Blind district attorney and smoke rings

[page 67, line 16]

JUDGE VANCE: Let me ask Judge Banner to come up here. And while he’s on his way up here, Ken Blassingame was present. Herb Green was representing the defendant in Judge King’s court. He had him up in front of the judge and had him sworn and asked him if he waived his right to a trial by jury. (Waving) Judge King, as he always said, “Call the jury, call the jury.” And either Ken or myself said, “Wait a minute, Judge. Let’s put him on the witness stand. I think this will be all right.” Put him on there, and Herb started again. He went (waving). Come on up.

JUDGE BANNER: Good evening. When I was — got a call the other day and asked would I come give the Masons a speech, and I was all prepared to come talk to a bunch of brick layers, but it looks to me like you folks are probably mainly lawyers. I guess I’m the only one here without much of a Dallas connection. I’m a Hunt County boy over in Greenville. That’s where I did most of my thing until about five years ago. I found that you folks treated visiting judges pretty nice.

I’ll tell you a couple things. Incidentally, my 45-minute talk as been severely — I’ve X’d out a lot of the things, and I know you’ll appreciate that. But let me tell you my Clarence Darrow routine is that I certainly did admire Clarence Darrow’s career and I read his stuff and tried to do some of the stuff he did. And there was the little thing one time. We had Cameron McKinney, who was a blind District Attorney who served over in Hunt County when I started lawyering. He would put on witnesses and tell all — have them say all kinds of bad things about my clients. And what I did is what Mr. Darrow had done earlier. We could smoke in courtrooms in those days. And I had my cigar, and right before the trial started I took a paper clip, bent it straight and pushed it down the length of the cigar. The worst witness from the defense side was about to take the stand. When he was called, I pulled out my cigar and looked at it admiringly, slowly lit it. I could do great smoke rings in those days. And as the D.A., who was blind, kept asking the witness questions about what a terrible guy I represented, is I kept blowing the smoke rings. Well, you and I know — although smoking is not so much in vogue anymore, but you and I know that everybody will begin to watch the length of the ashes as it grows longer on the cigar or cigarette.

Well, Mr. McKinney — Cameron kept asking the questions, and I had my cigar and I’d puff on it, blow smoke rings, and the ash got longer and longer. He said, “Your witness, Counselor.” I laid my cigar down on the ash tray there on the counsel table. He was blind, and the jury is too far away to see… And it worked because the jury paid more attention to the length of my ash. But somehow or another they still convicted my client.

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