Charles Tessmer and courtroom etiquette

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The other thing — I’ll tell a story on Charlie Tessmer. When I first came to the D.A.’s office, I was hired by Colonel Westmoreland up in the appellate section, and I’m not one of these individuals that has a real long patience. I’ve got the — you know, the attention span of about five — five, six seconds. So it wasn’t a real good fit for me in the appellate section. I lasted about six months, and I could not write another brief. I went in and talked to Mr. Wade and said, “Look, I know you need some space up there; you’re looking for some office space. Give them my office. You know, either fire me or transfer me. I can’t do another brief.”

So they transferred me down to Judge Ellis’s court. It was right after the beginning of the year. It was in January. And Judge Ellis had had a Charlie Tessmer case that was a year and a half old, which back then was really old. It was — I remember the guy’s name was Joe Vic, and he was charged with aggravated assault, male on a female. And Joe Vic was a big, old body builder who had broken his girlfriend’s sister’s leg. Just broke it bigger than Dallas. I mean, it was no question it was — that he did it, no question he intended to do it.

And, you know, the woman, the complainant was one of these complainants the D.A.’s office gets that just, you know, had to have her day in court. She wasn’t very likable, she deserved it, but by God the State could not dismiss the case. So it was one of those cases that hung around and hung around. And what had happened was all of the prosecutors kept passing it because they didn’t want to lose to Charlie Tessmer. And it just kept getting passed and passed and passed.

I’m the new guy on the block. I show up down there. And the chief prosecutor says, “You’re going to — you know, ┬áthis is a case right here, you can try this case.” “Well, what is it?” “Well, it’s, you know, aggravated assault, male on female, and Charlie Tessmer is the lawyer.” I said, “Charlie Tessmer?” I knew him. I mean, when I was in law school I wasn’t that good of a student, but I knew of Charlie Tessmer. He was — he was a God. Even to guys that were crummy law students like me back three years earlier. I said, “THE Charlie Tessmer?” “Yeah.” “I get to try a case against THE — I’ll take it. I’ll do it.”

So I took the case. I actually took it home the week before like a Friday, worked on it on the weekend. And on Monday, sure enough, Charlie Tessmer came in to try the case. And back then Charlie had just had a little operation and he had to be in one of those little donuts, you know, the donut thing. And Hoyt Pinkleton was working for him and he had Ron Goranson was with him, and Noel Portnoy. And he walks in with all these young lawyers, and Hoyt is carrying this pillow with this inner tube on it for Charlie to sit down on like, you know, the throne for the king. And he comes in, and of course — you know, being a conscientious young lawyer, you know, you read up on what you’re supposed to do and what you’re not supposed to do in a courtroom. And this is when I learned a valuable less from Charlie Tessmer.

He comes in, and Charlie Tessmer is wearing a green plaid sport coat. I said, “Holy mackerel.” You know, green plaid sport coat. Big old bright tie. He’s got an off-color shirt. He’s got big old gold cuff links, he’s got that gold bracelet he’s got there now. Rolex watch, dripping with jewelry. I said, “Man, criminal defense lawyers are not supposed to do that. This is — I can’t believe this.”

And he gets in there. We start the voir dire. I do my voir dire, and then Charlie gets up and — I don’t know. Ya’ll remember that old advertisement by E.F. Hutton? “When E.F. Hutton speaks, everybody listens.” Remember that? That was popular way back then. Charlie gets up, and he starts to talk. And it’s kind of like a low rumble. You can’t really hear what he’s saying because he doesn’t talk very loud, but it’s a real deep voice. So you see everybody just kind of leans over, and he took over the courtroom and they’re all listening to him. So he captured the courtroom immediately. So I learned there. That’s the first thing I learned.

So then I — we try the case. I worked so hard on this case I had a character witness to testify what a bad guy his client was. The jury goes out. Now second day of trial I knew I was kind of in trouble when one of the jurors came in wearing his Aggie Blazer, and I believe Joe Vic had been to A&M. It didn’t look real good for the State side. But the jury went out and — you know, I kept them out five minutes before they came back and acquitted him.

And the lesson I learned from Charlie, and I learned a lot of lessons with Judge Ellis trying so many cases I did down there, trying them against great lawyers. And Randy used to teach me this regularly also. The really great lawyers, which I am not one, but the really great ones can break every rule and they still prevail. And that was a lesson I learned from Charlie Tessmer was he can break every rule that we mortals try to follow to get jurors to like us, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re a great lawyer.

Those are my two stories. I’ve got a lot more, but I’ll pass it on, Judge.



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