“Boomer” Winfrey

Varmint County Correspondent

Judge Hobert “Hardtime” Harwell was relaxing at his office, across the street from the Varmint County Courthouse, when his secretary interrupted him in mid-nap.  

“Judge, there’s a passel of lawyers out here to see you. Are you in?”

“Depends. Which lawyers and what do they want to see me about?” the Judge replied, then adding, “Oh, let ’em in,” when he noticed Philbert McSwine’s car parked in front of his office.

“Half a dozen long-faced attorneys entered the office, led by Philbert and Farley “the Fixer” McFadden. Farley made his reputation by his propensity for arranging plea bargains for most of his criminal clients. Some observers questioned whether Farley had ever argued a case in front of a jury, so seldom did his clients go to trial.

“Judge, we need your help. We need an intervention,” personal injury attorney Cleopus Dewberry whined. “Judge McConnell is completely out of control!”

Hardtime smiled. He had already heard the rumors. Sessions Court Judge Katherine McConnell, who had easily won re-election over Philbert McSwine when all of Philbert’s ex-wives united to support her candidacy, had summoned all of the attorneys who practiced in her circuit to an “informal” briefing the week after she took the oath of office.

Among other things, she informed the gathered lawyers that she would be enforcing a dress code and observing a rigid time schedule in the future.

“Gentlemen, no more coming into my courtroom wearing sandals and khaki trousers, even to file a plea agreement,” Judge McConnell announced, staring particularly long at Fixer McFadden. “Also, court starts promptly at 8:00 A.M. I’m instructing the bailiff to deny entry to any attorney showing up late.”

“Uh, your honor, it’s illegal to close a courtroom to the public,” Trent Hosfeiffer of Hosfeiffer, Calloway & Dorsey pointed out.

“I’m not denying entry to the public, just lawyers and your clients. You will be in court when I enter the room at 8:00 or I will cite you for contempt.

“Also, I expect you all to show proper respect for my office. Shortly after I was appointed to the bench a year ago to fill out the term of the late Judge Whitlock, one of you addressed me as ‘honey’ and I let it slide. Another lawyer cracked a joke about ‘that time of month’ when I denied a motion and I let him off with a warning. No more warnings. Another crack like those will land you behind bars for contempt.”

“Uh, your honor. I noticed old Phineas Murtaugh addressing you as ‘young lady’ in court this morning and you didn’t correct him. You can’t have a double standard,” Gregory Lyon protested.

“Mr. Murtaugh is 86 years old and was practicing law when most of you were in diapers. He has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and taught law at the university for years, where he had many of us in class,” Judge McConnell replied. “He addresses most of you as ‘young man’ or ‘son,’ and I’ll let him address me however he chooses as long as it’s not disrespectful.” 

Judge Harwell listened as the lawyers gathered in his office added to their list of complaints about the newly aggressive female judge. Philbert McSwine was particularly vehement, complaining that Judge McConnell was particularly hard on him because he had opposed her in the recent election.

“She’s warned me half a dozen times already. If I laugh, she warns me. If I smile she warns me. If I turn to whisper to my client, she warns me. I’m walking on eggs the entire time I’m in her court, Judge,” Philbert whined.

“Philbert, maybe you shouldn’t laugh when she makes a ruling, or whisper to your client when the Judge is addressing you or smile when she threatens you with contempt,” Hardtime observed. “I’d probably toss you out of my courtroom if you behaved like that with me.”

The Judge promised the lawyers nothing, but did agree to sit in on Judge McConnell’s court and see things for himself before deciding if he would speak to her. A couple of days later he slipped quietly into a seat among several tall men in the back of the courtroom and settled in to watch the show.

Oscar Cheatham of the firm Lyon, Cheatham and Dunn was in court that day, representing an accused child molester. Oscar was infamous for his courtroom dramatics and his inflated sense of self-importance.

As the prosecutor laid out his arguments for setting a high bail for the defendant, Oscar proclaimed “I object” a grand total of eleven times.

“Mr. Cheatham, so far the Assistant District Attorney has only described where and when the alleged crime took place and presented a list of potential witnesses. He has not presented his case or even told the court what charges have been filed,” the Judge pointed out.

“I object, your honor, to his presenting a list of witnesses to a crime when the prosecutor hasn’t described the charges against my client.”

“Your objection is overruled.”

“I object to your tone of voice in overruling my objection.”

“That objection is also overruled. Please approach the bench, Mr. Cheatham.”

“Your honor, I respectfully decline to approach the bench. The audience cannot hear what we’re saying.”

“This isn’t a stage, but I will speak clearly so the audience can hear if that will satisfy you. Now approach the bench,” the Judge repeated.

“I will approach, under objection.”

“Your objection is duly noted, Mr. Cheatham. Now come up here, unless you’re afraid I might bite.”

“Are you threatening to bite, your honor?”

“I’m threatening to have the bailiff remove you from this courtroom if you don’t halt these antics and let the prosecution proceed with this case. I have a full agenda today and this is only a bond-setting hearing.”

Cheatham continued with his objections throughout the session until the Judge finally set his client’s bail at $100,000 and had the lawyer jailed for contempt of court.

Later that day, Judge Hardtime Harwell paid a visit to the female judge in her chambers.

“I watched you in action this morning with Oscar Cheatham,” Hardtime said.

“That man threatens to make a mockery of my court. I had to do something,” Judge McConnell replied.

“I would have had him jailed as soon as he opened his mouth. You showed remarkable restraint.”

“Judge Harwell, it’s not easy sitting on the bench in this district when you’re a woman and dealing with all these male lawyers.”

“The testosterone levels are a bit high, I admit. Those swaggering little boys need to be reminded they don’t own the playground. Just remember, Judge, it is the high office and not the individual sitting on the bench that demands respect. If an attorney fails to respect your court, they fail to respect all of our courts.”

“Then you approve of what I’m doing?”

“Totally. These attorneys will push their limits and test how far you will let them go. When you were appointed to the bench it was for a short time and you were understandably hesitant to lower the hammer on these clowns. Now you’ve been elected for the next six years. They’re stuck with you and like an old hound dog, you need to mark your territory.”

Judge McConnell smiled at Hardtime’s analogy, visualizing the lawyers as a line of fire hydrants.

“You know what they’re calling me behind my back?”

“You mean ‘Judge Bobbitt?’ Yes, I heard about that. Too bad it’s only symbolic. We would all be much better off if some of them were brought down a peg or two,” Hardtime concluded with a broad grin.