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Chapter 90: The Screw-Up

April 28, 1905
Marianna, Florida
Wilson & Wilson
11:40 am

The windows of the second floor law offices of Wilson & Wilson, were open; even though it could get a bit stuffy in April; there was a fresh breeze blowing gently into the outer office/reception room. 

At the large oak desk in the outer office, the clerk was quietly, steadily, tap-tap-tapping a letter on the Underwood typewriter; he was a proficient, expert typist. He kept his eyes steadily on the small notebook open on his right, as he converted the shorthand scribbles back into readable text. 

A breeze stirred the neatly stacked correspondence on the desk on his right; he paused slightly and, without looking up, placed a small glass paperweight atop the pages that he had finished typing earlier. 

The clerk, Godfrey B. Long, was a tall, blue eyed, blond young man who wore a constant, serious expression.  Long had worked for almost three years for Cephas Wilson, the senior partner of the Wilson & Wilson law firm. In fact, Long was a carry-over; earlier the practice had been Kehoe & Wilson. Long, knew the Wilson brothers quite well. He previously boarded with the Walter Kehoe family in Marianna when he wasn’t back home with his own family in Greenwood, so he had been privy to both professional and personal information. Long was circumspect and trustworthy

Godfrey B. Long was a boarder with the J. Walter Kehoe family according to the 1900 U.S. Census for Marianna, Florida. Long was listed as a law clerk; Kehoe as an attorney. Source: U.S. Census via Ancestry.com

The office was quiet this morning: At present, Cephas and Walter were in Tallahassee. Emmett had been asked to remain in Marianna, to take care of the office, and to prepare documents for the next set of client cases that would come up after this current court session ended.

Long glanced momentarily back towards the closed door of the inner office. An hour earlier, Emmett had entered, nodded a brief good morning to Long, and quietly closed the door. There was a distinctive clink-clink sound in the inner office; Long frowned to himself, took out his pocket watch. 11:42 a.m

Background information on the Liddon hearings attended by Cephas and Walter in 1905. Image source: Law Notes vol. 9. Publisher: E. Thompson, 1906. Originally published in May, 1905. News of the Profession, p. 37, via Google Docs

Cephas and Walter Kehoe would be back from Tallahassee, hopefully by tomorrow. Cephas and Walter had attended the Liddon hearings: Kehoe was the lead prosecutor; Cephas had been accused of taking a bribe from Liddon. The charges against Cephas had all proven false, of course.

It would be good to have Cephas back in the office on a regular basis; things under Emmett’s leadership hadn’t gone as efficiently or smoothly as Long had thought. It was a lot of pressure on the junior member of Wilson & Wilson over the past two weeks, and it was showing. Emmett had missed a few deadlines and overlooked filing papers on two cases for Cephas while he was in Tallahassee; something that Long had to cover for Emmett. 

Long liked Emmett; he tried to help him as much as he could, but Emmett didn’t seem to want his help, despite Cephas’ directive to utilize the clerk’s excellent office management and administrative skills. Emmett hadn’t, and the end result was that Long wound up staying late to catch up on cases and related administrative work for several days.  

Emmett was taking quite a chance having a drink this early in the morning, Long thought, but it was understandable, given the most recent turn of events at Wilson & Wilson

Before Cephas left for Tallahassee, Emmett asked to take the lead in a big case, because he felt it was time to move beyond “boring garnishment and attachment cases,” to prove to Cephas and everyone else that he could handle any case that came in. 

Long remembered the discussion between the brothers — even though the office door was closed — because for the first time, the normally quiet and reserved Emmett had raised his voice to Cephas. Emmett lobbied hard — he made an emphatic argument that he deserved to be treated with the same professionalism as locals saw Cephas; he had a college degree, and many attorneys didn’t. He’d worked with Cephas on the pre-trial conferences, helped with the depositions of the witnesses, drafted the interrogatories. He knew what to do — that — plus, he was the valedictorian and had certainly proven to the faculty at the university that he was the superior lawyer in his graduating class. “I work hard for the firm. I’ve worked hard to get to this point too, in my career, and that should count for something,” Emmett said.

Reluctantly, Cephas had agreed — the timing of the Harrison Daniel murder trial in Marianna was a problem for him, because Cephas would be in Tallahassee during Daniel’s court date. Emmett argued, correctly, that Cephas has enough going on with his most recent problems with Judge Liddon — Ceph was accused of taking bribes from Liddon, who is currently in disbarment hearings in Tallahassee — and as his partner, he should be expected to take over the case as needed. 

