immersion in the warm and mineral-laden waters of Falls County had a positive
effect on the health of the famous judge is not known, but the magistrate’s renown
for putting “equity before the law,” as one writer put it, seems to have come
to the judicial notice of Marlin’s mayor,
F. S. Heffner.
In addition to presiding over Marlin’s
governing body, the mayor also sat as the city’s municipal court judge. Like Finn
but with a much smaller caseload, the mayor heard and ruled on a variety of misdemeanor
cases, from stray animal issues to arrests for public intoxication.
day in 1910 an out-of-towner stood before Mayor Heffner charged with drunkenness.
He entered a plea of guilty and then asked the court’s permission to testify in
his own behalf. Fortunately for posterity, a writer later reconstructed the man’s
argument before the court:
“I came here to take the baths for a case of
rheumatism,” the accused miscreant began. “I have a wife and child at home and
belong to the respectable class. I am not a drinker, but I sometimes take a little
whisky as medicine.”
The mayor nodded in evident understanding, urging
the man to proceed.
“I went fishing yesterday,” the defendant continued,
“and in seining for minnows I got chilled. I am recovering from my rheumatism
and was afraid this would put me back again.”
Again, the mayor accepted
the testimony in seeming agreement.
“So I took some whisky to warm me,”
the accused explained. “I took too much, I know it now. I can pay your fine and
will do so cheerfully if I have to, but I have not much money, and it will necessitate
my leaving here sooner than I intended.”
As the witness to this hearing
later noted, the mayor was a “softhearted man” whose sympathy had been aroused
on several counts by the defendant’s brief testimony.
For one, the visitor’s
delinquency had occurred while fishing. The mayor also happened to be, as the
writer put it, “a disciple of Isaak Walton…who knew the lure of the balmy breezes
that would whisper of fishing weather.”
Indeed, the writer effused, the
mayor’s pulses “would throb to the music of swirling waters and singing lines.
His soul would steep itself in the glory of Nature’s setting of leafy arcades
and mossy carpets, of cloud-flecked sky and rippling river.”
mayor understood the value of whiskey as an essential component of any first aid
kit, its commonly accepted usefulness ranging from its painkilling properties
to its value in the treatment of snake bite. As with any medicine, overdose always
stood as a possibility.
Finally, the defendant had noted that having to
pay a fine would foreshorten his stay in Marlin, an eventuality that would reduce
the earnings of not a few of the mayor’s constituents and thus adversely impact
the local economy.
Having duly considered all matters of fact as well
as of law, Mayor Heffner made the following entry in his docket:
dismissed, account sickness and extenuating circumstances.”
As for the
New York jurist whose Solomon-like wisdom had inspired Marlin’s mayor, “Battery
Dan” died later that year, his funeral attended by thousands. Today Finn Square,
a flower-covered public space in lower Manhattan, honors the judge’s name.
- "Texas Tales" May
5, 2011 column