November 30, 2012 § 6 Comments
George Warner was chancellor in the 12th District from 1982 through 1994. Every lawyer who ever practiced in his court can tell you dozens of hilarious stories about things that happened during trials and some of his zany opinions. When you got zinged by one of his unexpected rulings, your colleagues would shake their heads and say you were the latest to be “Warnerized.” One example is the case where he denied the parties a divorce and found that they had come to an “exact tie” on the Albright factors, leaving the parties in status quo ante but poorer for their attorney’s fees. Another example is the divorce case where he ordered the sheriff to take possession of the parties’ 26 chickens, and to pluck, gut, clean and freeze them, and then to give each party 13. I never heard whether the sheriff did all that himself or got someone else to do it. Judge Warner also ordered a bailiff in a child-support contempt case to go to a man’s farm and shoot his registered quarter horse to free up the money that the man claimed he was spending on feed. The man relented and the judge granted a reprieve.
Here is one of his gems from a 1990 opinion:
“The problem with going to Court and not telling the truth is many-fold. You run the risk of being charged with perjury which seldom happens, quite frankly. But what is more important, you run the risk of hurting a case rather than helping a case, because there are very few judges that I have ever met who were neither male nor female. They are one or the other, and all of them at one time or another have seen, heard, or been involved in most of life’s problems. Yet, people come to court and assume that judges are stupid, believe anything, or what-have-you. We really don’t. And when we, quite obviously, do not, then we wonder what to do with the facts in a case.
“The defendant runs a one-room motel. I think everybody in town has slept at her house, except her attorney and the manager of the store that fired her for stealing. She didn’t testify that her attorney had spent the night there. I believe everybody else that wandered through this courtroom stayed at her house. Certainly all the male people did. It is a one-bedroom house. It must get crowded over there. It sounded like a dog pound. It is certainly not a place fit and proper to place a child.”
Here is one for the legal scholars from 1987:
“The Statute of Frauds has probably received almost as much attention as perpetuities. Both arose many, many years ago in the days of merry old England. The interpretations of the statute of frauds and the rule against perpetuities vary with who is doing the interpreting. It is almost as bad as Lou Costello’s baseball dialogue of Who is on first and What is on second. This Court admits that I fall into the category of “I don’t know” on third. If I were asked to make a speech tomorrow specifically on the Statute of Frauds, I would suddenly become sick and go fishing.”
And one more from 1991:
“Young man, you come up here. You stand right there. The last person that got up and charged out of my courtroom and slammed the door, I fined him $100 and put him in jail for three days. Now, if you don’t have any more respect for the court than that, I am going to give you something different to do. I find you in willful contempt of this Court. I am going to let you wash every one of the Sheriff’s cars every Saturday for the next four Saturdays. The first day you don’t show up, I will personally carry you to Youth Court and do all I can to encourage the Youth Court Judge to send you to the state reform school. You have no respect for authority whatsoever when you get up and charge out of my courtroom. Do you understand what I am saying? (Answered in the affirmative.) Saturday morning at exactly 8:00 you will report to the Sheriff’s Office. If it is pouring down rain, wear your raincoat. I want them washed in the rain.”
In a notorious case, he slumbered through testimony after lunch only to awaken with a start and exclaim, “Overruled!” The lawyers pointed out that no one had objected, to which the judge replied, “Well, you should have.” [The judge’s version is that he sustained the objection, but the two attorneys present say he overruled it; one of them says that he then asked the judge, “If we should have objected, why did you overrule it?”]
Judge Warner is also known as the judge who entered an order finding himself in contempt for not showing up for a trial, fined himself $100, and went to the clerk’s office and paid it.
The judge still wanders through the courthouse from time to time. One day he came by my office wearing a t-shirt that read “I DO WHATEVER THE VOICES INSIDE MY HEAD TELL ME TO DO.” He dropped by Monday and gave me and several others a copy of his latest book, Through the Eyes of a Judge, which features excerpts from his many opinions. The quotes above are taken from that book.