortment of greasy tools. This young couple picked us up along side Highway 81 in north Walton, County. We were all hungry and sickly. They fed us and took us to the Wal Mart parking area and put a sign on back of their dilapidated truck saying, “FREE PUPS FOR GOOD HOME.”

Them other squirmy dogs were a’yapping and wiggling around. This was driving me crazy so I just hung my head and front paws over the tailgate to get some fresh air. I did not care to associate with them anyway. They were just not my kind. I don’t think they was very smart. Yeah, I was weak and hungry too, but I did not make on like I needed any thing.

Pretty soon, I spied a man and woman getting out of a white Toyota pick up across the parking lot. The dude was old and moved a bit slow, but the much younger woman seemed spry and alert. I could see them talking real serious like when they read the sign below me. It was not by accident that I put myself over that sign where folks could see me. I had to find me a good home and get out of the bed of that old, run downed pickup with all them other sorry critters.

The couple approached my truck slowly and started talking to the young couple that had rescued us dogs. “Could you use some money to help feed these dogs?” the Old Dude asked the young couple.

The young man replied, “No, we won’t take any money. We are just looking for a good home for these pups.” The young man was right, I was just a pup when I got lost from my mama and got mixed up with this mess of scroungy mutts along side the highway just north of Bruce, Florida.

Anyways, when I saw the older couple approach our truck they appeared to be kind, maybe even gullible folks. I put on the most pitiful look I could muster in hopes they may take me home with them. I did not bark or grumble. I just moaned a bit to get their attention and I continued to hang my head over the tailgate. I made a point to stare at them with my dark brown eyes through my long, shaggy, curly black and white eye lashes.  This seemed to do the trick.

stanleyThe Old Dude, looked me over real good then asked the young man “What about this fellow here? Could we adopt him? We already have a Golden Retriever named P.J. that we rescued, but we could give this one a good home also. Besides P.J. needs a companion.” The Old Dude’s wife agreed.

Well anything to get out of this truck with this pack of whinnying puppies, but do I really  want to be a companion to a lummox of a dog with a silly name like, P.J.? What the hell, anything had to be better than sitting in the back of a truck in the Wal Mart parking lot. Bedsides, I heard the young couple say that if they could not find us a home they may have to take us to the dog pound where bad things could happen to us. Better to live with P.J. than risk that fate I figured.

I heard the Old Dude tell his wife, referring to me, “That dog must be old. Look at all the grey, kinky hair he has.” Now that did insult me. I weren’t old, and I considered my appearance to be what humans would call salt and pepper. I wish I could have talked in human language. I would corrected the old fart, but I did not have to. His young, smarter, wife told the ignorant old fool, “No love, he is just a pup, probably just about six months old. That is the natural color of his coat, and look at the long brown hair under his little belly. He actually is quite a handsome little fellow,” the Old Dude’s wife correctly observed about me. Of course I agree with her.

These new people told the young folks who found us that they would give me a good home. They offered again to donate money for food for the other pups, but the proud, young couple refused any donations.

I did not want to let the Old Dude and his foxy wife know just how sick and weak  I was, lest they would decide I would be too much trouble. I really wanted to have them take me home with them, but I was even too weak to walk to their white Toyota pickup. I just lay limp in the Old Dude’s arms as he gently carried me to the truck and carefully laid me on the back seat. I soon came to understand that both these people were kind folks and seemed to really care about me.

As we drove south from Defuniak Springs to my new parents’ home at the beach in Seagrove, I heard them discuss what to name me. Truth of the matter is I never really had a name before. They discussed several options and finally came up with the name Stanley. Seems that some member of their family, in their youth, had an old, loyal dog named Stanley. That sounded like a stately name to me and I think it fits my energetic, erudite, sophisticated, independent personality.

As we drove south, I heard her call the Old Dude, Tom and he called her Karen. So my new parents, or owners, depending on how one looks at things like this, were Tom and Karen.

When we arrived at my new home, I met P.J.  Now, ain’t that a ridiculous name for a dog. Well it befits him. He is a ridiculous dog. P. J. is a big old, neurotic Golden Retriever. I could see from the beginning he was good for nothing.Tom and Karen and PJ

At first, P.J. did not take kindly with me coming into his house. For about three hours he walked around and around me with a chewy in his mouth whining like a pitiful puppy. The good news was that he did not growl at me or bite me. I was still pretty sick and weak at the time so I just ignored him as best I could. After a while, P.J. settled down and went to sleep. I thought he was just too old and tired to put up a fight. Later in our relationship, I Learned P.J. would fight me when he got enough of my antics. Actually I found out he liked to fight other dogs whenever he could.

The day after we arrived at my new abode, Karen took me to the pretty lady veterinarians at Kindness Pet Hospital to check me out and get the shots civilized folks feel we dogs need to be healthy. They may call this place Kindness, but those shots stung , no matter how gently the the considerate Doctors treated me. I felt pretty lowly all that day, but by my third day at home with Tom and Karen I was feeling pretty chipper–better than I had ever felt.

Karen fed well, and P.J. and I agreed on an eating arrangement that worked for both of us. Karen made sure I got enough to eat before the big dog gobbled up all of my food.  It was a good thing that Karen thought to do this because I am a picky eater. I smell my food first then eat slowly. The big red dog just gobbles his food down, and mine if he gets a chance, before I can savor my meal. Despite his sophisticated name he has no manners whatsoever. It is a wonder the big oaf does not have stomach problems all the time.

Later on, after I became a real member of the household, I figured out strategies to enlist P. J. to help me get things I wanted or needed. If I thought breakfast or dinner was a little late, or I needed to go outside to potty, I would bark at P.J. and wake him up from his nap to go beg for food or let us out. But P.J. was way ahead of me on this procedure. Over the years he had learned to go beg the Old Dude for food or a chewy, knowing full well the lazy old man would simply call to Karen and say, “The dogs are bugging me. I think they  are hungry or they need  to go out.” This strategy worked every time, so I did what P.J. taught me. I begged Tom, who always called on Karen to give me what I wanted.

Man, man, you ought to see the house and yard I live in now. It is a young dog’s dream. The house, a big two story affair, is stuffed with junk that I love to explore and chew on. It looks like something I have seen on that TV show the American Pickers. Oh yes dogs do watch TV. At least smart dogs do. Seems Tom and Karen built not only a house to live in but a studio and workshop where they create pottery, paintings, photographs, greeting cards and write stories. Tom has many tools in his workshop, but when I hear him cussing, I don’t think he knows how to use most of them. It is one of my favorite places  to explore or potty if it it is raining outside. The Old Dude got really upset  when I did this the first time, so I humor him by doing my business outside most of the time.

The house sits on a big lot with many trees. Karen had planted vegetable and flower gardens all over the place. Sometime Tom helps her with the vegetable gardens, but he tells her, “Your flowers are pretty, but you cain’t eat them.” Karen explains to the ignorant fellow that the flowers attract bees who pollinate the vegetables. Well even I, a dumb dog, can understand that.

stanley in backyardMany squirrels and birds live in our yard. Now I am fast, but those damn squirrels can out run me. I have yet to catch one. But I do catch rats. We live next to an overgrown vacant lot, therefore rats occasionally come into the lower part of our house which is supposed to be our garage. I have heard Tom tell people on many occasions, “Of course we don’t put our cars in the garage. That is like putting a twenty gallon gasoline bomb in your house.”As I said before, my parents have strange and wonderful things in our garage they use to engage in their many hobbies. For instance, Karen prepares all of her greeting cards she sells at Sun Dog book store in Seaside downstairs. They call these things necessary equipment. I call it clutter.

But rats do get in downstairs and hide down there. I have, with serious resolve, taken on my responsibility to ferret out and extricate these rascals from our home. I guess it is just in my nature to dispose of rats. I heard Karen say it is in my breeding. Karen and Tom can’t decided on my heritage, but they agree that I am a ratter.

When I smell those varmints, I corner them up amongst the project stuff downstairs, and bark at them until they come out or l wear myself out. As soon as the critter makes a run for it, I jump on him in a flash, grab him by the neck, take him to the backyard and dispose of him. This makes my new parents happy and me proud to be a working member of the household. P.J. is not much help in catching rats, but he does give me  moral support.

To say that P.J. is strange is putting it mildly. The other night I was just asleep at Karen’s feet. P.J. was asleep on his bed about five feet away. All of a sudden he jumped up and raced toward me growling  for no good reason. True, I do give him cause to growl at me all day long, but not on this occasion. I guess he had a nightmare and wanted to take it out on me. For whatever reason, he scared the bejesus out of me. I thought he had taken leave of his senses and was going to eat me up. I cuddled up to Tom, but he had no sympathy for me so I went back to Karen for protection, who stroked my rough fur and  told me not to worry. She said P.J. just had a bad dream.

But the old dog can be useful. Being a young active fellow who has worked all day catching rats or chasing squirrels and birds out of Karen’s gardens, I get really really hungry about sunset. Usually, P.J. is doing what he does best–sleeping. I need his help to get Karen’s attention so she will feed us. I bark at P.J. to interrupt his slumber and in dog talk tell him to go beg for food. He then goes through his routine of bugging Tom who in turn prevails upon good-natured Karen to feed us. I guess the old dog ain’t so dumb after all, because his tactics seem to work every time. If  I have to go out to potty in the middle of the night, I want P.J. to  go with me, so I bark him awake so he can beg Karen to open the doors.

P.J.I take these nightly potty breaks to inspect our yard and bark at any unwanted critters or humans. Tom and Karen, and even our neighbors, say I bark a lot. But what is a dog to do? One of my many jobs is to warn Karen and Tom of intruders. I remember once about three in the morning, Karen had fallen asleep on the living room couch and I was fast asleep on my bed at her feet, but with one ear open. I heard someone in our front yard, so let out my shrill, alarm bark, the one that tells those nearby there is something amiss. It is different from the bark I use just to shoo away unwanted squirrels or lizards. This is my serious bark, telling Tom or Karen, ‘There is danger here–do something.’

The next morning, Karen told Tom at breakfast, “I don’t know why Stanley got on a barking fit in the middle of the night.”  But when she went out into our yard that morning she discovered that some villains had come into our yard and stolen three of our plastic flamingos. I don’t know why people who come to our part of paradise have to  do tacky things like that. Karen and even the Old Dude praised me for being a good watchdog. I was happy to see they appreciated me and figured this made up for some of my bad behavior.

Four little mixed breed dogs live with Bob and Rhonda across the street from us. They bark all the time, and of course I must answer them. Of late I have learned I can jump the banister on the downstairs front porch, so I go visit these dogs and stir them up whenever I can. I find this to be great fun. Bob and Rhonda like me. They say I am cute, but I don’t think they appreciate me disturbing their mutts. I bark at them every time they walk in front of our house just for the fun of watching them go nuts on their leashes and drag Rhoda and Bob down the street.

Yes, I do like fun and adventure. I get away and run about the neighborhood any chance I get.  P.J. is just too old and set in his ways to keep up with me. Sometimes I do get to lead him astray. Our little adventures wear him out, but if the truth be known,  our little escapades invigorate the old fellow as well.

We live just one good golf shot from the aqua, blue waters and gleaming white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes when the tourists are not around, Karen and Tom take us down and allow us to run in the surf. I chase the seagulls, but they are faster than the squirrels and they can even fly away. Old P.J. just mosies along with the Old Dude. Once I talked P.J. into traveling East down the beach with me to a secluded state park called Deer Lake. As we pranced off down the beach, Karen became quite upset and kept calling for us to return. P.J. wanted to obey and go back, but I talked him in to continuing our adventure. I know I was wrong in not obeying Karen, but I just could not pass up the opportunity to see what was down at Deer Lake.

