Judge Sarah Hughes and carpet

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I’d kind of like to defer some of this so that — let’s think of some more here I can do.



FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can you tell the carpet story, Sarah Hughes and the carpet story?

MAGISTRATE TOLLE: Oh, that’s a good story. I forgot about that one. I’ll tell you — is Mr. Kelsoe here? G.H. Kelsoe not here? I’m going to tell you a story — I’m going to use his name because this is published in the record.

MR. MASON: It was in the Fifth Circuit, wasn’t it?

MAGISTRATE TOLLE: It’s a Fifth Circuit, about 1969 or ’70. Judge Hughes — this is in the old courthouse where the post office building is before they built the new one — had tried fo ryears to get a carpet in her courtroom. And she finally got one, a beautiful blue — prettiest thing you ever saw, a beautiful blue carpet, and she loved it. It was a beautiful carpet. She was very proud of it.

Mr. Kelso was up there trying a criminal case. He had a client who was a very skillful numismatic forger. He could forge coins. What he used to do — I got all this from Bill Sanderson, my colleague who was the prosecutor at the time, and so it may or may not be accurate. It’s a Sanderson story, but it is reported.

This guy was so good, he could heat a coin at the proper temperature and lift the mint mark off of it and put it on another coin and make a rare coin out of one that was nor rare because of where the mint mark was. This is back in the days when the coins were silver, so it was a little easier to do, I guess. Well, he’s being prosecuted for this, and the government’s theory was he had used a propane torch to do this and there was — this was their argument. And the client told Mr. Kelsoe, he said, “No,” he said, “you can’t melt a quarter with a propane torch; it doesn’t get hot enough.” So Mr. Kelsoe decided he would demonstrate this to the jury.

It’s his turn to put on his evidence. He gets his client. The client’s got a pair of pliers, and Kelsoe has got this torch. And they’re standing there in front of the jury box. Of course, the quarter melted and this molten silver fell on the carpet, set fire to the carpet. And the bailiff jumps up, and he rushes over with a pitcher of ice water and makes a big mess putting it out.

And the Court of Appeals in the opinion which is published — I don’t know the cite, but call Bill Sanderson, he’ll give you the cite. He remembers this case very well. Published in the margin of the case in the colloquy between Judge Hughes and Mr. Kelsoe, which goes something like this — I’m not going to be verbatim but something like this. The judge says, “Are you pleased with your experiment, Mr. Kelsoe?” Mr. Kelsoe says, “Not entirely, Your Honor.” And she says, “I can smell the carpet burning. Can you smell it?” And anyone who knew her would understand the humor of that because she had a very — when she got really mad she’s get really quiet and speak in a very low voice. You can just imagine what it was like.

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