Getting through law school, passing the bar examination, and the practice of law as a career are filled with tense situations and moments and how one copes with and adapts to them, dictates his professional stature and reputation as a lawyer.
The best example of that among my fellow lawyers was a law school classmate of mine. A 2.0 grade point average was required to graduate from law school and be eligible to take the bar exam. Our final exam in June as seniors found many in the class with exactly that grade point average. In short, they needed to make at least a “C” to graduate.
In traditional law school and bar exams, the student is presented with a narrative of facts which he must analyze and write an essay-type answer. Everyone prepared for that kind of exam. However, our first year Wills and Estates professor walked into the exam room and, without prior warning, laid down an exam which consisted of 100 true/false questions. Everyone was shocked. All but one of us, shook our heads in astonishment and did the best we could.
One flung the test paper in the air, shouted at the professor, and stalked out. I don’t know how he managed to graduate or qualify for the bar exam, but there he was just a few seats ahead of me at the Veteran’s Center in Columbus when we sat for the bar exam in July. It was in the traditional form and I got right to it. Within 10 minutes, my old classmate got up and walked out trembling. He didn’t return that day nor the next two days and so was listed as having failed the bar exam.
As you know, I went right to work in the prosecutor’s office and several years later, my old classmate showed up in Lima, opened an office, and began to practice law. Like all newly minted lawyers, he started out by getting appointments from the court to defend indigent defendants. The first time we came together in court, he was representing a defendant in a court-appointed situation with the case being tried to the judge only, no jury. The facts were that a city police officer observed one of the local ne’er-do-wells come out of a pawn shop and put a “suspicious” package in his pocket. He stopped, searched the suspect and found him in possession of an unloaded pistol. Loaded or not, that’s a crime. He was indicted on the charge and trial began.
Now, this was a judge who, while he knew the law, wasn’t much inclined to be bound by it. He was more inclined to make a decision based on what he thought was a fair verdict. He also did not have much use for the police or prosecutors. At the conclusion of the trial and despite the obvious technical guilt of the defendant, he found him not guilty. The arresting officer and I were amazed, but not surprised. We were standing in front of the courthouse a few minutes later when the defense attorney, my old classmate, walked out with the gun, which had been returned to the defendant, dangling chest high from the end of a shoestring which he had removed from one of his shoes. He saw us watching him and said, “you guys are not going to get a chance to arrest anyone for concealing this gun.” He then proceeded back to his office with the gun in plain view. After that, I didn’t see him or hear about him much in the next few years and was surprised that when an opening occurred on the Municipal Court bench, the Republican Party had him appointed as judge. He was reelected several times so we had a long period of his bizarre antics.
One of them occurred right after I took office as prosecutor. When a person was charged with a felony, he was entitled to a preliminary hearing within 10 days to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to cause the case to be sent to the grand jury where it would be decided whether to indict that person. That hearing is almost always waived by the defendant because almost always, there is sufficient evidence. I had a special interest in a case once and called the Municipal Court prosecutor and told him I would send one of my assistants down to handle the hearing. The assistant I sent was a fearless bulldog. His tactic was to keep at a lying witness until he wore him down. I was cooling in my office that afternoon when he called me and said, in a somewhat excited voice, “Huff, get down here quickly and bring the checkbook, I think I am going to need bail. The judge just threw a book at me, told me I was in contempt and ordered the bailiff to call the sheriff.” I rushed to the Municipal Court and waited about 20 minutes until the judge came out looking slightly tranquilized and said, “Court finds probable cause, defendant bound over to the grand jury,” and left. My assistant and I left post haste.
A year or two after I finished as prosecutor, a friend of mine induced me to represent his son at a preliminary hearing. It was a burglary of a farm barn, and the son denied it. A friend of the son had been captured a short distance away and named my client as an accomplice. However, the deputy to whom the friend made the statement wasn’t present so another deputy took the stand and testified that the absent deputy told him my client had confessed to him. I objected to that on the ground of hearsay. It is hearsay when a witness testifies as to what someone else told him. The judge smirked at me and said, “Mr. Huffman, hearsay is admissible in a preliminary hearing,” and he overruled me. That was, of course, nonsense. Later in the hearing, I asked a different deputy the same question and the prosecutor objected on the ground of hearsay. The Judge said, “sustained.” I said, “Judge, you just ruled that hearsay is admissible in a preliminary hearing.” He leaned forward, smirked, and said, “some is, some isn’t, that was, this isn’t, overruled.” The voters subjected us to another 20 years of his “judging.”
Moral of the Story: Like leopards, some guys never change their spots.
Lawrence S. Huffman is an attorney in Lima and a guest columnist fin The Lima News.