Eventually, Karen persuaded some county workers cleaning up the beach to drive their truck down the beach and corral P.J. and me. She was some pissed off, telling me, “You are a bad dog. You corrupt P.J.” She thinks P.J. is such a goodie-two-shoes, but I know better. I have seen him do devious things to get what he wants.  Anyway, Karen is such a sweet woman, and I am so cute when I turn on my charm, she can’t stay angry with me long. Too bad P.J. just does not have my charisma, but for some reason she loves him as much as she loves me.

On another occasion, Karen and Tom had things to do that kept them away from home all day. A storm whipped up which really upsets P.J. He wandered around downstairs whining and crying pitifully. To distract him, I convinced the reluctant P.J. to break out out of our front porch and go rile up Wanda and Bob’s barkie little dogs. As I have mentioned, this one of my favorite sports.

Rhonda took it upon herself to return us home, but the storm got worse. This became too much for P.J., so he chewed our way through the wooden fence on the front porch and we broke out again. This time we took a long trip West down the beach toward the community of Seaside. We got about a mile away in front of the only high-rise condo on our beach. Many children came out to play with us. I dearly love to play with little folks because they have so much energy and can run fast. P.J. Just stands there and allows the little ones pet him, but I run their little legs off.

Stanley on the PorchOf course, Karen really got up set by this little escapade. The truth is we had gotten so far from home, we were lost. Karen had had the foresight to have the vet to implant a high-tech locating device under my skin. Some kind gentleman, at the condo, called the animal control folks of Walton County and they came out and found out who owned us and called Karen. She came down in the little Toyota truck and brought us back home scolding me all the way. But again she eventually got over being mad at me, hugged me and told me she loved me even though I was an exasperating little dog.

All my bad behavior has prompted Karen to try to teach me discipline. She has even threatened to take me to obedience school, but I think she has given up that notion and is going to take on the job of improving my behavior herself. I know I try her patience. I don’t try to be difficult by running away,  barking at other dogs and people, tearing up pillows Karen has made for Tom, shredding magazines, and even eating Karen’s checkbook, but I am still just a puppy and I can’t just sit around the house doing nothing like the lazy P.J. After all, I, unlike P.J., earn my keep by catching rats and shooing away potential burglars.

A ninety-one-year-old guy, also named Tom, who lives down our street has marked off a one hundred meeter running track on our street. He  comes and jogs that course  every day with his mean, shaggy, brown chow dog. Old Tom is a neat, pleasant fellow. He has participated in and won some senior Olympics competitions, but  that chow dog of his is unpleasant and can be downright mean.

Just the other day, Karen was bringing P.J. and me back from our favorite swimming hole. Old Tom’s chow was out in front of his his house with his master. I thought I would be friendly and just go over and try to play with that honery, female dog.  As I ran to her she growled at me. Now I am here to tell you that P.J., as sweet and laid back as he is, just don’t take no gruff from any other dog no matter the size–especially if  that dog is growling at me. Well P. J. lit into that chow and fur flew all over the place. Of course, I had to join and help P.J. as much as I could. I think the chow got a hunk of J.P., because my old buddy limped around for a day or two after that, but he seems to be his old self again.

Karen was mortified by our behavior and tried to apologize to Old Tom. He dismissed her concerns and told her that his dog needed a good whipping anyway. Well P.J. and I certainly did that for him.

As I said, P.J. will take on most any dog in a fight, except our neighbor, David’s dogs. David has two giant, white great Pyrenees dogs. Their barks sound like thunder when we walk in front of their house. P.J. and I just walk on the far side of the street in front of their house and look the other way when we walk by. If they are in their fenced yard, I pray that that fence holds them back, because I don’t think even P.J. could handle these monsters.

Speaking of David, he is a hairstylist who works out of his house. He gives Tom and Karen their haircuts. He is a sweet, gentle guy who took care of P.J. and me when Karen had to visit Tom the two weeks he had to spend at the Bay Medical Center Hospital over in Panama City last February and March. This was a bad time for all of us–especially for Karen and Tom. David took good care of us and saw that we got good food and potty breaks.

Tom’s son Sean and his daughter Paige came over to do what they could while he was in the hospital, but Karen did all the daily heavy lifting. She took on the trying job of making sure the doctors, nurses and technicians were doing their jobs correctly. But lo and behold, no sooner than Tom entered the hospital, Karen twisted her ankle badly rushing down our stairs to go to care for him. Man oh man for a time around here we had the cripple assisting the more crippled.

Of course, P.J. and I did our part. When Tom and Karen were laid up we came and sniffed them all day long to make sure things were not going downhill with them. Everybody knows that we dogs can sniff out an illness long before humans suspect they are sick. Our problem is we don’t have vocal cords to communicated this information We do talk in many ways and could be understood, if our human friends, would just learn our language. Tom and Karen, especially Karen, have caught on to what we are trying to tell her.

When they got Tom home after a week in the hospital, he had to go back in three days later because he had bad infection in both arms. The doctor also prescribed a strong blood thinner  which damn near did him in. He had to go back to the Emergency Room to correct this mistake and stay another week to renew his blood platelets and get strong antibiotics. After the Old Dude returned from his second stay at the hospital, I am here to tell you he was sure a mess when we got him home. For sure, he wanted to be at home with Karen and us dogs, but he looked like the fellow Frankenstein that I have seen on television.  As I said before, I do watch TV, but only selected programs. Tom had tubes coming out his neck and both arms and bruises on his stomach where the doctors had performed test on him.

Tom became exasperated with the home health care people the hospital had recommended. I heard him tell Karen that they were a ripoff and charged Medicare far too much for the services they supposedly provided. He and Karen call in a registered nurse who was an old friend to administer the antibiotics. Dru, a sweet, smart lady, came every day for two months to treat Tom. I tried to help her in her duties, but she kept telling me, “No Stanley, I don’t need your help.”  But I know she liked me because she talked to and petted me all the time. That is all a dog can ask for.

As time went on, Tom became more pert so he and Karen invited friends and neighbors over to the lot across the street and boiled mounds of shrimp, potatoes and corn. Tom and Karen don’t actually own the lot. It has been owned by a family from Dothan, Alabama, but they have  built nothing on it since they purchased it forty-something years ago. Tom talked to the doctor who administers the family estate, and asked for permission to clean the land up so we could get to the beautiful Eastern Lake. The good doctor was only too happy to have Tom clear the debris and cut the small trees on the property. Tom devoted many days, and chainsaw blades last winter converting the bramble and dead trees into a lake view park.

This is a pleasant place where P.J. and I go swimming. The Old Dude keeps a flatboat and sailboat here. Grandkids use the aluminum flatboat to fish out of and go to the beach when they visit. When Tom tries to teach grandkids how to sail a boat, I hear him tell them, “You need to know how to sail a boat. Any fool can turn a key on to start an engine.” I see him trying to teach them many things. Some of it gets through, but most of his words are just lost in the wind. He tries to teach me things too, but I guess I am too stubborn to try to learn new things. After all, I am just a puppy and there are many fun things to do in life, like chasing squirrels and birds and shredding magazines all over the living room floor.

pj and stanley by boatKaren has put out a crab trap in the lake. We catch a few crabs every week. I help Karen corral the little buggers. She boils them then makes crab cakes out of their meat. I ain’t much on eating crab meat, but the humans seem to like it.

P.J. and I dearly love to go swimming in the lake–especially in the hot summer. Sometimes, we swim way out into the lake chasing ducks that have come in for the winter. Those rascals are tricky creatures. When you swim out to get them, they are sitting on top of the water, but as you get closer, they just disappear below the surface and stay there  for the longest time. After they hide beneath the water, P.J. and I just swim around a bit looking for them, but our little legs get tired so we have to swim back to shore. When we get back our long fur is  full of water so we do like all dogs. We find the nearest human, preferably one that is not fond of dogs anyway, stand close to them and shake vigorously showering them with doggie water. P.J. taught me this trick. I find this especially  fun.

Once Tom felt a little stronger after he got out of the hospital, he started building a floating dock to put in the lake. I overheard the engineer, Duane Porte, tell Tom he could get him a permit to build a permanent pier into the lake, but the permit alone would costs $800. The last I heard, Tom said he has about $500 in his floating dock including the $100 he paid to grandson Nathan to help him build it. I heard Tom tell Karen that Nathan was a good worker. He told her, “You just have to show him something once then turn the project over to him. He will work on his own until the task is complete without further supervision.”
When Nathan was not working with his PaPa on the floating dock, he took P.J. and me swimming down where the lake empties into the Gulf. This is the best swimming hole in the world. Nathan is one big strong, energetic young person. He is going to play on the Varsity foot ball team at Jesuit next year even though he will only be a freshman. He is already as big as, but much stronger than his PaPa. He ran me around so hard, I about fell out. My tongue hung out the side of my mouth and I could not wait to get back in our air conditioned house where I slept all night long with nary an interruption. P.J. was pretty much zonked out also.

Floating dockJust yesterday, the Old Dude and Karen decided to take P.J. and me in their little aluminum flat boat down to the swimming hole. Tom was teaching Karen how to operate the boat. Neither of them was paying much attention to us dogs. As soon as the bow of the boat hit the sand banks of the swimming hole, P.J. jumped ashore and headed for the beach. Since it was summertime, many people, including a passel of young children, lined the shoreline. P.J. and I both love children and allow them to pet us all they want.

Stanley's swimming holeI don’t know what got into P.J. on this occasion, but he decided to head West on the  beach for about a mile. I did not think the old dog had the energy to make such a trip. Of course, I had to go along to take care of him. We played along the way and had great fun. During our sojourn, P.J. had to take a crap on the beach which in Walton county, is a big “No, No.” P.J.s bowel movement really upset a woman on the beach. This woman accosted Karen who was chasing after us about P.J.’s bad manners. Karen tried to explain to the  angry person that we had run away and she was trying to catch us. Later that week, Karen met this woman at a bookreading down at Sundog books in Seaside. The embarrassed woman came up to Karen and apologized for overreacting and her bad behavior. Things went well for the two of them after.

Tom tells me I am a sassy dog. That is not true. Maybe a bit headstrong and serious about my duties as a watchdog, but not sassy. Tom yells at me when I bark at our neighbors and their ill bred dogs, but that is my job. When Tom yells at me, Karen tells him “You scared him. You know you love that dog.”

Tom sheepishly admits, “I do love him, but sometimes he drives me nuts with his barking.” But that is what I am supposed to do. I must alert the Old Dude and Karen to dangers they are too dumb to see.

A few days ago, the UPS man came in his brown truck with a package for Tom. Of course I barked at the man in the brown uniform until he gave P.J. and me a treat. Now I would say that is one smart man. I wonder how many treats he gives to barking dogs every day. Anyway , Tom had ordered a mechanical turtle from Hammacher Schlemmer that shines blue lights on the ceiling, plays soft music and makes surf sounds. When Karen saw the strange turtle, she asked Tom. “Why did you get this? This is used to put children to sleep.”

“Well it could put adults to sleep as well. Besides, I just wanted it,” he responded. Now I am here to tell you that the Old Dude does not need any help sleeping. He can sleep all night long then nap on the couch during the day. Nowadays, because he is taking some medicines, he does have to pee several times during the night. P.J. and I don’t let this disturb our sleep.

I don’t like the damn mechanical turtle Tom brought into our house. I bark at it when it shines its lights on the ceiling, plays soft music, and make ocean sounds. It will never put me to sleep. It is a strange looking thing and I don’t trust it.

The Old Dude don’t yell at me any more after I cornered the water moccasin in our garage. He praises me over and over. He pets me and tell me what a good dog I am. Karen hugs me and tell me she loves me. This makes me proud, but I an sure they will get angry with me again when I pull one of my little doggie escapades.

