Hizzoner

My first job after Law School was serving as a law clerk to the Honorable Jackson V. Gregory, Judge of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina.  That Circuit encompasses Beaufort, Colleton, Jasper, Hampton, and Allendale Counties.  It’s pure Lowcountry.  Circuit Court judges travel throughout South Carolina hearing civil and criminal matters.  We traveled all over the state.

Judge Gregory offered me a clerkship in July of 1997, a full month before our third year of Law School.  I was that most obnoxious of 3L’s, one with a job waiting prior to graduation.

I clerked with Judge Gregory from August 10, 1998, to August 6, 1999.

In that year, I got married, bought a house, and learned a lot from the Judge.

He died on April 24, 2019, much too soon

Below are the words I read at his memorial service on April 29, 2019

It was a beautiful day by the river in Beaufort

Absolutely beautiful

He’d have loved it

Thank you, Your Honor, for taking a chance on me twenty years ago.

img_8970
The Hon. Jackson V. Gregory, Portrait by Susan Graber, Beaufort County Courthouse

 

For Jack Gregory:

Don’t do crack with Jack

We were in trial in Allendale, South Carolina

A town which had seen its better days

The main industry in Allendale back then was drugs; it still may be.

On trial that week was a defendant charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute a large of amount of cocaine in crack form

Court was held at the old Allendale Municipal Court since someone had burned down the Allendale County Courthouse as retribution for another judge’s heavy sentencing

Judge Gregory, the Court Reporter, Annette Mole, and I decided that we would all go to lunch together at the Village Inn, which was a great old Southern buffet in Allendale

Judge Gregory loved their vegetables

The Clerk of Court, not having access to a safe, asked that we take the main evidence with us, which was a plastic bag, marked State’s Exhibit 1, containing several crack rocks the size of Ritz crackers with us since she, the Clerk, had no way to make sure the crack stayed in the courtroom.  It being Allendale, it probably would not have.  At night, the police would take it back to the safe in the Clerk’s temporary office in a trailer in Allendale.  You can’t make this up.

So, Judge Gregory looked at me and said, “Hamlin, grab that crack and let’s go to lunch.”

Annette Mole, whom we love, said, “Oh, Judge, I don’t think Hamlin can do that…isn’t possession of it a crime?”

Judge Gregory replied, “Well, guess we’ll all go to jail then,” and we laughed and went to lunch.

Judge Gregory, not wanting to be conspicuous, was the only Judge in the state who did not have a vanity tag identifying himself as a Circuit Court Judge.

Well, as luck would have it, he got pulled on the way to lunch after blowing through a stop sign.

The days of Allendale being a speed trap weren’t over yet back in 1998.

So, the cop walks up to the window, and, there, before God and everyone on the dash board is a bag of crack cocaine for all the world to see in the State’s Exhibit 1 bag

“Sir, is that what I think it is?” asked the officer

“State’s Exhibit 1, is what it is,” replied the judge

“Do you work for the Solicitor’s office?” asked the cop

“No, I’m the sitting judge, this is my law clerk, and this is our court reporter, you can call the Clerk’s office to verify.”

“I believe you,” said the cop, “No one but a Judge would be so stupid as to have a bag of crack rock sitting on his dashboard in Allendale”

We then went to lunch with a police escort.  He told us to lock the crack in the glove compartment while we ate and the policeman stood guard.

Whitney was right, “Crack is whack”

 

I’ll Sleep on It

Judge Gregory heard a lot of motions, as do most judges.  As he would always say, “To my mind,” he was really big on “to my mind”,  but “To my mind, I don’t have to be right, I just have to rule.”

During a super long motions hearing where both sides where arguing really fine points of law in a case about insurance coverages related to a multi-car carwreck where some of the folks where uninsured, underinsured, and some in jail, and some in the country illegally, one of the lawyers, who happened to be a female attorney, was totally winning the arguments.  She knew her stuff. She had it down. The lawyers on the other side, all of whom were generally Plaintiffs lawyer types who didn’t do a lot of coverage work, were really blowing it.

