Thursday, August 9, 2012

People and Law

  Some legal anecdotes from bygone days. . .

Sir Fletcher Norton (1716-1789, barrister and later politician, including stints as Solicitor-General and Speaker of the House of Commons) was noted for his want of courtesy. When pleading before Lord Mansfield, on some question of manorial right, he chanced unfortunately to say, "My Lord, I can illustrate the point in an instant in my own person: I myself have two little manors." The judge immediately interposed, with one of his blandest smiles, "We all know that, Sir Fletcher."

Mr Justice Maule (1788-185), an English lawyer, Member of parliament and judge), was about to pass sentence on a defendant found guilty of a serious offence when the man broke in with the plea “My God strike me dead, my lord, if I did it.”  The judge waited some considerable time, looking sternly at the defendant, until he broke his silence with the remark, “As Providence has not seen fit to interpose in your case, it now becomes my duty to pronounce upon you the lighter sentence of the law.”

At the end of a trial held on the South Wales Circuit the defence counsel asked Lord Bramwell (1808-1892, English judge), who was presiding, whether he could address the jury in Welsh.  The evidence showed that a verdict of ‘guilty’ was as good as given and his lordship agreed to the request, albeit with some reluctance.  The barrister spoke briefly and the jury were out for a matter of minutes before they returned a remarkable verdict of ‘not guilty’.  Lord Bramwell was dumfounded and, after the court had been cleared, he asked the recorder for a translation of the counsel’s remarks.  It read, “This case, gentlemen, lies in a nutshell.  You see exactly how it stands.  The judge is an Englishman, the prosecuting counsel is an Englishman.  But you are Welsh, and I am Welsh, and the prisoner is Welsh.  Need I say more?”

During his time as a practising lawyer, Lincoln was approached by a man who wanted him to act on his behalf in a claim to retrieve $600.  Lincoln examined the case and found that, although likely to succeed, it would result in the ruin of a widow and her six children.  He hen wrote to the would=be client: 

“Yes, we can doubtless gain your case for you; we can set a whole neighborhood at loggerheads; we can distress a widowed mother and her six fatherless children and thereby get you six hundred dollars to which you seem to have a legal claim, but which rightfully belongs, it appears to me, as much to the woman and her children as it does to you. You must remember that some things legally right are not morally right. We shall not take your case, but will give you a little advice for which we charge you nothing. You seem to be a sprightly, energetic man; we would advise you to try your hand at making six hundred dollars some other way.”

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