I trapped the snake when Tom and Karen had gone out to lunch. They are always going out to eat and leaving P.J. and I at home. Of  course I have duties, like corralling a snake. As usual, P. J. was no help. He just went to the back room and went to sleep.

I saw the critter slither into our garage,  so I barked it into a corner. When Tom and Karen came back from stuffing themselves with pasta at Angelina’s, I had the mean fellow herded up in the front corner of the garage. I barked my alarm bark until Karen told Tom “I think Stanley has trapped a water moccasin.” Somehow I knew better that to go grab this creature like I do the rats. Tom got a big flat shovel and chopped the snake’s head off. I wanted to help, but Karen made me go upstairs while the Old Dude killed the snake and threw his remains in the empty lot across the street.

Stanley looking for snakesAll in all, living with Karen, the Old Dude and J.P. ain’t too bad a life. It sure beats the hell our of being in the back of an old pickup in the parking lot of Wal Mart with a bunch of yapping dogs. Yeah, I think I will try harder to behave myself a bit more so I can stay in the good home I have found.

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Court Reporters

tom blog003Court reporters are an interesting breed. I have always admired the skill and dedication that most of them bring to their very important job. Some of them, however, come up short in the responsibility department.

Dean of court reporters in Jefferson Parish, Martha Jane was irreverent and sarcastic, butreliable.  She  was quick to share with attorneys and court personnel during a recess, “Can you believe what that lying sack of feathers said? Do you believe the Judge bought any of it?” In her sixties, Martha Jane eschewed wearing fancy clothes or the services of a beauty shop. She showed up most of the time in runover sandals, frumpy hair  and some loose-fitting garment decorated with garish flowers.

I once exclaimed under my breath to my young assistant, “My gosh, she has come to court in her nightgown and slippers.” Her chain smoking, even in the courtroom where the judge would allow it, caused her to appear older than her years. But Martha Jane was accurate and delivered her transcripts in a timely manner–which was about all you could ask of a good court reporter.

Tim was another matter. He did not study under Martha Jane, but convinced some court reporter school that he had gained sufficient proficiency to be let loose alone in a courtroom. When lawyers sometimes became verbose and shouted at one another in the heat of verbal battle, Tim would simply reply to the Judge, “No matter, Judge, I got every word of it.”

We all believed Tim to be a genius with the steno machine until we started calling for transcripts. Tim kept delaying production of the transcripts, citing the many hours Judge Hebee required him to be in court.

One day, without any notice to anybody, Tim failed to appear in court. Tim had fled the state and remains a fugitive, as far as I know. When Martha Jane attempted to decipher Tim’s steno tapes, she told Judge Hebee, “There is nothing but gibberish on his tapes. I told you that long, tall string bean didn’t have the sense God gave a billygoat.”

Charlie, Judge Cocke’s court reporter, chauffeur, confidant and procurer of all things necessary for the aging  judge, recorded in long hand with pen and ink. A slick article, Charlie wore flashy, expensive clothes, lathered his coal black hair with oil and combed it straight back. He lavished expensive, strong cologne on himself, invisible clouds of which floated out into the courtroom. In one trial, after a particular heated exchange between all the attorneys and the judge, Charlie leaned back in his chair with his pipe clenched in his teeth, appearing undisturbed.  I told my assistant  “It really doesn’t matter. The transcript is going to read the way Judge Cocke wants it to read anyway.”

During a civil trial in Orleans Parish, I warned Evert, Judge Cassibry’s court reporter, “My client, Libby, has a gastric problem and may barf during testimony.”  Evert, a fastidious fellow, one might even describe him as effete,  did a fine job reporting for Judge Cassibry. He always sat close under the witness stand so he could hear and report accurately every word a witness said.

This being Libby’s first time in a big city, much less a courtroom, she became very nervous. The situation aggravated her stomach problems. She spoke softly so Evert moved even closer. Without warning and unpreventably on Libby’s part, she barfed all over Evert’s expensive stenograph machine. The Judge recessed and allowed both Libby and Evert time to regroup. After some time, a visibly shaken Evert returned to the courtroom visibly shaken to complete his duties.

Orleans Parish

Orleans Parish

Joe Cass was a seventy-six year old piece of work. The white mustached, silver-haired gentleman could pass for Walter Cronkite. The bottom half of the white mustache, was stained yellow from the from the Keep Moving Cigars Joe perpetually chewed on.

With his old-fashioned fountain pen, Joe had recorded trials for half a century. Judge John Boutall, a good Judge imbued with great empathy for those in need told me, “I have to keep the old man on. He has lost his wife and pension. This is his only source of income.”

Joe’s antiquated method of recording was slow. As he aged it became even slower. “Whoa, slow down,” he would shout to attorneys while frantically waving his left hand in the air. He would invariably do this at the most inopportune time, just when a witness was replying to an important question.

Joe liked to socialize and have a few beers with the boys after work. One of his favorite water holes was Ovella’s restaurant and bar. The good Italian family that owned Ovella’s served the coldest beer in frozen mugs, called schooners, and the best roast beef po-boys in the area.

When the loud mouth patron disturbed Joe’s enjoyment of cold beer and roast beef po-boy at Ovells’s one night, Joe felt compelled to punch the oaf in the face–unfortunately with his writing hand. This took Joe out of action in Boutall’s courtroom and for a while all the attorneys appreciated the benefit of a substitute. When Joe returned to work, he became even slower and interrupted more frequently, but the loyal Judge kept Joe on until the aged court reporter could draw retirement.

I still miss the courtroom and its wonderful characters, but not enough to leave Paradise.

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THE FENCE

Tom

Tom

It was a proper fence as farm fences go. Four strands of barbed wire stretched between wooden posts set ten feet apart, with a stretch post about every one hundred feet. Abe and I erected the fence to keep Bob Hollister’s brahman bull from roaming in and eating all the lush rye grass I had planted on the twenty acres north of Lake Ponchartrain I affectionately called my “Farmette”.

Building the fence went pretty much as Abe and I had planned, except for the time a strand of barbed wire popped while we stretched it. As soon as I heard the pop, I knew instinctively what had happened. I threw my arms around my head for protection. The sharp wire recoiled around my body but the thick jeans, heavy denim shirt under a rawhide jacket and leather gloves that covered my hands and wrists prevented injuries that required medical treatment.

Abe had been operating the stretching tool quickly ran back to where I lay on the ground ensconced in the vicious wire. “God damn cheap ass Jap wire”  Abe said to me as he retrieved a wire cutter from his rear pocket to cut his engulfed boss out of the maze of wire.

After Abe cut me free, I told my old friend, “Piss on this job for today. Let’s sit over yonder in the shade of that little oak by the lake and have a little snort.” I did not want to admit to Abe, who had been raised on hard, dangerous work, that the incident had scared the hell out of me. I could feel spots on my body where the sharp barbs had pricked my skin.

I limped over to the edge of the lake with my trusted friend. We sat on a hunk of porous, rusty material,an odd “rock” about the size of a camel back trunk,  which I had always fantasized was a meteor from outer space. It came to surface when the contractors building I-12 just south of the property purchased three acres of fill soil from me, creating a sixteen foot deep lake.

I loved the lake because the road contractors paid me enough money for the soil to pay for the farm itself and the Federal Department of Conservation stocked it with bream, bass and perch. Ain’t the Federal Government just grand. Providing the fish proved to be a most precise operation. The federal conservation officials required that I arrive at the Parish Courthouse in Covington three times exactly at 4:23 p.m., (not 4:22 or 4:24) to pick up my fish. I had to arrive with five gallons of water from my pond no colder than 72 degrees f and no hotter than 76 degrees. The feds first delivered the red-eared sunfish. Three weeks later the perch arrived. The final delivery of bass came after another month. During this process, I wondered, “Why can’t the federal government be this organized in all its affairs?”

As we sat on the rusty rock, I slid from my right rear pocket the half pint of Old Crow whiskey that pretty much had a permanent home there. I always thought that the clever folks that bottled the soothing elixir had the good sense to curve one  side of their bottles so they fit the ass cheeks of those in need of having a drink of whiskey close by.

In accordance with southern custom, I passed the bottle to Abe first. Abe took only a short swig then passed the bottle back to me. I took a long draw on the bottle, then screwed the cap back in place and returned the curved bottle back to its sanctuary.

“Tom, I thought you was really hurted when that wire popped back there. Lucky you had the presence of mind to throw up your arms in time. I have seen some barbed wire just eat up a fellow when it popped like that. You just can’t trust that foreign wire. It just too brittle,” Abe observed.

Out of character for him, Abe chatted as the two of us sat on my meteor. “Tom, this here is some mighty fine rye grass you planted in this here pasture. Look how thick and dark green it is. I knows that Mr. Hollister’s big black bull is gonna want to get to this fine grass. That is one mean critter. You know he roams all over these free range woods just doing whatever cows he comes up on. He must be daddy to a hundred calves in these woods. I don’t think he has ever been penned up.”

I just nodded an acknowledgement and Abe went on, “Why did you decide to plant rye grass on this twenty acres anyway? You ain’t even got any live stock to feed.”

“Well Abe”, I explained, “I just think rye grass is pretty stuff and it stays green all winter long. It smells good too and I think it keeps the place cooler in the summer. Anyway, I might bring in some animals next year”. I knew this was a lie because I did not like the responsibility for caring for animals on the “farmette”. The “farmette” was an escape from my job. It was a place where I could do what I deemed to be useful physical activities and drink as much as I wanted with nobody to judge me. But it was also a place where I almost killed myself twice while drinking Falstaff beer, driving a tractors towing a disk on one occasion and a old bed spring I used as a harrower on another. But that is another story.

“But Tom,” Abe advised, “You could have put in alfalfa or bahai and made hay to sell. Why rye grass?”

“Well Abe,” I explained, “Rye grass is the only kind I knew anything about. I learned about it when I was in the Army, stationed at Camp Gordon, Georgia. When they assigned me to the Receiving Company, I became the most junior officer. This meant I got the shit details– one of which was Area Beautification Officer. Since I was on active duty between the Korean War and Viet Nam we had nothing to do except to sit around and wait for the next conflict or war or whatever they wanted to call it. To break the monotony,  I decided to bring a little life to our area so I seeded it with rye grass. We soon had the greenest company on base which pleased Captain Maxaminie, my CO and made my life easier.”

Abe sat thinking about this a spell while he pulled a sack of Bull Durham smoking tobacco from the top pocket of his faded denim shirt. With a precision acquired over many years, he retrieved a cigarette paper from the side of the pack, cupped the paper just so with the fore and middle fingers of his left hand, pried open the draw string on the sack with the index finger of his calloused right hand just enough to pour an exact amount of tobacco into the paper. He put the draw string in his teeth and zipped the pouch shut. With the index and fore fingers of each hand, Abe rolled a thin cigarette that tapered at each end. He sealed the smoke with a lick across the edge of the paper. He took a long kitchen match from his left shirt pocket, scratched it across the right thigh portion of his coarse jeans and let the tip of the flame light he end of his home made cigarette. He took only one long draw to consume about half of the carefully constructed smoke.

I watched with envy as Abe rolled his perfect cigarette. I had never perfected this skill. I had perfected the skill of drinking. Once again, I pulled the curved bottle of Old Crow back out and offered Abe a first swig. Abe motioned “no” with his left hand and took another drag on his smoke. I took a long snort on the Old Crow.

