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Tales from Tennessee Lawyers

William Montell

Publication Year: 2005

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

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. 1-7

Drive anyplace across the beautiful state of Tennessee, ask for the namesof good storytellers, and you’ll always be provided with the names of several persons, including many local lawyers and judges. In doing this,beginning in May 2001, I came up with the names of certain legal professionals who truly know how to tell a good story, whether it is an...

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1. Viewpoints

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pp. 9-27

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

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2. Courtroom Blunders

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pp. 28-31

Lawyers and judges are highly skilled and seldom make mistakes in the courtroom. On occasion, however, these legal professionals do make mistakes, some of which are indeed serious, while others are somewhat humorous, at least to those present in the courtroom when the described event occurs. Often, it is the judge who blunders by asking the wrong...

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3. Legal Humor

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pp. 32-45

Humorous stories are the Viagra of the legal profession and of the American populace as a whole. The following accounts describe humorous events that took place in courtrooms and elsewhere, primarily in urban settings. Some humor, both inside and outside the courtroom,portrays speech impediments; whispering lawyers; sexy persons; naked...

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4. Divorce and Adultery

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pp. 46-61

“Diverse” is a key word for describing the contents of these typically unpleasant stories about divorce, even if humor, off-color words, or curse words are involved at unexpected times. Most divorce cases are settled by nonjury decisions. Critical matters include verbal and physical spouse abuse, disagreements involving bigamy, affairs with another...

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5. Homicides

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pp. 62-88

Persons across the nation commit atrocious deeds for which they typically go to court, but the truly gross offense is homicide, or “killings,”which is the term used by many locals in the Upper South. Regrettably,verbal accounts of these episodes are plentiful, but they are also insightful and interesting from beginning to end. The stories in this section...

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6. More Stories about Lawyers and Judges in the Courtroom

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pp. 89-136

Most of the numerous accounts in this story category are first-person narratives. However, the focus of each story is not the storyteller but another lawyer or judge. These stories describe incidents involving lawyers and judges both in and out of the courtroom, primarily the latter.They deal with various issues, including frequent appropriate or inap-...

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7. Sexual and Physical Abuse

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pp. 137-146

Perhaps the most traumatic court cases involve those related to rape and other forms of mistreatment committed against little girls by their fathers, stepfathers, brothers, or other family members. It is of considerable interest to note that some of these stories tell that the guilty men subsequently committed or attempted to commit suicide, perhaps in an...

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8. Courtroom Misbehavior and Jury Justice/Injustice

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pp. 147-155

Various types of events occur in the courtroom, some of which involve physical attacks typically instituted by the accused, curse words uttered in loud tones, or guns pointed at someone on the opposition’s side.instances, physical attacks and other forms of misbehavior are not com-mon in modern times, especially among lawyers in the courtroom. On...

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9. Illegal Sales

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pp. 156-160

One of the stories in this category is not about illegal sales per se, but it does portray a man who intentionally placed his cows in the road in hopes of collecting payment from the assailant’s insurance company.Although there are only three stories relative to illegal sales in this chap-ter, such sales were very common in earlier times, and court cases about...

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10. Political Elections

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pp. 161-166

Stories in this category are interesting and very informative. Of significant note is that the political division between Democrats and Republicans was and still is of major importance across the state, even between husbands and wives in some instances. Stories herein describe a man who campaigned in the wrong state, another who campaigned for Con-...

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11. Thievery

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pp. 167-170

Theft is typically a difficult crime case involving many attorneys. It is generally not an easy charge to defend nor to prove the accused is guilty.Occasionally, jurists may also have trouble voting to convict the accused because they, too, may have been guilty of theft one or more times across the years. The following stories are related to animal theft,...

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12. Executions and Race Relations

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pp. 171-173

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

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13. Bad Words in Court

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pp. 174-179

Dirty words and curse words used in court are not typical, but on occasion they are uttered, sometimes shouted. It is rare for lawyers to use abusive words during court procedures, but occasionally they do, as indicated in one of the stories in this chapter. In other instances herein, a prisoner used a dirty word when responding to the judge, and a con-...

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14. Animals in Court

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pp. 180-189

Animals typically constitute valuable property, whether they are raised for commercial purposes or simply beloved pets. The first story, which received national and international media coverage, is about an already divorced couple that received joint custody of a pet dog. Court cases are often the only means of settling disputes relative to ownership or...

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15. Domestic Relations

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pp. 190-198

Domestic relations is a broad story category related to family matters.These stories describe serious episodes, ranging from physical spouse abuse to threats to kill a spouse with a gun, adultery as appropriate cultural behavior, custodial cases, failure to pay child support, unsuccessful attempts to verify parentage, bankruptcy, changing a probate...

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16. Bankruptcy

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pp. 199-209

The New American Heritage Dictionary defines “bankrupt” as “an individual or corporate debtor, who, upon voluntary petition, . . . is judged legally insolvent and whose remaining property is therefore administered for the creditors or distributed among them in accordance with the law. . . .” The three...

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17. Miscellaneous

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pp. 210-219

The stories in this chapter are somewhat related to other themes in the book, but not closely enough to be assigned to any of them. Nevertheless, these accounts are interesting and insightful, providing information about local life and culture and attitudinal behavior. These stories present accounts of stolen whiskey, a lie, an anticipated duel, use of metal detec-...

Biographies of Storytellers

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pp. 221-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780813171784
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123691

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2005