Judge Gregory said he needed a break

We went back into the hallway of the Beaufort County Courthouse and he told me that he was going to most likely rule in favor of the lady.  But, he said, he would take it under advisement so as to not embarrass the other lawyers, most of whom had brought their clients along with him

We went back into the Courtroom, and there were a few more minutes of arguments

The lady lawyer was the last to speak

Judge Gregory looked at her and said, “Thank you Miz So and So. I’ll take that under advisement and sleep with you tonight”

At first there was silence in the courtroom

Then, I started laughing

Then, the lady started laughing

Then, Judge Gregory turned beet red and said, “I’ll sleep on it…I’ll sleep on it….”

 

Lewd and Unpronounceable

During my clerkship, Judge Gregory and I were assigned to six months in the Capital City.  Judge Henry McKellar let us his office.

Most of the terms of Court we had in Columbia were criminal terms.

The worst case we had involved criminal sexual violence against a minor.  The defendant was the child’s father.  There was conflicting testimony about who could be believed.  The child’s mother and father had gone through a horrible divorce and conflicting experts took the stand to discuss the minor’s authenticity. One said she was telling the truth.  The other said she wasn’t.  One doctor took the stand to say there had been abuse.  One doctor took the stand to say that there wasn’t.

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard

Judge Gregory had me type up all of the jury charges and get them approved by the Solicitor’s office and by the Defendant’s counsel, who was represented by I.S. Leevy Johnson, who was, and is, and old friend of the Judge’s and my father’s.

Part of the charges had the term “lewd and lascivious” in several places.

Every time the judge read that term, he would botch the pronunciation “lewd and lash a viscious” or “loud and laskenvious” or “lute and luscious”

It was horrible

I think he had a mental block as the case was just that bad

After his last “Lou and lashless”, one of the Juror’s stood up in the jury box and said, “It’s lewd and lascivious, Your Honor”

Judge Gregory, turning red, said, “Why yes it is, Ma’am, yes it is, but that’s for you to determine, not me, because I can’t even pronounce it”

 

During my clerkship, I was engaged, there was a wedding coming up, there was a house to buy

Judge Gregory would give me extra time off and allow me to take off some afternoons when we weren’t busy.

I’ll always be grateful

I’m a fairly collegial lawyer, because, as the Judge would say, “You don’t want other lawyers to hate you. You’re going to have to work with them a long time.”

At our wedding reception, the judge came up to me and said that he’d never seen a cooler groom, a more collected groom

In my 20 years of practice, I’ve never seen a cooler judge

I’ve never seen a more collected judge

I only saw him get mad once, at a pro se plaintiff who threatened bodily harm to opposing counsel and his opponent

I would see him in the grocery store in Beaufort, at parties from time to time, and it was like NO time had passed.

We would discuss my family, his girls and their families, his undying love of the Democrat party, with generally no comment from me

We always left hoping that we would see each other soon

So, see you soon Your Honor

And, as you said at the end of each term, Court is adjourned, sine die.

 

 

P.S.  Erin Dean, a damned fine trial lawyer herself, and one of Judge Gregory’s former clerks also spoke in remembrance of the Judge.  Here is what she shared. Good advice all around.

[On April 29, 2019],  I had the privilege of speaking at Judge Jackson V. Gregory’s memorial service. I was Judge Gregory’s second law clerk (‘92-‘94) and he taught me more than just the law. As requested, here are the”Top Ten Things I Learned from Judge Gregory”. Good advice for lawyers and humans!

1. Be humble
2. Be respectful of others, no matter their tone
3. Never pass up an opportunity for a Meat & 3
4. You learn more by listening than you ever do by talking
5. The Clerk’s office staff and Courtroom Bailiffs are your best friends
6. It’s ok to change your mind
7. It’s also ok to admit you’re wrong (still working on that one)
8. Lawyers are public servants, no matter who you work for or where you work, your job is to serve the public
9. Be kind, always…and if you can’t be kind, be quiet
10. The best words uttered in a Courtroom are sine die, signifying the Court term is over and you can head to play golf or go to the beach!

Judge Gregory was one of a kind and his absence in our community will be deeply felt. Rest In Peace my mentor and friend!

Erin Dean, April 29, 2019, repeated here with her permission.

 

img_9009
Hamlin O’Kelley and Erin Dean, April 29, 2019. Judge Gregory would have been so disappointed to know that there was only water in those cups…..

 

2 thoughts on “Hizzoner

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.