Not that it was really any of my business, I always wondered about Abe’s heritage. Having worked with Abe on several projects at the “farmette”, I knew that he possessed great physical strength. But at five foot-eight and weighing in at one-hundred-sixty pounds, he didn’t look particularly strong. Abe’s gnarled hands displayed many years of farm labor without the protection of gloves. But his body seemed round and soft, not angular and chiseled as one would expect of a hard-working man.

Abe’s saddle leather colored skin suggested he had some African ancestors. His high cheekbones suggested some Native American genes. His blue-green eyes, however indicated maybe some French blood. For sure he was of “mixed blood,” as the early laws of Louisiana would describe him.

We sat silently watching the sun settle beneath tall pine trees to the west. I reached for the Old Crow once more and offered Abe a final snort which my friend again waived off.  I drained the remaining contents, stood up, stretched and announced “I have had enough of this shit for today. I am going down to Henry Keller’s for a few beers. Care to join me?” I invited Abe.

“I better be getting home. I told my mother I would cook a gumbo tonight for her church women’s meeting tomorrow,” Abe said, declining the invitation–knowing from past experience that having a few beers with me might last way into the night.

Abe ambled up the pasture to his shaggy old brown Ford pickup. I sat on the meteor and watched the sun vanish beneath the sea of pine trees to the west. I then drug himself erect and trudged toward my ancient three-quarter-ton chevy pickup I referred to as “The Green Monster”. The massive work of Detroit had eighteen-inch wheels, dual fuel tanks and batteries. After I bought the truck from Mack Oliveries, I soon learned the need for dual fuel tanks. The green Monster devoured fuel, obtaining only eight miles to a gallon.

I first met Mack and his son David when I prosecuted the two punks from Texas who held Mack and his son up at gun point at their service station on 4th Street in Harvey, Louisiana , just four blocks from the Courthouse. Luckily, neither Mack nor his son were hurt and the two dummies from Texas were caught just down 4th Street attempting to rob another station. When you went into Mack’s service station you got the full treatment, gas, tires checked, oil and water checked, windshield fluids checked and all windows fully cleaned. Mack, whose ancestors were Mexican, hailed from Beeville, Texas. He always had a cheery greeting and his uniform looked as though it had been just laundered and pressed. I eventually sold “The Green Monster” back to Mack so he could deliver loads of heavy truck tires to industrial customers.

Henry Keller was always happy to see me arrive at his Conoco Service Station, which also provided a small bar and food store. He knew “The Green Monster” required large amounts of gas and I consumed copious amounts of beer. Although he did not sell “hard liquor,” Henry Keller’s Conoco Station and Barroom was the gathering place for a select membership of Lacombe, Louisiana society.bayou lacombe

When Henry’s mother, Thelma, ushered Keller’s Conoco station, store and bar into existence just after WWII in the late forties, Lacombe was just a lazy village along the banks of the picturesque Bayou Lacombe. Folks there existed mostly by fishing crabs, shrimp and oysters out of Lake Ponchartrain. They lived like their parents and grandparents had for a hundred years. Since there was no Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and only an old rickety, two-lane bridge across the neck of the Lake at Slidell thirty miles to the east, a trip from New Orleans became an all day and into the night event. Lacombe was like an insect caught in amber and encased a long ago time.

But Thelma, a tough old gal who outlived two husbands, eked out a meager living pumping gas, selling groceries and dispensing very cold beer. When her only son Henry returned from duties in the big war, Thelma tutored him in frugality and gradually turned the business over to him. From then on, Henry operated the business by himself seven days a week from dawn until the last drunk left at night.

But Henry is a story unto himself. When I first met Henry, he was in his fifties but looked eighty. He ambled around his business unshaven in old wornout house slippers.. Because he did nothing except supervise his little business enterprise and engaged in no physical activity, Henry’s five-foot-eight inch frame carried mostly fat. Henry hired Matthew, a local mulatto gentleman in his fifties to do anything requiring physical skills. Matthew seldom talked and worked slowly but steady.

If one encountered Henry before noon, he was apt to find him still in his pajama  top. He did not rush into any activity. He talked even slower. If you asked him the price of an item in the store, none of which had any established prices written on them because Henry made it a game to negotiate prices as items were sold, he would mull things over for a while then  say, “Well I think that can of beans  is worth about eighty cents.”

Henry had gout in his right leg and confided in everyone that he was in fact was diabetic. If this was so, and I suspect it was, Henry obviously heeded no medical advice. He sipped Jax beer all day long and into the night.

Local lore suggested that the frugal Thelma had stuffed much cash in the walls of the small apartment that she and Henry occupied at the rear of the store. The locals assumed Henry had continued this practice until he died. Upon Henry’s demise, the community learned that these stories were not mere conjecture. The wall of the living quarters were filled with cash.

An only child who never married and had any children that he knew of, Henry did not amuse himself by chasing women. Women were expensive to live with. When he needed sexual release, he would drive the twenty miles to Slidell and find a professional to accommodate him.

We in the community did notice when a female attempt to take up with old ,cranky Henry. We all assumed that Mable had heard the stories of walls full of money and attempted to cash in on he deal. Mable came from Fabourge Marigny, just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans. We found it hard to establish her age through all the black hair dye, thick mascara, excessive rouge and bright red lipstick. My mother would have described her as “A Floozy,” a woman of loose morals. Not our kind of folks. We thought a cousin of hers who lived in Lacombe put her on to Henry. Mable muddled around Henry’s establishment doing odd but not taxing jobs for a couple of months. Henry did his best to ignore her and she gave up her quest after a few months.

After I left Abe at the “Farmette” I drove the Green Monster to Henry’s and ordered a Falstaff beer to continue soothing my frazzled nerves. I had few more beers while I told Henry of my travails with building the fence. As usual, Henry had advice on how to build a fence, although he had succeeded in escaping manual labor all his life. Henry reminded me of a man my Uncle Harry told me about. Uncle Harry’s friend told him, “I  avoid work, because a working man sweats. A sweating man stinks, and nobody likes a stinking man.” Henry seemed to have adopted this philosophy.

Green Chevy Truck

Being a bit more relaxed, I drove the Green Monster the three miles back to the farmette only to find Bob Hollister’s great, black Brahman bull breaking through my fence to again ravage my rye grass. In frustration, I returned to Henry’s for a few more beers. After a while, Hollister himself came into Henry’s for a beer. I seethed and drank more beer.

Bob Hollister was not a bad man. He was a quiet fellow about five-eight of trim, muscular  build. His work on offshore oil rigs, and his life on this farm kept him fit. Locals knew Bob to be a tough fellow about my age. He and his ancestors had lived on their farm about five miles north of me on St. Tammany Road since the late eighteen-hundreds. Their cattle had foraged the open range above Lacombe without restriction until I enclosed the Farmette.

In those days when I put whiskey or beer in my body, my mind convinced me that I was ten feet tall and bullet proof. On occasion this illusion did not serve me well. This became one of those occasions.

Once I had consumed enough liquid courage, I decided to confront Bob Hollister about his bull’s bad behavior. I quietly said to Bob across the l-shaped bar, “Bob, you know that big black bull of yours just tore my fence down again. This is getting old. The next time he does that I guess I am just going to have to shoot that critter.”

Bob turned his head to the left and looked me square in the eye without blinking for what seemed like a minute or two then drawled, “Well Tom, you know that is free range out there and if you shoot my bull you will have to deal with me.” Somehow Bob’s stony cold words penetrated my alcohol-soaked brain. Some power outside me ordered to me to remain silent and I obeyed.

There is an old saying that “God takes care of fools, babies and drunks.” This must be true because on that occasion He gave me the good sense to finish my beer, get in the Green Monster and drive back to the Farm without further discussion with Bob.

The next morning, I cleared my head with strong French Market Coffee and Chicory. I surveyed the damage to the fence and performed a few chores around the Farme then headed to Henry Keller’s for a cold Coca Cola and bag of potato chips. Bob was there filling up his Chevy truck and loading up some chicken feed. I had regained my good senses that booze had deprived me of the day before. I approached Bob with a friendly smile and apologized, “Bob, I was way out of line yesterday. I think Mr. Falstaff was talking out loud. Of course I do not intend to shoot your bull, but I have to figure out a way to keep him from tearing up my fence every time he feels a need to munch on my rye grass.”

“Have you ever thought about installing an electric fence around your place?” Bob asked. “They work pretty well. Once a animal touches it once, they don’t want to have any part of it any more. It is easy to install and does not cost much. Abe knows how to install one. He helped me put in one out at our place,” Bob advised.

“Are they dangerous to humans?” I queried. “I would hate for my kids or anyone else to get hurt.”

“No,” Bob replied. “They operate on high voltage, but very low amperage,” Bob explained. “Whatever touches the wire just gets a big thrill they won’t forget anytime soon, but they don’t get hurt,” Bob assured me.

I left Keller’s and drove up Fish Hatchery Road to Abe’s house. I found him working in the fenced-in vegetable garden that supplied fresh produce for his family, with some left over to sell for cash. “Abe,” I said, “Bob Hollister tells me you know how to install an electric fence.”

“Yes Tom, I can help you with that. If you get the material we need, we can start next Monday and do it in about two days,” Abe advised. He told me what we needed to do the job so I went off to the Slidell Feed and Seed Store to buy the necessary equipment. About four thousand feed of wire, several hundred ceramic insulators and a transformer to convert 120 volt current into low amperage electricity to feed into the wire.

Abe and I spent all day Monday and most of Tuesday stringing the wire on the ceramic insulators on each fence post and bringing it back to a small shed near the gate of the driveway entrance to the property, where we installed the transformer.

As daylight dwindled on that bleak November afternoon with buttermilk clouds hovering low above, Abe and I were about to hook up the final connection bringing the electric fence to life. Just then, I noticed Bob Hollister’s big, ugly bull come out of the piney woods north of Dixie Ranch Road and approach the fence. I shouted to Abe, “Here he comes. Hook the damn thing up. Hurry up. Get the damn thing hooked up before he tears the fence up again,” I implored. Abe frantically completed the connection.

The destructive sixteen-hundred pound critter cautiously approached the fence as though he sensed that something was new about the structure he had destroyed with ease in the past. He eased closer and pawed the earth in front of the fence. He sniffed the barbed wire, but did not touch the thin electrical wire. Emboldened, he stepped forward fully into the fence where the thin, but malleable electrical wire engulfed his huge chest without breaking. Every two seconds electrical current at high voltage surged through the massive bull. Stunned and disoriented, the massive animal leaped straight into the air, all four feet off the ground. Again and again the current surged through the bull’s huge body. The enormous black animal danced and pirouetted, pounding the ground into a mud puddle, but the elastic wire would not relinquish its tenacious hold on his body. Every two seconds, the current contracted the critter’s muscles into spasms, causing him to fly like a ballerina into the air.

Abe and I were beside ourselves with glee cheering the dancing bull on. The evil one finally extracted himself from the offending wire and clinked back across Dixie Ranch Road to the safety of the piney woods–never to be seen at the Farmette again.

Abe and I celebrated by driving to Henry Keller’s, having a few beers and telling everyone there, including Bob Hollister, of our defeat of the big bad bull.

Brahman Bull

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STREET CARS AND ELECTRIC VANS

What is the big to-do today about hybrids and plug-in vehicles? As early as the late thirties, the Chalmette Laundry in New Orleans employed battery powered vans to deliver clean, well-pressed clothes to its customers throughout the metropolitan area. The stubby little walk-in vans returned to their home each night to lap up generous infusions of electrons for the next day’s work. They hummed a melody as they hustled along and emitted no fumes.

