Oral historian William Lynwood Montell has put together a collection of stories he gathered from lawyers and judges throughout Tennessee. Titled “Tales from Tennessee Lawyers,” the book reveals candid and unusual snapshots of the legal system – both past and present. The late Selma Cash Paty was among the attorneys who shared the wealth of their experience with Montell.
Montell searched small towns and cities across the Volunteer State for the older and middle age practitioners of the law. With a tape recorder and an ear for detail, Montell uncovered events and lives ranging from the commonplace to the extraordinary.
“Tales from Tennessee Lawyers” includes four stories provided by Paty, including one in which she recalls trying a case against Fielding Atchley, Jr. “I had a field day in front of the ... [male jurors]. I was young and attractive, and I played sex to the hilt,” she told Montell. “But then they put women up there. And they didn’t like seeing ... [me] practicing law. They felt like I should be home.”
But the women jurors were captivated with Fielding, whom Paty said had “a handsome profile.” To keep from losing ground during the trial, she started playing his game with the male jurors.
“I’d wear sweater suits, and Fielding would be working the women with his beautiful profile, and I’d be working the men, taking off my cardigan – off and on, off and on. At the end of the second day, he said, ‘I’ll quit playing games if you do.’”
Other memorable accounts recall a man who resorted to prostitution to alleviate the debt brought about by divorce proceedings, identical twins who were tried for a string of murders, a convict who tried to escape his trial by stealing the judge’s car, the prosecutor who tried the nation’s first school-shooting case, and more.
“Lawyers in Tennessee viewed me as a person who could be trusted, and provided me with oral accounts of numerous events that occurred in and out of the courtroom,” says Montell.
The stories included in each of the 17 categories outlined in the book reveal the social and economic situations of their time. “Lawyers and their clients frequently face traumatic situations, and attorneys are typically good storytellers,” says Montell.
Far more than just a collection of lawyer jokes, “Tales from Tennessee Lawyers” sheds light on the tense and often dangerous lives of those who work to see that all receive fair representation and treatment in court, Montell says.
Montell is emeritus professor of folk studies at Western Kentucky University.
Source: Some material from William Lynwood Montell