Some Court Cases ‘Crazy’

It seemed that Vernon Brown always seemed to get ‘‘crazy cases.’’
Now, after 53 years of law practice, Brown and semi-retired, he still wonders if fellow attorneys got unusual cases they didn’t want to handle and referred people to that ‘‘crazy attorney’’ in another practice.
That was fine with Brown, a 1939 Broken Arrow High School graduate, because he welcomed the challenge and often got paid — even though he might have had to wait for his fee.
Admitted to the bar in 1953 after completing studies at the University of Tulsa College of Law, Brown left what was considered a good position.
He had been manager of the Indian Hills Country Club, a job that allowed him to complete his education.
The World War II veteran was in the Army Air Force, serving as a top turret gunner based in Italy.
‘‘We flew high altitude missions, 24,000 feet, across the Adriatic Sea over Vienna and into Germany,’’ he recalled. His aircraft was never hit by enemy fire.
Brown started studying journalism at TU after the war.
But his direction was changed when, one night, a man charged with murder, told Brown his story.
Brown said he believed the man.
But since he was not an attorney at the time, was unable to help.
The next day a chaplain told the young, would-be journalist that he should be a lawyer because of his ability to listen to people.
That suggestion changed Brown’s career choice and even today, wonders if he could have made it as a newspaperman.
It was several years later that Brown read where the man’s wife confessed to the crime, clearing the one originally charged with the offense.
While in law school, he worked for Court Clerk Sam Fry, working in the court of common pleas. The courthouse was located at 515 S. Boulder Ave., now the site of Bank of America.
After graduation, he was hired by Attorney Huey Baker. The salary was $100 per month plus half of what he took in as his part of the practice.
It was a general practice firm that included a variety of suits including negligence and car wrecks.
It was at this time that he encountered one of the many humorous situations in the legal practice.
Brown recalled that a young man lost his car in an accident and the insurance company wanted to pay the book value set at $600.
But the client wanted $800 because he had done some customizing work on the vehicle.
‘‘I told the young man that I really couldn’t help him because part of the settlement would go to lawyer fees,’’ he said.
Brown also knew that insurance companies at that time generally feared the name of Huey Baker and the threat of facing that attorney generally would result in a quick settlement.
‘‘I told the young man to go back to the adjustor and tell him to pay the $800 or he would take the case to Huey Baker,’’ Brown said. The client did as instructed and as expected, the adjuster balked at the higher amount.
‘‘The client responded by saying he was turning the case over to Huey Long — the Louisiana governor,’’ Brown said. There was no report on the final settlement.
Brown also found himself involved in handling a juvenile case that involved runaways from the east coast.
They got to Tulsa when authorities managed to pick up the girl, but the young man escaped.
The girl was taken to the Lakeside Juvenile Center where she was held pending disposition of her case.
The young man, determined to free his girl friend, got a suit, briefcase and presented himself to the supervisor at the center.
He told the supervisor that he was her attorney and demanded she be released.
The woman, suspicions aroused, told the young man that he didn’t look old enough to be an attorney and would not ‘‘release his client.’’
The would-be lawyer quickly responded that he would file a writ of ‘‘Corpus Christi’’ to get the release, Brown said.
These were humorous times, fun times and serious times in the practice of law, he said.
Then there was a time when he found himself helping a fellow attorney Lois Hensley.
Hensley was practicing law in Tulsa in the early 1950s.
She helped two couples get divorced, then ignored the six-month prohibition against their remarriage.
Hensley was a member of a cult and was listed as the Royal Princess Zadi and authorized to perform marriages, Brown recalled. Immediately after the divorces were granted, she took the couples back to her office where they swapped mates and she officiated at the service.
Because Hensley knowingly violated the law by performing the marriages, others filed charges against the attorney-princess.
‘‘I handled the case pro bono,’’ Brown said, ‘‘but I told Hensley she had to do research in the principles involved in the weddings.
Hensley did find that one of the men had not been divorced from an earlier marriage — because he apparently was unable to pay the attorney fee — so there was no marriage as a result.
The case was thrown out of court by Amos Hall, the first black judge in Oklahoma.
There were other instances when the eccentric Hensley kept fellow lawyers either laughing or upset.
She had a dog named George, Brown said. George would carry her briefcase in his mouth into the courtroom.
One day, the dog came up missing and Hensley filed a request with the Sheriff Dave Faulkner to help find the animal.
Faulkner went to the county attorney asking for some assistance so he didn’t have to do the search.
After some research, the county attorney found a state statute saying that if taxes hadn’t been paid on animals they, in effect didn’t exist.
At that time, state law required that property taxes be paid on animals, especially livestock.
The law was enacted to keep farmers from claiming livestock had been rustled when there was no real proof the animals existed, Brown explained.
George, the dog, showed up after a few days.
It was shortly after that there was a picture in the Tulsa Tribune of George holding a document to show that taxes had been paid.
Should he disappear after that, the sheriff would be obligated to search for him.
There also were serious cases.
He also found himself paralleling King Solomon in the Old Testament in a child custody case.
A girl had been given to her aunt and uncle to raise. The mother was an alcoholic and the father could not raise the child.
After a time, the aunt and uncle wanted custody of the child and went to Brown to help get parental rights terminated.
The reality was the couple probably would lose the case if it were brought before a jury, Brown said.
Attorney Harry Rouse, who would go on to the Workers Comp Court, said it would ‘‘take the wisdom of Solomon’’ in this case, Brown said.
Taking his cue, Brown made his presentation stating that if the real mother of the baby really loved the child she would stand up.
Brown won the case.
Practicing law has changed dramatically since 1953, especially when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed lawyer advertising, he said. Now attorneys can bill for answering the telephone, reading a letter and other things that older lawyers never considered doing.
‘‘I had some criminal cases, but none were notorious,’’ Brown said.
The attorney also said he probably tried about 30 jury cases during his career, losing three or four.
‘‘I also did a lot of pro bono work and I helped thousands of people,’’ he continued. ‘‘That was the real high point of my career.’’



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