At various times since the early 19th century, no less than twenty-two streetcar—not trolley—lines covered the Crescent City like a giant spider web. Riding a streetcar offered a relaxed pleasure we find ourselves too rushed to experience today. The more modern, homely, dark green cars were built by Perley A. Thomas Car Works of High Point, North Carolina. They seated fifty two passengers, but most of the time accommodated many more passengers who stood and hung on to leather straps securely attached to brass, overhead rails. The cars ran on tracks in the neutral grounds (medians for non-natives) of many major thoroughfares in the city. The venerable old cars sucked their power through a long pole the conductor released to connect with the overhead supply of electricity.

St. Charles Street Car

Most cars had names signifying where they were going to or coming from. In New Orleans, because most streets follow the crescent bend in the River, directions are not given as points on the compass. One goes uptown or downtown (upriver or downriver) or to the River (The Mississippi, of course) or to the Lake (Ponchartrain). To confuse things more, the streets Downtown from Canal Street are referred to as “North this-or-that” and the streets Uptown from Canal are called “South-so-and-so.”

When I arrived in “The City That Care Forgot,” for seven cents a passenger received a ticket that enabled him to transfer from line to line—which made it possible to tour most of the city via streetcar. One sat on the polished oak seats by the large windows, which remained open most of the year in the near tropical city. The old iron cars lumbered along the tracks under ancient live oak trees bearded with Spanish moss. The cars gently swayed from side to side. Steel wheels squeaked across steel tracks as the unique cars rambled along, creating a sweet jazz lullaby. The symphony of the wheels and bells, the chug, chug of the compressor pumping air to the braking system, the rhythmic swaying, and warm flower-scented breezes coming through the large windows caused most work-weary or study-weary travelers to doze off on balmy spring afternoons. “Clang, clang”, the conductor would tap the pedal at his foot at each intersection to warn, “Brakes on this cumbersome old iron machine are none too efficient—motorist and pedestrians alike be aware.”

Ancient live oak tree from the street car

In addition to taking us to school and work, these wonderful old, non-polluting contraptions slowly, but reliably, conveyed us to places and events of interest and fun. They brought us to the Audubon Zoo where as Louie Prima reminded us in song the monkeys All Aksed for You. On Saturday afternoons, they carried us to Tulane football games with friends. These trusty vehicles transported joyful folks to Mardi Gras parades, Jax Girls softball games, and to see the Pelicans play baseball. The West End car conveyed hungry diners to the Lake Front for the best seafood in the world.

Audubon

Streetcars had interesting names—the most famous of course being “The Streetcar Named Desire.” Who could argue with the elegance and charm of a streetcar named Saint Charles? Two streetcars, one called the Canal streetcar and the other called Cemetery, shared tracks that ran the length of Canal Street from the River to the end of the line at the Cemetery. Maybe a silly choice, but I preferred riding the Canal car.

Riding the Streetcar today

In 1946, at age thirteen, I stepped onto a street car on Canal Street thinking it was a Canal Street Car. Instead of going out Canal Street, the car turned right into the French Quarter. I was frightened, not knowing which car I had mistakenly taken or where I was going. By the time I got the conductor’s attention, we were well into the Quarter. He said “Son, you’ve taken the Desire streetcar, but it will eventually return to Canal Street. Here’s another transfer to get you home.”

Years later, I learned that at the time of my inadvertent ride on the Desire Streetcar, Tennessee Williams, just two blocks from my route, was writing Streetcar Named Desire. The famous play would immortalize the large, rambling, clumsy, gal on wheels that transported me through the narrow streets of the French Quarter.

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ZANY LAWYERS

Most people have an image of attorneys that is formed by news accounts, television stories and movies. Some of the time that image is of a stodgy, conservative person lacking mirth. Of course some TV shows portray my brethren and sisters at the bar as completely over-the-top. These are not the lawyers I have come to know professionally and personally. I appreciate and on occasion envy my friends and even foes at the bar for their wit, spontaneity and ability to be zany in serious situations.

Dean, a short fellow about as tall as he was around, comes to mind. After Japanese attacked the destroyer on which he served, Dean came back from WWII with a metal plate in his head. This may explain some of Dean’s crazy antics before the bench and bar.

Fresh from Law School  in the mid 50s and always the opportunist, Dean opened a practice in the Queen and Crescent Building on Camp Street in New Orleans. He specialized in “Immigration Law”. In order to obtain clients, the energetic, enterprising lawyer had large signs painted in various languages announcing the services he offered. Dean personally displayed these signs on the wharfs along the Mississippi River to the crews and passengers of incoming foreign ships.  He somehow made a meager living with his “Immigration Practice”.

It came to pass that in the mid 60s, some dubious characters persuaded my boss, the District Attorney of Jefferson Parish, the District Attorney of Jefferson Parish, to hire Dean on as an Assistant District Attorney. Our boss did this against the advice of his other assistants. We knew that Dean the Clown would provide us with plenty of laughter but do little to enhance the professional reputation of our office, which at that time badly needed enhancement.

In those days, all of us assistants managed dockets which included Felony, Misdemeanor and Traffic cases. Just before Christmas,  I arrived at Traffic Court to handle my docket–only to learn that the day before Dean had Nolle Prosequied (dismissed) all my Traffic cases. He told the numerous defendants, including many Driving-While-Intoxicated offenders, that this was Bon Marche day and a Christmas present. I doubt that Dean gained any material thing from this devious behavior except the satisfaction of ingratiating himself with the public. Dean had an insatiable need for publicity, good or bad. Needless to say Dean’s actions distressed me, so I reinstated the cases, because he had not sworn the first witness in any case and, therefore, Jeopardy had not attached.

On a less sinister note, Dean, who always conversed in the language of jive that often required translation, could be self-deprecating and conjure up funny pleas when arguing before a judge. Once in closing argument after a civil trial that was obviously going south for him, Dean implored the serious jurist and elderly judge presiding over the trial, “Your honor, I throw myself and my client on the mercy of this astute court and beg that you don’t punish my client for having incompetent counsel”.

In another jury trial where Dean had done bitter battle with a prominent criminal defense attorney, Dean, in his closing argument to the jury argued, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury my worthy opponent, the famous criminal defense attorney, Mr. G. Wray Gill, has reached way down in his extensive legal arsenal and come up with a pop-gun.”

Dean let his mouth overload his butt when New Orleans District Attorney “Big” Jim Garrison initiated his own investigation into President Kennedy’s assassination. Dean pretended to know something about some characters in Garrison’s imaginary conspiracy. Dean is now gone to wherever zany attorneys go once they exit stage left, but before his departure Oliver Stone portrayed Dean as a fat, jive-talking attorney in the famous movie JFK. In my opinion, the buffoon Dean was lucky to escape the wrath of the erratic Garrison.

Jim Garrison

Dean is no longer with us to bring zany antics into the courtroom, but he provided entertainment when he did roam the halls of justice.

Over many years of practice, my friend Bobby Brousard proved himself to be one of the best criminal defense attorneys in Louisiana. Dapper, slight of build, sharp of mind and always prepared, Bobby had a quick pleasant wit. Bobby had dark eyes and black, straight hair always combed neatly back. He had virtually no accent to reveal his Cajun ancestry.

Bobby preferred to practice alone in a small office across the street from the Jefferson Parish Courthouse. By the time I came to know him, he had attained such a reputation as a defense attorney, he accepted only cases where the money was good and up front. He became one of the few financially successful criminal defense  attorneys in our area. When he took a few days off practicing law every year, he traveled to the Saint Johns River area of Florida to catch bass.

During the times Bobby and I engaged one another in court, the Louisiana Supreme Court had assigned the crusty old judge J. Bernard Cocke to sit on all criminal cases in our jurisdiction.

Judge Cocke had been the District Attorney for twenty years in Orleans Parish until the public elected him to the Criminal Courts bench, where he presided for another twenty-four years. By the time Cocke came to Jefferson Parish, the whole State Criminal Bar and the Louisiana Supreme Court itself considered Judge Cocke to be the supreme authority on Criminal Law in the state.  The rotund judge saw himself as a thespian and acted in Shakespearean plays about town. The role of Falstaff suited him well. Cocke had a bitter sense of sarcastic humor, which he bestowed on prosecutor and defense attorney in equal measure.

By the time Cocke sat on the bench in Jefferson Parish, age and the bad habit of sipping Old Commisky Whiskey from a fruit jar at lunch had caught up with him a bit. He had a tendency to doze off during afternoon sessions.

One sunny May afternoon, Bobby and I were trying a motion to suppress some evidence. The glass-walled courtroom allowed us to visually enjoy the languid spring weather outside. Cocke enjoyed it too much. Not long into Bobby’s presentation, the corpulent, rosy-faced jurist fell fast asleep. His head fell across his black robe. Even spectators in the back of the courtroom could hear the snoring emanating from the bench.

Bobby turned to me and observed, “The judge has fallen asleep.”

“I know that. What do you want me to do about it?” I replied.

“Wake him up.” Bobby implored.

“Hell no. Not me. It is your motion. You wake him up,” I retorted.

Finding it inadvisable to shout at the slumbering jurist, the clever Bobby came up with a solution. He picked up a pile of heavy law books he had brought to Court and dropped them on the table in front of us. Cocke awoke with a jerk and mumbled something to the effect, “And what is your response to that argument, Mr. DA”?

Bobby is no longer with us. The fish in the Saint Johns River are safe and criminals in Jefferson Parish have lost an effective advocate.

Fishing in Florida

Jack, the burly ex-marine who fought in the South Pacific during WWII, found pride in being an arch-segregationist. He counted among his friends Judge Leander Perez, who built special prisons and schools for Blacks in Plaquemines Parish. Judge Perez and his two sons virtually owned Plaquemines Parish. Jack also paid homage to and supported the efforts of Governor George Wallace to deny Blacks access to higher education in Alabama.

Judge Leander Perez

Not the sharpest fellow in a courtroom, Jack waddled his two-hundred-fifty pounds around in front of juries groping for words to defend the numerous poor clients, both black and white, he scrounged up in his one-man law practice. He would go to trial only when forced to do so or when he thought he had a “sure thing.” Most of the time he would arrange the best plea bargain he could obtain for his clients. He would hold off entering the plea until his clients’ and relatives and friends could arrange a “fish fry” to raise the money for Jack’s fee. Once Jack received his fee, the the plea of guilty would be entered and Jack’s client would be sent off to jail.

Jack had little empathy for his clients and probably a good bit of disdain for them. On many occasion I would hear him tell a hapless client, “We are going to take this plea because we cannot win this case. You are just to dumb to be a criminal. You should look for some other line of work.” Like his clients were capable of other work.

Jack has joined his segregationist heroes in wherever they go and the Civil Rights movement has at least made strides forward.

I could fill a book with stories of trials in which my friend Ralph Barnett and I did verbal battle. Stocky and still as athletic as when he played basketball for Loyola–despite smoking expensive oval shaped cigarettes–Ralph developed a relationship with the local bail bondsmen, which supplied his with a steady flow of paying clients.

Since Ralph limited himself to criminal defense practice only, he required little in logistical support. He shared office space near the courthouse with his friend Fred, who handled only civil cases. They shared a secretary and confined their library to the few law books absolutely necessary for their work. West Publishing Company made little money off them. In the rare event Ralph saw the necessity to file an appellate brief, he found refuge in the Louisiana Supreme Court library located just across the Mississippi River.

When we had to meet in court, Ralph would stroll in late as usual, except in Judge Cocke’s court where everybody appeared on time. Cocke, a stickler for punctuality, once put an attorney in jail for a few hours for being a few minutes late in his court. Ralph invariably showed up sans books, yellow pads or pens.

On an occasion when we had an important motion to be argued before Cocke, Ralph appeared on time but with nothing in hand. I came armed with law books, pads and pens. When Ralph realized the gravity of the situation and how naked he appeared, he turned to me and observed. “You appear to be well-prepared. I don’t even have any books in front of me. Lend me some of your books so I will not look so bad. I also need a pad and pen.” I discreetly slid some books and supplies over to my friend and long-time legal foe.

