they've seen the best and worst of humanity, lawyers are among our best storytellers.
When Joe Tonahill of Jasper
passed away a few years ago, East
only lost a great attorney, but a skilled yarn-spinner. Many of his stories were
in the courtrooms where he achieved his fame.
Years ago Tonahill was
trying a railroad crossing case in which a train struck a car. The principal witness
was an elderly man with a wooden leg. Tonahill asked him:"Well, did you see the
wreck when the train ran over the car and killed my client's son?"
witness replied: "Yeah, I came out of the house when it happened."
continued: "Well, tell us about it."
The man said: "Well, I got an old
blue tick hound and he lays on the front porch and listens for the train. It can
be a mile away and he feels the vibrations, and he knows its coming. If the train
blows a whistle and it rings a bell, my dog will answer it. On that day, it didn't
and my old dog sure was disappointed."
With that, the defense attorney
jumped to his feet and objected: "Judge, we're having to listen to hearsay from
was trying another railroad crossing case and was questioning the train's elderly
He asked him: "Do you think the reason my client didn't see
the engine was that the railroad had failed to cut the brush on the right-of-way
and it blinded you?"
The engineer thought a minute and replied: "Either
that or these damned cataracts I got."
Tonahill also told the story about
a laywer named Spivey who had won a case and the jurors had been dismissed. As
the jurors filed out of the courtroom, one remained in his seat. The judge reminded
him the case had been settled.
The juror replied: "I can't leave, judge.
I'm Mr. Spivey's juror."
another case, Tonahill was defending the accused in a Newton County murder case.
The man had killed another by slicing him in the jugular vein. Before the trial,
the man was being prepared by Tonahill.
"Now, Ernest," he began, "we're
getting ready to go to trial and I want to ask you again. When you were in this
fight, you accidentally cut this guy with your knife. Is that right?"
Ernest replied, OOh, no, lawyer, that was no accident. I've killed too many hogs.
When I heard that big thing (the jugular viein) go errrcccch, I knew I had him."
Tonhill replied, "Now, Ernest, if you tell it that way, you'll ride ol' sparky."
Ernest thought a minute and replied: "Lawyer, let me tell you about that
before Tonahill rose to promience, J.J. Collins of Lufkin
was one of the best courtroom attorneys in Texas.
He, too, was a remarkable storyteller.
In a Lufkin
courthouse, Collins was prosecuting a murder case in which a man named Hosea
was killed. In a dramatic case, the defendant's lawyer walked to the courtroom
window, looked toward the heavens, and called out in a somber voice: "Oh, Hosea."
The courtroom became very quiet and the lawyer said, "No answer." He repeated
the scene twice and the atmosphere became increasingly dramatic. At that point,
Collins addressed his fellow lawyer: "Counselor, you'll have to holler a little
louder. Hosea can't hear you down there."