Commentary on Court Humor

Even though Court appearances are rare these days, let me reflect on some funny moments that I treasure.

As many of you know, I was hospitalized for over three weeks with serious head injuries after being hit by a motorcycle six years ago on North College here in Indianapolis. It occurred in October, and I finally returned to Court for a pretrial before the affable Judge Hughes in Hamilton County in January.

Concerned about my condition, the Judge asked me if I could be ready to try my case in two weeks. I then sarcastically asked if I could submit a neurological report to support a continuance motion if I missed the plea deadline. Everyone laughed but Judge Hughes.

He responded, “Look Hammerle, that’s the same trick you tried to pull several years ago. I didn’t let you get away with it then and I won’t now!”

As I tried not to smile, I replied, “Thank you, Judge, always a pleasure seeing you.” He shot back with a scowl, “No it’s not!”

I’ve reminded him of that exchange whenever I see him.

And then there was a moment during jury selection in Federal Court in South Bend in 1979. Steve Allen and I were defending two confused guys who were charged with running a multi-state marijuana operation.

It was the first Federal Jury Trial for both Allen and I, and we were before the stern Judge Sharp. The fact that the Judge limited jury questions to written submissions made things all the more difficult.

When one of the jurors said she lived in Pulaski County, Allen whispered, “Ask the Judge to see if she is familiar with the term ‘Pot Picking Posse from Pulaski County.'” When he convinced me that this was a group of residents who annually destroyed pot growing on country roads, I approached the Judge and made my request.

Allen and I had full beards and hair down to our shoulders, and the Judge exploded, “Gentlemen, are you both out of your mind? I should either demand to have you get hair cuts or hold you in contempt, now sit down!”

Nonetheless, he relented. After asking the juror if she was familiar with the term, she yelled out, “Oh yes, my husband and I are a part of that posse every year. Marijuana is destroying our youth.”

The Judge excused her for cause and we achieved a hung jury. The charges were later dismissed. Here’s to “Pot Picking Posses!”

Finally, let me visit my only jury trial as a prosecutor. It took place in 1974 on a case venue to Johnson County that no one else wanted to try.

With a juror sleeping during the selection process, I asked the Judge for advice. He said that this wasn’t half as bad as a terrible rape case in his court years earlier. When the female victim couldn’t emotionally read a note left on her door by the defendant that read, “I want to f**k you,” it was passed to the jury.

Juror number 8 was a chunky, middle aged guy sitting next to juror 7, a young, attractive woman, in the back row. He was continually dozing off and was doing so as she tried to pass him the exhibit. She finally was forced to elbow him out of his slumber.

As he read the note/exhibit, he looked over at her, smiled, and stuffed it in his shirt pocket. As I laughingly asked the Judge how he responded, he said, “I’ll tell you Bobby, I simply said that I’m sorry Mr. Martin, but you’ve got to take that out of her pocket and hand it to juror 9.”

As we both laughed, I asked the Judge, “What happened then?” He said that after Martin first turned beet red, he then leaned forward, cupped his hands around his mouth and in a low voice said, “If you don’t mind, Judge, it’s kind of personal.”

I miss not being back in court.