I understand Ralph, like most of us of our era, has withdrawn from the battles of the courtroom and now lives with his wife somewhere in Tennessee.

Sometime I see television shows portraying attorneys doing zany things. I think to myself, Even these guys are not having as much fun as I had.

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Bailiffs

BAILIFFS

Black’s Law Dictionary defines these loyal folks as follows, “a keeper, protector, or guardian”. This aptly describes the bailiffs that protected and guarded me and my staff for a quarter of a century.

Court bailiffs have an unwritten code that compels them to go far beyond the formal job they hired on for. This code is similar to that of the Secret Service that protects the President and his family. Bailiffs feel obligated to protect “Their Judge” from all harm, remain discrete about his personal habits, and to provide for his convenience whenever possible. Should something bad befall “Their Judge”, they could not forgive themselves and they would be ridiculed by their fellow bailiffs.

In my jurisdiction the local Sheriff employed the bailiffs assigned to our courts. I always found it made good sense to stay on the good side of the Sheriff so we could agree on who would be assigned to my court. Frequently, the bailiffs assigned to our courts would be older Deputy Sheriff’s who had served many years in the field. What they may have lacked in the way of physical agility in their later years, they made up for in experience. They could spot trouble coming before it happened. Sometime I would get a young guy who could be excitable and rambunctious.

Such was the case with Kevin. Young, tall, sinewy, blue eyed, blond-haired and self assured Kevin loved his job. He assured me that my concern about him wearing his weapon in court was unfounded, because he had a special holster that, according to him and his boss the Sheriff, prevented anyone but him from retrieving the 9 mm semi- automatic he carried in his secure, high tech holster.

Kevin told the truth. When the six-foot, two hundred pound eighteen-year-old African American kid built like an oak tree went berserk in my court room, he didn’t get Kevin’s weapon out of the holster. He just tore the whole damn holster, gun and all, off Kevin’s wide black belt. Kevin wrestled with the kid. I reached for the long “Billy Club” under my bench while I pressed the concealed distress button under my bench. More deputies arrived in seconds and the young man was finally subdued, but for a brief time the angry kid was “boss of the courtroom.”

Al, my first bailiff, on the other hand had attained the age to retire from the Sheriff’s Department. Although elder, Al remained alert and aware of things going on about him. I felt secure with Al.

Slight of build and short of stature, Al’s neatly combed dark black hair showed  streaks of gray. He spoke in the brogue of Westwego, the little fishing village from which he hailed. Al always wore immaculately pressed inexpensive dark blue suits, and neck ties off K-Mart racks. He kept his 38 snub nosed colt holstered and concealed on his left hip. Al, a man of very few words mostly gave directions to those entering the courtroom with hand gestures.

None of us knew that Mark. the sixteen-year-old before me would throw a woolly bugger tantrum when I sentenced him to serve time at the Louisiana Training Institute, ( the euphemism for juvenile prison ). He had been severely depressed during the hearing that led up to the sentencing. But, boom, Mark, a pale, skinny kid about Al’s height exploded when he heard the sentence. He knocked Al, to the floor, sprinted out the door and reached the stairwell where he commenced to descend from the fifth floor that housed my courtroom.

Sam Stevens, the red-headed court appointed attorney who represented Mark followed in close pursuit. I checked Al, who had a heart condition and appeared a bit ashen to see if he was in need of medical assistance and to ascertain if Mark had gotten his gun. Al said he was OK and still had his weapon. I followed behind Sam, black robes flapping in the breeze, as we all chased Mark around and around down the stairwell.

When Mark reached the landing on the second floor, he ran into Bailiff Jay Hecker coming up the stairs. Mark slid off Jay into the men’s room at that level, broke the mirror and slashed both his wrist before Jay could get to him. When Sam and I arrived seconds later, Mark was squirting blood all over the walls of the little bathroom.

Jay and the medics got things under control and bandaged Mark with compression bandages on both wrists. As they led him to a waiting ambulance through the public reception area of the Courthouse, Mark cussed us all with imaginative, explicit language. I could only cheer him on telling him, “That a boy Mark. Give us hell. At least you ain’t depressed any more.” I sometimes wonder if Mark is still with us and how he is getting along.

Jay Hecker acted as my bailiff on a few occasions when the Louisiana Supreme Court sent me to sit in another court, to replace judges who had become ill or been sent to prison. But, Jay served Judge Fred Bowes as bailiff on the occasion a prisoner grabbed Jay’s 38 caliber revolver from his holster. As the story goes, Judge Bowes looked like Zorro, black robes flowing, when he swiftly departed the bench for the safety of his chambers.

The prisoner, despite the fact that he remained shackled to the other prisoners on what we referred to as the “Daisy Chain”, cranked the hammer back on Jay’s ancient police special and assumed full control of the crowded courtroom.

Wiley Beavers, an ex-Green Beret,Viet Nam veteran and attorney happened to be in Bowe’s courtroom that day. Raised in Mississippi, Wiley had been been familiar with guns all his life. He had represented children in my court for years. Wiley, a charming fellow with wavy prematurely grey hair, cold blue eyes that never blinked, stood about five-foot-ten inches tall. His taut body resembled the lean rodeo riders of old. Wiley owned and knew how to expertly use any firearm manufactured in the United States and most of the weapons produced elsewhere in the world. An avid hunter, Wiley supplied much of the meat for the annual Wild Game Dinner held in Westwego each year where public officials of all parties and their friends gather to drink and eat in a spirit of detente.

Wiley acted decisively and saved the day. He slipped up behind the prisoner, then simultaneously grabbed the man’s throat with right hand while wedging the palm of his left hand between the cocked hammer and frame of the revolver thus rendering the weapon useless.

It was all Al, my young secretary, little Vickie, and I could do to restrain the twenty- something, strong woman who went bananas in my court. Among other mental conditions, this feisty woman had a history of epilepsy. When she heard a decision I made announced in court, she commenced to run full force into the plate glass windows that served as exterior walls on the fifth floor of our modern Courthouse. Thud, she threw her full body against the pale green glass, but she was unable to break through the strong material.

Al grabbed her and wrestled her to the floor. where she began banging her head against   the hard vinyl tiled surface. While Al got his cuffs on her, I yelled to Vicki to get a pillow to put under her head and call the Gretna Police for assistance. By now she flopped around on the floor like a fish just caught and dropped on the deck of a boat. All three of us worked at restraining the distraught woman to prevent her from causing herself further injury.

By the time the Gretna cop ran through the door to the courtroom, we had pretty good control of the upper portion of the woman’s body, but she proved agile enough to raise both of her legs from the hips up and catch the unsuspecting cop squarely in the groin with her feet. He doubled over in pain, but his partner successfully completed the arrest and took custody of the disturbed person.

For some time after, Al, Vickie and I told the story of how the woman tried to jump through the glass wall.

Kelly was my bailiff when Joe Greffer called to tell me “Tom there is a guy out on the streets who wants to kill you”, I took it seriously. Joe and I had served together as Assistant DAs for a number of years. Laid back  and easy going, Joe did not engage in exaggerations.

I responded to Joe, “If you felt the need to warn me, I know the threat is serious. But is he capable of carrying out the threat?”

Joe said, “We just took a loaded 38 away from him  today”. Joe filled me in about the young man who had a beef with me because I had to terminate his parental rights in an adoption hearing. Joe informed me that the young man had worked in the Clerk of Court’s Office before being sent to Viet Nam, where he experimented with too many dangerous drugs–causing serious brain damage. Upon returning home, he just wandered the streets as a derelict, unable to care for himself or his wife and child.

Kelly, a stout grey-haired man had retired as a deputy sheriff with many years of experience on the road. I brought Kelly, and my secretary Regina in my office and told them all of the details Joe had given me about this potential threat. We agreed that I should keep my Smith and Wesson 9 mm semi-automatic in my office desk.

Sure enough, one busy morning while I was on the bench hearing cases,  my secretary Regina, came in the back door to the courtroom and started tugging on my robe excitedly, saying, “Judge, McGee, Mr. Foushion, be here.”

“What are you talking about Regina? I am in the middle of a trial. Who is Mr. Foushion?” I inquired.

“You know, he the man who want to kill you. He be carrying a brown paper bag,” she responded with a look of dread in her wide brown eyes.

I motioned for Kelly and whispered to him the situation we had and instructed him to get all our staff in my chambers. When all were safe in my chambers, I instructed Regina to call for the local Gretna police as I retrieved the 9 mm and dropped a round in the chamber. Because I had not had the opportunity to explain the situation to all the staff, Brenda, my blond-haired, blue-eyed law clerk, who continued to fly for Delta Airlines as a flight attendant on weekends, looked startled to see her judge toting a gun.

I instructed Kelly to go one way in our halls and I went the other but, on this occasion, the young disturbed man left the premises without incident. Some months later, he returned and lefty a scribbled note with our receptionist asking “How would Judge McGee like having his daughter taken from him?”

I had enough of this behavior, so after court adjourned I had the Gretna police bring the disturbed fellow to my empty courtroom where I talked to him alone. I explained to him his behavior had to stop. I emphasized that he had been fully heard at trial, that his case was concluded and he must get on with his life. We spoke freely with one another. He became emotional and cried. I never heard from him again after that discussion.

I just saw Ronnie, my last bailiff, who protected me and my staff for twelve years, at the annual Wild Game Dinner, which I had not attended in many years. We had time to reminisce about old times. He continues to act as bailiff for my successor, Judge Jansen, but says he has had enough and will hang it up after she retires.

Quiet, efficient, dapper and devoted to his duties, nothing got by Ronnie. He handled the hoards that came to our court daily with firm authority, always remaining polite even to the most unruly persons. If he thought we were going to have a problem, he would discretely approach my bench and warn me, but them assure me, “But I have it under control, Judge.”

Ronnie’s appearance and assured, but polite, manners let the public and attorneys know there would be no horseplay in his courtroom. Compact of build, Ronnie moved swiftly and gracefully like a cat, bringing people in and out of court in and orderly manner. His ink black hair and mustache always remained perfectly coifed. He spoke softly but with conviction as his coal black eyes engaged you without straying.

Ronnie prevented many situations from becoming disasters during the dozen years he cared for me and my staff. Ronnie felt he should not only see to my physical safety, he felt obligated to protect me from rebuke.

When, Mr. Boudreaux, the young attorney from New Orleans became dismayed by a ruling I had made against his client and muttered the words “Kangaroo Court” as he exited the courtroom, Ronnie, ever alert to all about him, heard the disdainful phrase. Ronnie immediately reported the disrespectful remark to me.

I requested that Ronnie bring Mr. Boudreaux back into the courtroom and informed him that I had not personally heard the words “Kangaroo Court,” otherwise he would be on his way to jail for contempt. I went on to tell Mr. Boudreaux, “I know you are new to ‘Kangaroo Court’, but this is the way we do things in ‘Kangaroo Court.’”

The young attempted to protest, “But Your Honor, I was just upset. I did not mean anything about it.”

“Well I understand, Mr. Boudreaux, but you have another hearing here in ’Kangaroo Court’ in six weeks, at which time we will have another lesson on the rules of “Kangaroo Court”.

When the young attorney appeared before me in six weeks I greeted him. “Mr. Boudreaux welcome back to ‘Kangaroo Court.’”

“Your Honor, I apologize. I don’t know what else to say,” he offered.

“Well let’s just get along with your case here in ‘Kangaroo Court’ and the ‘Kangaroo Judge’ will decide your case”, I responded.

