WNC Citizens Blog

“Send Lawyers, Guns and Money....”
by John Armor

Guest Commentary

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money...
by John Armor

The title is from a song by Warren Zevon, I’d always heard the line as a telegram from a banana republic in crisis, and that the whole line was, “Send lawyers, guns and money; all Hell has broken loose.” Still, this is a column about lawyers that is favorable, and kind.

This morning, a lawyer I’ve known all my life invited me to go to the beginning of the session of the Superior Court in Sylva, the seat of Jackson County. (For those unfamiliar with that town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, many of the late scenes in “My Fellow Americans” with Jack Lemon and James Garner, were filmed there, including the legendary “All-Dorothy Marching Band” and the bathroom toe-tapper, “Macarena” scene.)

Richard wanted to introduce me around to some of his friends and colleagues who’d be gathered at that Court House for the start of the session. While we were there, I visited with about a dozen lawyers, and an equal number of court personnel. And I experienced something I’d almost forgotten, something I very much miss by being a semi-retired lawyer.

Sylva is a small town. Most of the lawyers who handle cases in that court know each other well. They’ve been up against each other before, and know they will be up against each other many times in the future if they stay in practice in this small community, As a result, the lawyers in that courtroom this morning were unfailingly polite and soft-spoken with each other and with the judge.

Do I suggest in any way that they fight less for the side they represent in a case than in the “big city” courtrooms? Not in the least. I watched a lawyer this morning give a one-hour argument which he will almost certainly lose, trying to get summary judgment for the defendant “women’s shelter” where an angry husband got in, dragged his wife out, and shot her dead on the front lawn in front of shelter personnel, and where her son found her body minutes later.

I know exactly why the lawyer was fighting for summary judgment for the defense, If that case goes to the jury, they will vote to drive up a money truck and throw money out the back with a pitch folk, to pay the damages on the horrendous facts of that case.

But this is not about who will, or should, win any of the issues presented in court this morning, Instead, it is about the highly civil way that lawyers behave in a small town, with a small trial bar who are always encountering each other. And that basic decency grabbed hold of the visiting lawyers who were there, some from elsewhere in North Carolina, others from out of state.

The visiting lawyers were probably experienced in trial work like I remember from the courtrooms of Baltimore City, a quarter century ago. There I found many lawyers who would cheerfully cut the throats of opposing counsel if it would give them a slight advantage in the pending case. I’m being metaphorical here, by a slight margin. However, the Gordon Gekko line from “Wall Street” does come to mind, when he said of an opponent, “I want him bleeding from all orifices.”

Yes, there were some lawyers whose word was good in the Baltimore courts. There were a few lawyers who, even as opponents in a case, could be relied upon to keep a commitment, and do something they said they would do. But that was not the norm.

This morning in Sylva, that was not only the norm, it was universal. And it made me nostalgic, just a bit, for the profession I have largely set aside and will not return to. But it is not the lawyers, but their environment, that is different here.

In a small town, all people in all professions and lines of work tend to be more personal, more courteous, in their dealings with others. There are exceptions, of course. But in a small environment, the Golden Rule becomes a long term survival technique. You do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because you know that they will almost certainly get the opportunity to do unto you.

There could be no better proof that the Golden Rule actually works as a mode of conduct than that it works among a random selection of actual lawyers. It’s like training put bulls to be lap dogs. I saw it succeed, this very day.

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About the Author: John Armor practiced in the US Supreme Court for 33 years. John_Armor@aya.yale.edu He is running for the 11th Congressional District of North Carolina.

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This used to be one of several political commentary blogs I ran until I got tired of updating several blogs, and consolidated them on Thunder Pig, and moved the group blogs to a Ning network.

These photos are a reflection of where I am throughout the day, and a celebration of life west of the Balsam mountain range in western North Carolina.


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