Outline of some of the Wilson & Wilson cases from the 1905 Spring term of Criminal Court.
Source: Sue Tindel.

Cephas had no other choice; he turned the office over to Emmett, and left for Tallahassee immediately. Cephas told Long to contact him by telegraph if there was an emergency or if there was any other important development that he would need to know about. Long agreed; Emmett told Cephas not to worry, that all would turn out splendidly.

Emmett energetically threw himself into the preparation of the trial; in fact, it was Emmett’s primary focus up until the day of the hearing. Cephas had told Emmett to have Long help him, to make sure all of the witnesses were contacted and accounted for for the day of the hearing. Cephas had said. “It will be to your benefit to have an extra set of hands in finalizing the case before the hearing begins,” Cephas told Emmett.

But Emmett was bound and determined to do it all on his own, to show Cephas that he was as qualified, that he was worthy of the trust and respect of the legal community in Marianna. The case was complicated and there were several dozen witnesses, many not difficult to find, but either ambivalent or openly defiant towards Emmett and the idea of participating in case itself. 

Every time Long volunteered to help him with the witnesses, or any other aspect of the case, Emmett politely declined; saying everything was all under control, and what he really needed help with from Long was in managing the day-to-day business in the office, in addition to the smaller, less critical legal business. 

“What about the witnesses? I can follow up with them, make sure they know where and when to report on the day of the trial.”

“No,” Emmett said. “I’ve contacted them myself. I wanted them to know who they were dealing with, and what was expected.”

Emmett would then shut himself up in the inner office, scratching away at drafts of what would be his opening statements to the court, going over the list of names of who would be in the jury pool, and preparing for pre-trial activities. Long knew Emmett was putting his heart and soul into the preparation to prove himself to his brother and to the public at large that he was at least as good a lawyer as Cephas. Long had a bad feeling about the case, that Emmett might be over his head and afraid to ask for help — but he kept turning down Long’s offers. 

He shrugged to himself. Maybe Emmett thinks he has it under control.

On the day of the trial, Emmett went right over to the Jackson County Courthouse, as the Daniels murder trial was first on the docket. It was expected that the trial would take at least several hours. 

So, Long was surprised to glance up to see Emmett enter the office later that morning.  Emmett didn’t say anything to either the stenographer or Long; instead, he went right into the inner office, closed the door.

Long had paused in his typing to glance over his shorthand notes; he heard a drawer open and a soft clink in the next room. Long tensed his lips, involuntarily glanced at the clock on the wall: 10:45 am. Emmett was having a drink already.

Long was temperance; but he was not one of those people who got in another person’s face and tried to convert them to his way of thinking. He just disapproved of drinking altogether, as he had seen what it did to members of his own family. Emmett did not seem to drink that often and for him to consume a drink in the morning — twice in the past week — indicated to Long that Emmett was stressed.

Long finished typing up the correspondence, then walked over to the inner office door; he knocked briefly.

Come in,” Emmett said.

Emmett was seated on his side of the partner’s desk; whatever bottle and glass Emmett had used was put away and he had, apparently, been staring out the window onto the town square, across which was the courthouse. He seemed to be just pausing, waiting. He couldn’t see Emmett’s expression.

Everything all right, Emmett? 

Yes,” he said, turning to Long, glancing at him, without expression. “Just taking a break. I had to locate a document for another case this afternoon.

Can I help you find it?” 

No. It’s right here,” Emmett said, nodding to a folder on the top of his desk. 

What happened with Daniels?

Emmett paused a moment, licked his lips. Looked back out the window. “Nothing,” he said.

Long gaped involuntarily, paused a moment. “So quickly? What happened?”

Emmett didn’t say anything for a few minutes, but then: “I screwed it up.

What was screwed up?” Long asked, carefully.

I screwed it up,” Emmett repeated, flatly. “I don’t want to talk about it.

Long began to retreat back to the outer office. “All right,” he said. “Let me know if I can be of assistance.”  

Emmett nodded at Long, then turned back to gaze out the window at the courthouse across the street.

“If you don’t mind, Emmett, I’m going to step out for a bite of lunch,” Long said. Emmett said nothing, just kept staring out the window. “Ok, then,” Long said, closing the office door quietly behind him.

On his way to eat lunch at his boarding house, Long stopped off at the telegraph office to send a wire to Cephas in Tallahassee. The boss trusted him; he’d said he’d wanted to know about any emergencies or important developments; the fact that Emmett was acting strangely fell into that category.  

Categories: Addiction Book Family Florida History

jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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