When one intrusts his well being to another, you get to know that person in a special way. I miss the relationships I have had with my bailiffs and in some way feel I have betrayed them by moving off to distant Paradise.

I have invited some of them to visit, but they are too busy protecting new judges.

Judge Tom in the courtroom

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Victoria

 

Irish Wolfhounds

“Five thousand bond, cash or commercial surety,” Judge Cohen pronounced while signing orders without looking down from his lofty perch at the seventy-two-year old man before him. The old gent would have to put up five thousand dollars cash or come up with at least five-hundred cash for a commercial surety bond, neither of which he had.

Judge Marvin Cohen so wanted to imitate his mentor and former law partner Judge Earl Lefebre. Lefebre had ascended to the bench two years before Cohen. Soon after his robing ceremony, Lefebre gained the reputation of being tough on crime and handing out maximum sentences whenever possible. Lefebre’s behavior embittered him with the criminal bar and caused his brother and sister judges consternation, since Lefebre’s docket would backlog to the point that other judges would have to take his cases to dispose of them. Lefebre could pull off such ridiculous behavior better than Marvin, because he was twenty years older than his former law partner–and smarter.

Once Lefebre threatened to dismantle the firm in which both were partners when Cohen had entered into a particularly stupid and disastrous business arrangement without consulting his mentor. Cohen panicked and with tears in his eyes beseeched his older partner to keep the firm together. The younger lawyer promised never to do such a ridiculous thing again. Lefebre’s fatherly instincts kicked in and he relented and kept the firm in business.

Neither of the two men had seen the inside of a courtroom much during their practice together. Both left the unpleasant duties of appearing in court to associates in their small firm.  Earl and Marvin were content to make a lot of money from other assorted businesses, such as fast food franchises, long-haul trucking, and building beachfront condos. Eventually they tired of playing at the law practice, and sought the prestige of becoming judges. Both used their considerable fortune to purchase political influence and the expensive campaign consultants necessary to win their elections to the bench.

“The silly bastard is at it again. He still thinks he is Judge Roy Bean sitting west of the Pecos,” Victoria McNeil muttered under her breath to Catherine, her young friend from the District Attorney’s office. Vicki’s criminal defense practice made her aware of old people’s propensity to engage in kleptomaniac behavior, but no one could ever explain to her why they did this. She had a soft spot in her heart for the old folks afflicted with this compulsion.

Vicki’s contemptuous protests were not audible enough for the judge to throw her in the slammer, which he would have done with relish. During her first five years of practice, Vicki had clashed often with judges. Only Cohen brought out her true ire.

Wolfhounds

Victoria came from a family of attorneys who handled mostly lucrative personal injury, workman’s compensation and Federal Employee Liability Act cases. Vicki didn’t fit into the mold of the family firm, or in any mold for that matter.  For sure, on occasion, she liked mixing it up in the courtroom with some of the good old boy trial lawyers, as they were known before they acquired the more refined title of litigators. Her salty language could make even these courtroom-hardened attorneys blush.  Some assessed her as lazy, but Vicki had a keen sense of justice and mercy. She pursued these ideals in the most direct manner, avoiding complicated, time and energy wasting trials when possible.

“I will represent Mr. Duferene pro bono,” Vicki announced as she sprang to her feet in from where she sat in the back benches of the courtroom, among attorneys awaiting their business before the court. Vicki tossed her curly blond hair, stared at the judge with her robin’s egg blue eyes, adjusted her perpetually rumpled polyester suit, and supplicated “May I have a few minutes to confer with my client?”

Cohen responded,”You may, but let’s move this docket along. You know it is Christmas Eve and the Sugar Bowl is just around the corner.” Since Cohen only worshipped when it didn’t interfere with golf or business, Christmas meant little to him except to provide him with more holidays.

On the LSU Campus

“Thank you your Honor.” Vicki forced the traditional title of “Your Honor” from her throat but couldn’t miss the opportunity for sarcasm by continuing, “I will not interfere with the Court getting to the Christmas party or the football game.” Cohen jerked his head up from his paper shuffling at the sarcasm. But, he knew from past experience not to engage in verbal battle with the sharp-tongued, fast-witted, feisty Vicki. Above all, he wished she would stray into the realm of contempt, but he also knew she would only go up to that fence and not cross it, so he just let the caustic remark pass.

After a three-minute conference with her bewildered client, Vicki again addressed His Honor. “I respectfully request a modification of bond to allow Mr. Duferene’s daughter, who is present in court, to sign his bond as a personal surety.”

The judge had returned to shuffling his papers and without lifting his head responded with two short words, “Motion denied.”

“But your Honor,” the complimentary title gagged Vicki again, “my client is indigent. Mr. Duferene is a seventy-two-year-old widower surviving only on Social Security and living with his daughter. He has lived in this community all his life, he has no previous convictions, or even arrests, he has a daughter who is willing to sign his bond and he is charged only with is a minor misdemeanor.”

“There is no such thing as a minor crime in this court, Ms McNeil. You know that,” the flustered Judge Cohen admonished Vicki.

Always one to have the last word, Vicki replied, “I know that only too well—Your Honor.”

“Be careful Ms. McNeil,” His Honor sternly advised, then re-asserted his ruling “Motion for bail modification denied.”

“Well, Your Honor, I guess you will miss that Christmas Party after all.” McNeil knew all too well he would be on the golf links with some of his rich friends and not at a Christmas Party, “Because I hereby give you notice of my intention to take a writ to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal on the issue of the excessive bond you have set in this case, and I am requesting that you provide reasons for your ruling.”

Cohen flung papers aside, again glared at Vicki, and announced loud enough for the people in the next courtroom to hear, “You are at it again Ms McNeil. You try the patience of this Court. Someday you are going to go too far.”

Vicki stood before the irate judge in mock contriteness, stared at her scuffed shoes, folded her arms across her waist, produced a slight smirk on her lips that the judge could not see and said with a smattering of sarcasm, “Well, Your Honor, today, on Christmas Eve, I am just trying to get a little justice, or maybe even mercy, for an old man.”

A collective murmur arose from the audience of attorneys and court watchers, as if their collective thinking suggested, “Ah, Vicki you have gone too far now, darling. He is going to put your pretty little butt in jail this time for sure.”

Cohen was weary of the battle with Vicki. He knew that if he found her in contempt this would only prolong his day, and endear her even more with the members of the local bar association observing this encounter. This would not bode well for him at next year’s election.

View from Gretna Courthouse

View from Gretna Courthouse

Judgeship elections were not the genteel affairs of the past. Contested judgeship elections had become bitter and expensive. Also, if she perfected her writ, which she might or might not expend the energy to do, it would play havoc with the rest of the holiday season. Odds were about even on bets being placed by local lawyers in the back of the courtroom as to whether or not Vicki would really go to the trouble to perfect the threatened writ. Most of Vicki’s colleagues knew she was not keen on doing the necessary research and work of preparing briefs arguing dry and uninteresting legal issues. She would much prefer to do verbal battle.

But, in order to avoid his own inconvenience, His Honor found a way to save face by announcing, “Many other busy attorneys have important matters to be heard before this court today. I am not going to let you waste their time any more, therefore I grant your motion to allow Mr. Duferene’s daughter to sign his bond.”

“I thank the Court for its indulgence and hope Your Honor enjoys the Christmas Party and the Sugar Bowl,” Vicki said, once again playing with fire.

Cohen’s only response was a grunt, “Good day,  Ms. McNeil.”

For today, Vicki had tired of the skirmish with the good judge. Besides, she needed to go home, have several strong drinks and tend to her nine dogs–five Irish Wolfhounds that weighed in the neighborhood of 180 pounds each, and four other assorted breeds. All of her children, as she called them, had documents proving their noble bloodlines. Vicki expended enormous effort and considerable money taking her charges to dogshows far and wide in her thirty-seven-foot Winnebago. They brought home many ribbons, a goodly amount of which were blue.

A few weeks after Vicki’s encounter with Judge Cohen, Catherine and her husband attended a dog show on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Much to their surprise, they saw Vicki there. Her five Irish Wolfhounds and other assorted dogs would compete for ribbons at the show. Surprised to see them there, Vicki greeted them with characteristic exuberance.

Grooming a wolfhound

Unlike her courtroom attire, rumpled polyester or cotton suits looking like she had slept in them, Vicki was impeccably dressed in a cream colored silk suit and white blouse. Her hair was coiffed to perfection. Catherine had never known Vicki to give this much attention to her appearance and almost didn’t recognize her when she approached the couple. Vicki insisted that the two join her for a behind the scenes tour of the regional AKC-sanctioned dog show. Catherine and her husband had already observed massive RVs from all over the country parked in the parking lot. “Expensive goings on here,” Catherine’s husband said to her.

A storm of human and dog activity raged backstage in the old LSU field house. Hundreds of dogs of every size, description and breed were being prepared by their masters to be examined in detail by officious judges. Sprawled across the floor like vines in a dense jungle, extension cords of every color connected blow dryers, curling irons, strong lights and fans to their power sources. Catherine’s husband wondered what kind of circuit breaker could stand such a load. Scores of cages from Chihuahua to Great Dane size housed dogs awaiting their turn for grooming. Big dogs, little dogs, ugly dogs, pretty dogs, happy dogs and disgruntled dogs, stood dutifully on tables as their fidgety masters and canine cosmetologists chatted excitedly with one another while they primped and groomed the precious animals for their big performance before the serious judges.

The sound of dogs communicating with other dogs by means of barks and snarls filled the vast arena. Nervous dogs constantly went to and from the building on leashes with their handlers to the grass outside to relieve themselves prior to their big introduction on the show floor.

As Vicki escorted the couple through the sea of dogs, owners and handlers, she received warm greetings. She was obviously well known in these circles and called each pet by name as she petted and complimented each contestant. Catherine thought, “This, not the courtroom, is really Vicki’s world.”

Vicki's World of dog shows

After listening to Vicki’s conversation throughout the day, Catherine’s husband observed, “It seems like Vicki’s law practice is just the means to provide resources for her expensive passion of breeding and showing her dogs.”

Just then, an urgent announcement came over the public address system, “Three Irish Wolfhounds are out of their cages and running free. Their master needs to retrieve them immediately.”

With a “Sorry folks,” Vicki quickly interrupted her guided tour and rushed off to corral her giant children.  Catherine and her husband observed the rest of the event on their own.

Vicki’s giant canines would go on to win a few ribbons that day, which would invigorate their mistress, allowing Vicki to return to the courtroom to battle with some beleaguered judge on behalf of some indigent soul being mauled by the Establishment.

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Truck Parades

Judge Tom on Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras has come and gone again. Visitors to Mardi Gras think the local folks provided the greatest free party on earth, just for them. I guess in a way that is true, but the locals look forward to this time to have fun themselves. Each year New Orleans natives eagerly await Mardi Gras season so they can show off the costumes, and the decorated floats they have labored on all year long. On the big day itself, they will “pass a good time”–all for their own benefit. Visitors are welcome to watch and even participate in the fun once they loosen up enough.

The big carnival crews such as Rex, Bacchus, Endymion and Comus arrange for professional artist like Blaine Kern to produce for them–at great costs–spectacular floats. The locals and visitors alike, who line the streets yelling “Throw me something mister,” are thrilled as these works of art pass on the street in front of them.

 

Throw Me Something, Mister

Invariably, first time visitors to Mardi Gras insist they are not going to demean themselves by shouting and waving their hands seeking cheap favors made in China from people in costumes and masks pretending to be royalty, gods and goddess, story book characters or some mythical creature. This demure attitude lasts for about one parade. By the second parade, one will see their visiting friends flailing their arms franticly, screaming at the top of their voice “Throw me something mister,” and stepping on little kids’ hands to retrieve cheap trinkets that have fallen to the street.

