The Judge’s Daughter: What Gusto!
By Pamela Buchmeyer
Legendary U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes used the catchphrase “What gusto!” as a compliment for writers, orators, and poets. Justice Holmes was known for his legal acumen, wit, and pithy comments. All facts I learned from a slim volume written and published in a limited private run of 1,000 copies by a lawyer in 1970. Self-publishing existed and thrived long before the current advent of e-books and print-on-demand technology.
Only back then privately authored books were “passion projects,” clever volumes written by clever people about their hobbies, travels, experiences, and memories and hand-delivered or mailed to colleagues, family, and friends. What Gusto: Stories and Anecdotes about Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, by Harry C. Shriver, is made even more charming, in my opinion, by Shriver’s several hand-marked corrections. The author’s inscription to my father says, “to another personage of great gusto,” and it’s marked in ink “Copy #538.”
The What Gusto book is a real treasure, one of many I have found in the collection of dusty boxes and overstuffed storage better known as the Buchmeyer Vault. My late father, Judge Jerry Buchmeyer, collected multitudes of intriguing, odd books, along with anything and everything related to humor and lawyers. Dad also wrote a legal humor column for 28 years for the Texas Bar Journal.
Which brings me to today and this column packed full of gems from yesterday. I think these vignettes will make you smile and even return to the labor of the law, saying perhaps, “What gusto!” Thank you for your many heartwarming emails sent to me at Pambuchmeyer@gmail.com. Be well.
Did these things really happen during legal practice? Why yes, they did. From the Buchmeyer Vault, a collection of true stories. A sharp-eyed observer in Refugio sent in the following docket entry in criminal court:
Charge: Bail jumping and failure to appear.
Bond status: Personal recognizance.
Note: Hope springs eternal.
In Austin, an interrogatory question asked for the respondent’s name and address. Here’s the mind-numbing response:
“Objection to this interrogatory to the extent it apparently would apply to anyone other than myself as unduly burdensome and harassing, and in particular, to the extent it would apply to my attorney, the information about which would otherwise be subject to this interrogatory is irrelevant.” [Note: It’s going to be a long, long case.]
From a customs law attorney in Houston, a special clause in a hazardous waste management manual published by the Environmental Protection Agency:
“This manual is intended to be used solely as a guide and may not be used to create a right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or inequity by any person.” [Emphasis added.]
From Dallas, an attorney telephoned opposing counsel to conduct a conference as required prior to a motion to compel discovery. In response, he received this two-sentence missive.
Dear Mr. Smith: any communication with this office needs to be in writing. If you have any question, please feel free to call our office.
In a wrongful termination lawsuit where an attorney was being deposed, we see the true tedium of the law. “Mr. R” is the attorney representing the deponent-lawyer.
Q: Did you foresee any potential problems with making the employee’s resignation a condition of settlement?
Attorneys: [lengthy objections, retorts, argument, and debate.]
Mr. R: Witness, you may answer the question.
A: I’m not sure of the question because there’s been a lot of interlude….
Q: …we can have the court reporter read it back…in all the excitement, I forgot myself.
Mr. R: This isn’t very exciting.
Q: Strike that—move to strike that sidebar remark.
Mr. R [wisely]: Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe for lawyers, this really is exciting.
Mr. R states the depo would have concluded far more quickly and with the identical result if the attorneys had only stayed quiet. But of course, when it comes to lawyers, that’s asking far too much.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, this lighthearted exchange from a Fort Worth courtroom after counsel announced a settlement of the pending case.
Court: Counsel, forgive my interruption. These old ears have heard so much that they don’t work real good and you’re going to have to speak up loudly….
Counsel: Yes, your Honor…Occasionally I get accused of yelling at judges, and I don’t want to be accused of doing so.
Court: Well, now is your chance with complete immunity.
Counsel: With pleasure, sir.
Harry C. Shriver began his career as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, then became a government lawyer working for the Library of Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, and the War Shipping Administration among other agencies. He became enamored of Justice Holmes and self-published the first of his several books on the great jurist in 1936.
Justice Holmes was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Holmes was already 61, and deeply experienced as a judge, plus he’d recovered from bullet wounds received as a soldier in the Civil War. These experiences combined to create a judge known for his great character, enthusiasm for life, and imminently quotable witticisms. For example, in 1902, the Middlesex Bar Association hosted a goodbye dinner in Holmes’ honor.
Admirer: “Now justice will be done in Washington.”
Justice Holmes: “Don’t be too sure. I am going there to administer the law.”
Justice Holmes wrote most of his opinions at home while standing at a desk he’d inherited from his grandfather. One of his secretaries once asked him: “Why do you write your opinions standing up?”
Holmes: “It is very simple. If I sit down, I write a long opinion and I don’t come to the point as quickly as I could. If I stand up, I write as long as my knees hold out. When they don’t, I know it’s time to stop.”
On a final note, a message from Justice Holmes that holds special meaning today and perhaps explains the great judge’s fondness for people who live with “gusto”:
“This little artichoke of a life of ours. We pull off a leaf of 24 hours and after all the waste and dullness of eating and dressing and sleeping and working, there is at most a few hasty moments when we are there with both feet—at most no more than a taste.” TBJ
is an attorney and award-winning writer who lives in Dallas and Jupiter, Florida. Her work-in-progress is a humorous murder mystery, The Judge’s Daughter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.