Court Humor Part 2

While movies appear to be slowly sneaking our way, I’m not holding my breath. Russell Crowe’s hideously awful Unhinged leads the way, and my two sisters described it as a disaster.

Regardless, I thought I would revisit a few court stories that hopefully you will find a bit amusing. Good grief, maybe we can laugh our way out of this lousy pandemic shutdown.

I’ll begin with two stories about my years in the 1970’s as a public defender for Judge Andrew Jacobs, Sr., in Marion Criminal Division 3. As a single father with a 7 year-old son, I was trying to raise him and myself at the same time.

Judge Jacobs was a legendary piece of work, and I tried over twenty jury trials a year in 1975-1976. It was both exciting and exhausting, and I paid the price starting a burglary trial on a Friday.

I had just finished a robbery trial the evening before, and I was up all night trying to get my act together. After taking Chris, my son, to his first grade class, I ran into the court room as the Judge was ready to start. Counsel table was right in front of the jurors, and my detained client said nothing as he grabbed a seat next to me.

And then it happened. When my turn came to select the jury, I began with a simple question, “Do you think you could give a fair trial to my client, Mr. , uh Mr. __.?” As I wrestled with the horror of forgetting my client’s name, he leaned over and loudly said, “Phillips, James Phillips!”

After the jury stopped laughing, I begged for their consideration, assuring them that I was there to fight for my client. I thanked them then and hours later when they returned a not guilty verdict. Who would have thought?

And then there was the time I was arguing an appeal in the Indiana Supreme Court. Following Judge Jacobs’ new policy of giving an executed sentence on all cases, he forced an appeal when he denied a timely change of Judge motion I filed for a client with no criminal history and eligible for probation.

Judge Jacobs represented himself and he adamantly told the Court that “If Hammerle prevails, he would be forced to resign his office instanter.” As I stood for rebuttal, I told the Court that I was in a difficult position. Since I worked for that Democratic Judge, I told the Court that if he quit, his successor, a likely Republican, would fire me along with my colleagues and replace us with his own people.

At that moment, the chamber erupted in laughter when Chief Justice Given asked, “Well counsel, given that quandary, would you like to withdraw your appeal?” Smiling, I replied, “I thought of that, Judge. But as the old saying goes, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound.'”

I won that appeal, the Judge resigned and his gubernatorial replacement fired me. My friend, the Honorable John Tinder, retired, replaced me, and I never let him forget it!

Finally, there was a memorable moment in front of the late Larry McKinney in Federal Court. My client, a national firearms expert, was charged with a felony after shooting a bird, an endangered species, while returning to Indy after winning a firearms competition in Las Vegas.

Thankfully, to save his ability to possess weapons, I worked out a misdemeanor resolution. My client, who was nearly deaf after firing guns innumerable times, approached the hearing in a heightened state of anxiety.

As Judge McKinney started the sentencing by reading the original Felony charge, my client exploded. Leaving the lectern, he approached the Judge, loudly exclaiming, “No, no, that won’t work. A Felony will cause me to lose my job as a gun instructor. I can’t accept that!”

As I tried to grab my client, Judge McKinney loudly responded so the Defendant could hear, “That’s ok, Mr. Hammerle has worked out a plea where the Felony will be dismissed.”

Standing but several feet from the Judge where a U.S. Marshall began to move forward, my client paused for a moment. Leaning forward to hear, with both hands pointed at the Judge with index fingers extended and his thumbs raised, he reacted as if firing two weapons, exclaiming, “Well, alrighty then!”

Judge McKinney and I never forgot that glorious moment. Before parting, whenever we saw each other, he always added, “Well, alrighty then!” I miss him.