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Column: A little humor eased tension in North Georgia courts
Johnny Vardeman

Spittoons or cuspidors once were common in North Georgia courtrooms, and those chewing tobacco with faulty aim would foul the floors around them.

W.B. Townsend, colorful editor of the Dahlonega Nugget, in 1925 lamented the condition of the Lumpkin County courtroom after a complaint from an Atlanta visitor who described it as “nasty.” The Atlantan was not used to seeing chaws of tobacco on the floor and spittle stains splattered 4 or 5 feet up the walls in his courthouse.

The editor noted that in cities chewers refrained from spitting on the floors, but doubted such a genteel practice would ever come about in the boondocks. So he proposed painting the walls of the Lumpkin County courtroom a tobacco-juice-colored amber 8 feet high. He also would have bailiffs passing around baskets at the end of long poles to collect tobacco deposits such as once was done in some churches for collections of offerings. 

One of Gainesville Mayor R.D. Mitchell’s jobs in the early 1900s was to conduct municipal court for those accused of lesser crimes in the city.

J.J. Maddox was accused of trying to persuade a minor female to join the circus with him. His main penalty was a “genteel cursing from her father,” according to the local newspaper. Otherwise, he had to pay a fine of $5 and costs.

In another case, Burrel Mangum was accused of “hiring a bike and trying to see how many women and children he could knock off the sidewalk.” That cost him $5.50.

Jerry Rylee of Gillsville, retired solicitor of Hall County State Court, has seen the inside of courtrooms all his career, though not for any violations of law himself.

He recalls some snippets of unusual and/or humorous happenings in the various courts he has been a part of:

A plaintiff representing himself brought a lawsuit claiming he had been terminated from his job unlawfully. The judge asked, “What are you expecting to recover?”

“I want my job back, my radioactive (retroactive) pay, and my french (fringe) benefits restored.”

Rylee knew a lawyer who always came to court without a pen and paper. Flustered, the judge ordered the entire courtroom not to lend the lawyer pen and paper.

A defendant representing himself for car theft became irritated on cross-examination. “Judge, I’ve answered that question five times already, and I’m taking the Fifth Commandment (Amendment); you know what that means?”

“Thou Shalt Not Steal,” the judge replied.

A female drunk driver refused a breath test, causing the officer to take her license. Later, she made a motion to the hearing officer for return of her license. The hearing officer asked, “Did you refuse to take the breath test?”

“No sir,” the woman replied. “He asked me if I wanted a breast test, and I didn’t want no breast test.”

Her license was returned.

An older flamboyant lawyer was telling the judge the outstanding qualities of his female client in litigation of her sentence. “She also is eight months pregnant with child, and if you don’t believe me, pull up her dress and look at her,” the lawyer pleaded with the judge.

The judge took his word for it.

Before being sentenced, a defendant told the judge he now had religion. The judge replied, “You should have got religion before you committed this crime.”

During an automobile accident trial, a witness testified he was sitting on his front porch around 8 p.m., saw the accident, and the black car definitely ran a red light, causing the accident.

On cross-examination, the defense attorney asked the witness how far he could see in the dark.

“I could see the moon; how far is that?” the witness answered.

A plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant in a divorce case accidentally ran into each other at the country club. The defendant told the attorney his lawyer only charged him $600 for representation and asked why did he charge his ex-wife $1,500 for the divorce.

The ex-wife’s attorney replied, “That’s all she had. Can I buy you a drink? After all, it’s your money.”

In another case, an attorney asked a witness if he told his client he was an S.O.B. “No, I don’t know how he found out,” the witness replied. 

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or His column publishes weekly.

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