But for me, the most fascinating events of Mardi Gras are the Truck Parades that roll only on the special day. They get larger every year. These parades are populated by hundreds of floats imaginatively created by ordinary folks in neighborhoods all over the city and its suburbs.

My family and I were once privileged to ride in a Truck Parade. This was only after we paid our dues and joined a neighborhood group. We had to agree to meet regularly to decide our theme, construct complicated costumes, and to decorate the flatbed truck the organization had purchased long ago–for this purpose only.

The logistics of being in a Truck Parade are mind boggling. The average number of people, adults and children, that will ride on a flat bed float on Mardi Gras is about forty. Each person is expected to provide the beads and trinkets they will throw during the parade. You order your “throws” by the gross, e.g. a hundred gross of this and two hundred gross of that, early in the year. Each rider also buys special, more costly throws that will be given to their friends, family and special persons on the parade route. Sometime well before Fat Tuesday cases of “throws” from China arrive at the group’s headquarters (one of the member’s homes).

The theme for each year’s parade and the division of labor is hammered out at early meetings. This can be a process requiring delicate political skills. No Robert’s Rules of Order here. Our organization had been in Truck Parades over many years; therefore, our meetings went smoothly.

After weeks of discussion, the group decided we would be leprechauns. The women went to sewing many green costumes with silver spangles. We men created large shamrocks from plywood and attached them to our float. During the process of decorating our float, we determined the flatbed truck was too short to accommodate all of us. At our local trade school I had just re-honed my welding skills, learned in the oil fields of Venezuela. Although we had electricians, carpenters, and plumbers in our group, I was elected to weld an extension on the end of our truck. By then we had attached much flimsy plywood and paper mache decorations to our float. I damn near burned up our laboriously created work of art when sparks from the arc welder ignited some paper mache. Fortunately, I extinguished the fire quickly and survived the wrath of the rest of the krewe.

Throw me something, Mister!

On a Mardi Gras Truck Float, every person is assigned a space on the rails of the truck that is about the width of a commuter airplane seat. Each rider is expected to prepare his space and arrange his throws in such a manner to allow him to throw his prizes with ease to the bellowing crowds as the float rumbles past the masses of people. Old timers willingly give advice on the most efficient mechanics of preparing throws for delivery to the excited revelers along the parade route.

At the break of day on Mardi Gras day, the four of us arrived looking like leprechauns and carrying hoards of throws to board our truck float. We also had to provision ourselves with food and drink for the day long sojourn through the streets of Jefferson Parish. We brought soft drinks and sandwiches. Most of our companion leprechauns fortified themselves with hard booze and cases and cases of beer. Riding in a truck parade is not for the claustrophobic, because there is no getting off the float once you board until you are returned home late in the day.

There is no getting off

Of course, potty facilities are of paramount importance on a float. Due to the amounts of beer consumed during the long day the Pot-Delight, which was well disguised with painted shamrocks, receives an unprecedented amount of use.

We chugged off, diesel fumes from the semi pulling our float engulfing us, to join the hundred-and-twenty-five other floats that form our parade. The captain of our organization assembled all of us in a large parking lot and assigned us a number. Our driver, well experienced in this procedure, deftly put us in our proper position.  Then, we waited and waited for the parade to begin. Hot coffee and cocoa for the kids and long underwear under our leprechaun costumes kept us warm on this chilly morning.

Horns blasted as the hundred-and-twenty-six trucks orderly moved, out towing their carnival revelers. We followed in the wake of the elaborate floats of the Mystic Krewe of Argus as we rolled onto Veterans Highway. Most of the members of Argus were local politicians. Needless to say, their organization did not lack funding.

Once on the major artery of Veterans Highway, we encountered a sea of humanity. Voices with a thousand different pitches implored us with the magic words, “Throw me something Mister.” Our truck horn blasted warnings to the anxious hoards to stay clear of the truck–all to no avail. Arms fully extended, young and older filled with Mardi Gras mania crushed near to the sides of the truck. I feared a child might get accidentally thrown under the wheels of the slow moving vehicle that had to “stop and go” the entire parade. By the grace of some providence, nothing bad happened, even though the process of stopping to throw beads to the crowd, then slowly lumbering on in line behind the other semi-pulled flatbed creations carrying their Disney Characters “Mickey or Minnie”, Pirates, Sailers, human-sized shrimp and crawfish, was a slow one.

Human Sized Crawfish

Strangely enough, I could recognize folks I knew as our Truck Float plowed through the sea of people. It also astounded me that I could differentiate between interesting and more ordinary faces. Of course, the more interesting and young deserved my special trinkets. I found it uncanny that I could be pick out special people in crowds of tens of thousands. Veterans of truck parades on our float confirmed my observation.

This Mardi Gras was cold for New Orleans–in the forties. Once, we had friends visit from North Dakota. Before they came, they asked about the clothing to bring. I told them the weather could call for anything from Bermuda shorts to foul weather gear. My Northern-winter-accustomed friends protested that forty degrees would not be cold for them. They soon thought otherwise when damp cold winds drifted across Lake Ponchartrain on to their ill-protected bodies.

While we kept warm with long underwear beneath out costumes, some of our Truck Krewe supplemented the long underwear with vast quantities of booze.

Our long cold, day ended when our driver returned us and our float to its vacant lot, where it would await redecorating next year. Our throws were completely depleted and so were we.

Riding in the truck parade proved to be a most interesting experience, but I have found that watching parades less taxing than riding in one.

Truck Parade

 

 

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SPARROW AND RONNIE

The French Quarter

“Ah, it ain’t so bad, Judge, ‘cept for the shriveled up old men”. Sparrow justified to me while she sat in my court for the third time. She had been adjudicated a Child in Need of Supervision for being a runaway and ungovernable kid. Over the last year, I had placed her in two group homes and a shelter facility near the French Quarter, one run by a man  whom I trusted with these damaged kids. She ran from all three placements.

What fifteen-year-old Sparrow explained to me was that turning tricks in the French Quarter “Ain’t so bad ‘cept for the shriveled up old men”. For this frail, pale, blond-haired, blue-eyed child, the “family” she found in the Quarter treated her better than the one from which she had fled. In Sparrow’s mind, her pimp treated her better than her stepfather. Her stepfather had sexually abused her from the time she was nine. To avoid offending her abusive spouse, Sparrow’s passive, dependent mother chose to ignore what was happening to her helpless daughter. I have known women who killed their spouses for less provocation, but Sparrow’s mother could only cringe as she continued a life under the influence of the subhuman who repeatedly raped her daughter.

I had seen Sparrow in the French Quarter two weeks earlier, when I tried to get her to return to the shelter on Rampart Street. She promised, “Yeah Judge, you know I will.” But years on the bench had finally allowed me to acknowledge the likelihood that this young girl would not leave the bricks until apprehended by the police again.

Bourbon Street

My fifteen-year-old daughter and I were returning from the Cafe Du Monde with a sixteen-year-old boy named Ronnie. This young man had fled his father’s home after having enough of his old man’s drunken beatings with the buckle end of a belt. “Well, what would you do if you were chained to the doghouse in the backyard, sir?”, Ronnie had described a level of abuse that was difficult for me to understand before I’d listened to other, similar stories.

His mother had long since abandoned Ronnie and the abusive father. He, like Sparrow and kids from all over this country who had been abused and thrown away, found refuge in the French Quarter. I had also found him to be a Child In Need of Supervision and confined him to a mental hospital in Uptown New Orleans run by the State of Louisiana, for evaluations so I could get a fuller understanding of his needs.

I had committed Ronnie to the hospital for evaluation after his social worker had testified in a review hearing that she  found Ronnie living in the French Quarter with an eighteen-year-old girl. At the time of the court proceeding, I joked with all  the hearing attendees, “Sounds like Ronnie has a good deal. Here we are all working late in a courtroom on a beautiful spring afternoon and Ronnie is being cared for by an eighteen-year-old girl. Who is in worse shape?”

French Market Entrance

On the Sunday I saw Sparrow in the Quarter, my daughter Paige and I picked Ronnie up at the hospital for an approved afternoon away from the mental health facility. We went to the Audubon Park Zoo, then down to the French Market for beignets. As part of my personal policy of sitting on the bench, I frequently made unannounced visits to institutions that housed kids who’d been committed to the State’s custody. I had learned early on in my career that an announced visit would only give me what the facility staff wanted me to see, without revealing the deficiencies of the operation. All too often, kids would jokingly say to me at their next court hearing, “Were you there on the day they gave us steak or the one where they served shrimp?”

No longer the naive jurist of my first year on the bench, I now wanted to see what was really going on with the kids I had committed to the care of the State of Louisiana.
While driving on Dauphine Street out of the Quarter, Ronnie shouted, “There is that little old Sparrow. Look, there she is out on the bricks turning tricks.”

Dauphine Street corner

Ronnie and Sparrow had met while attending their respective hearings in my court. I stopped the car and invited Sparrow to return to the shelter. After she refused my offer, Sparrow ended back up in my courtroom two weeks later. I recommitted her to State’s custody to be placed in a well-managed group home for girls. A couple of months later at a review hearing, State social workers advised me that Sparrow had run away from her last placement. We never saw her again. I’ve sometimes wondered what became of her, especially when I came upon kids who looked like her.

Some months after we saw Sparrow in the Quarter, the New Orleans policed returned Ronnie to my jurisdiction, where I conducted a trial to determine if he was a Juvenile Delinquent for having discharged a shotgun in a French Quarter barroom. The evidence clearly showed that  Ronnie somehow got hold of a Remington 12 gauge, pump action shotgun, walked into a gay bar on Decatur street and started shooting. He obviously didn’t intent to shoot anyone. He took his anger out on the liquor cabinet, the chandelier, the artwork on the wall and the stained glass windows. He created extensive physical damage to the premises before the police arrested him. Witnesses testified that patrons and employees fled the bar onto Decatur Street squealing in panic. Ronnie declined to give me any explanation for his violent actions.

When I looked down at him, and said, “Ronnie,  you’ve left me no options now,” the sullen youth just sat silently. I confined him to the Louisiana Juvenile Correctional facility with orders for further psychiatric evaluations. In subsequent reviews of Ronnie’s case, which I did every six months with all children I had committed to State custody, I found Ronnie had matured and seemed to be able to control his behavior. He eventually was released from State custody. Like all the kids I have seen, I wonder what has happened to Ronnie in his life.

French Quarter street band

A few weekends ago, my wife, Karen and I had occasion to visit the French Quarter again when I went to a training session at the beautifully restored Louisiana Supreme Court building on Royal Street. While wandering the Quarter photographing old buildings with lacy wrought iron balconies, local characters in costume, art hanging on the stately iron fences enclosing Jackson Square and street bands, we also saw young, grubby street waifs huddled in doorways cupping their hands around pungent smelling cigarettes. Seeing these young street urchins brought back memories of Sparrow and Ronnie and of all the abused, neglected and throwaway kids I have seen over the years and tried to help. Truth be told, some are so damaged they are beyond help.

Art Hanging on Jackson Square Fence

When I hear the allegations in the Penn State scandal, I know, that if true, we will learn of many more victims. Some may flee to the falsely perceived safety of the French Quarter. One would have thought that by now the administrators and staff at Penn State should have made themselves aware of the the nature of the pedophile and reported these atrocities to law enforcement authorities much, much sooner.

Regrettably, this looks like a colossal cover up that has cost unmeasurable damage to incalculable numbers of victims–all for the purpose of preserving the reputation of a money-generating football team.

One can only hope this travesty will help us get our priorities straight.

LA Supreme Court Bldg.

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