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Chapter 94: Mea Culpa

Wilson & Wilson Law Offices
Marianna, Florida
April 30, 1905

Cephas waited until we were back at work the next morning before he brought up the Daniels case.

He brought Godfrey Long into the room, sat us both down, and he asked us both what happened.


I speak up immediately; I tell both Cephas and Long I want to face the music, get the issue completely out on the table, because it was, essentially, my fault. “Long had nothing to do with losing this case,” I tell Cephas. “I thought I could handle all of the details by myself, and I had something to prove. Obviously, my pride took me down. I’m taking the heat for the entire thing,” I say, turning to Long as I spoke.

I continued: “Godfrey volunteered to help me corral the witnesses for the case, go over the paperwork, everything, really, but I told him no, that I would do this myself. I wouldn’t let him. Had he helped me, I can’t say that we still would have won the case, but I wouldn’t have gotten overwhelmed and let you down.”

Cephas sat quietly for a moment. Then, he thanks Long, tells him he could go back to whatever it was he was doing.


When we were alone, Ceph said, “I never know what to say to you when you are completely honest and open that way. I was going to give you a lot of hell. Now I can’t even do that.”

“I really regret not following your directions, Ceph. I was wrong.”


“OK,” he said. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m filing again for Daniels, and we’re going after this again. I expect you to be involved in the case, but won’t be working alone. This time, I’ll present the case when we get a new trial. But you will be right there with me. You understand? You don’t get a pass on this. Everyone needs to see that you are man enough to face the disappointments and the losses, and try again. That is the only way you are going to raise your stock in this business.”

I nodded, embarrassed. “I understand,” I say.

“That’s not all. You need to build skills in dealing with reluctant clients, difficult witnesses, and so forth. Also, I notice that you let a lot of the bread and butter cases of our practice slide a bit while you were working on the Daniels case. You can’t ever do that, Emmett. You have to pay attention to the details in even the smaller, less significant cases in our practice. They are all important,” Cephas said, leaning forward as he spoke.


“But the main thing I want you to do is to learn how to manage a law office. I assume some responsibility with the Daniels case,” he said. “It was my fault to put the office in your hands when you weren’t quite ready to manage it — but we’ll chalk that up to a learning experience for both of us. So, you’ll work more closely with Godfrey for a while, learning the accounting, the case management, the scheduling of hearings, client management, bill collecting, and the like. I’ll be handling the larger cases again, for the time being.”

“So much for our partnership,” I say, a bit sullenly.

“We are partners,” Cephas says evenly, “and I hold the majority investment and shares at present. But your point is well taken. So, as my partner, I ask you, do you have any better suggestions as to resolve this?”


After a few moments, I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Your recommendations are fair.”

Cephas sighed. “Look, Emmett. Everyone makes mistakes in cases. God knows I’ve made my share. But you have to put in the time in this line of work, and be patient with the process. When I worked for Judge Butler in Chipley, it took awhile before he would trust me with a major case. I had to learn the basics, including how to run the law firm, first.”

There’s a knock on the office door — Walter enters. “Good morning Ceph, Emmett. Just wanted to stop by to report Mayes is on train back to Pensacola.”

“I’m glad,” I said, as Walter sat down in a leather chair next to me.

“I know he’s not the easiest person to get along with,” Walter said to me, “but Mayes is one of the most prescient politicians in Florida. The man has an uncanny ability to predict the outcome of issues as they play out in the legislature, and among constituencies. He makes it his business to know everything there is to know about people and their issues.”

I looked over at Cephas, who just shrugged.

“All right,” Walter said. “You don’t trust him. But Mayes is someone you need on your side, especially if you have any ideas of eventually sitting on the Florida Supreme Court like your Grandfather Maxwell one day. Mayes can help you get there.”

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by “Emmett;” our Emmett’s role model & hero. Source: FloridaMemory.com

Walter nodded over at Cephas. “Your brother knows that he can definitely help him get to the governor’s mansion one day — but Ceph might have to wait in line for awhile.

Cephas’ desk chair creaks as he sits forward, a serious look on his face.

“What?” He glowered at Walter. “Why that sonofabitch….”

Walter shakes his head. “Did you know that the voters in Escambia County think Mayes would make a good governor, or better, Florida’s representative in Washington?”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Oh, sure,” Walter said, settling comfortably in his seat. “But calm down, Cephas. The scuttlebutt among the lawyers in Tallahassee was that Mayes was asked to run for the new Third Congressional District seat, and he turned it down!”

“Why?” Cephas asked.

“Mayes said he had more interest in the paper and staying closer to the community, and he didn’t need the additional worries or headaches the office would bring. Mayes is more interested wielding power behind the scenes in the role of unofficial ‘kingmaker’ than being the king himself.”

Several times during his tenure as editor and publisher of the newspaper, Frank Mayes was encouraged to run for office. Note: Mayes wasn’t actually a colonel; that was an honorific given prominent men in the community at the time. From the September 13, 1911 issue of The Pensacola Journal, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

“Voters should be trusted to select their own leaders. There is no need for a proxy, especially one as oleaginous as Frank Mayes.”

Walter chuckles. “Unfortunately, Emmett, that’s not how it works in party politics.”

Cephas stands up and walks over to the bar in the corner of his office. “I know it’s early, but I need a drink.

“Mayes is a Yankee sonofabitch. He does not rule West Florida,” I said to Walter, disgusted.

While Cephas has his back to us, pouring a glass of Scotch, Walter leans over to me, and says, quietly:

“Not yet. But be careful with your sentiments about Mayes, because he will. Just wait and see.”

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History In Emmett's Words

jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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