Hello, friends! We’re back this week and I’m tackling question #5. Do you think Judge Atlee was a good judge? In the instances where he allowed legally questionable evidence to be presented, did he make the right choices? Disclaimer: Let me start this by saying that I know very little about what is and isn’t “legally questionable evidence” so I’m just going with my gut and what John Grisham tells me is questionable in the book. So feel free to argue away in the comments below if I’m really far off base. That’s what book clubs are for! Pour yourself a glass of wine and fix a plate of cheeses if it gets you in the mood to discuss! (These items are a big part of the book club I’m a part of. Part book club, part women with wine.)
Was Judge Atlee a good judge? I’m torn on this. There aren’t many characters in Sycamore Row where I’m like “Aw yeah! A stand up guy!”, but Judge Atlee comes close. When we’re introduced to Atlee at the beginning of chapter 12, he’s described as being neither “Democrat nor a Republican, liberal nor conservative, Baptist nor Catholic; he pulled for neither State nor Ole Miss.” [sidebar: this bothers me. Pick one, Atlee. Or at least let us know if your heart lies outside of the state. Please God, don’t let it be LSU.] “He had no favorites, no leanings, no preconceived notions about anything or any person. He was a judge, as open, tolerant, and fair-minded as he could possibly be, given his upbringing and genetic composition” (103). This description sounds like the perfect judge, but it also sounds like a description for a robot. I’ve never met a person who doesn’t have favorites or leanings or preconceived notions. While it’s a great description, it’s not true of Atlee either. He totally has a favorite and that favorite is Jake.
It’s pretty obvious from the start how Atlee wants this case to turn out. He wants Jake to win again. Jake visits him at his house. Jake has one on ones with him in his office that the other million lawyers in this book aren’t having. Do I think Judge Atlee liking Jake is bad? No. He’s a human. He can respect and like people that he has some authority over, but Jake going to his house bothered me. That just feels like a blurring of personal and professional and I’m not cool with it. I like to think of things in news headlines so I imagine it could go something like this: “SHOCKING: Judge Had Secret Meetings at His Home with Winning Attorney in Hotly Debated Hubbard Will Case!!!” All I’m saying is if I were that snake Lanier and I overheard Jake being all “Oh yeah, had an iced tea on Reuben’s porch last night,” I’d be kind of mad. The evidence he allowed is another reason I can’t call him a good judge.
So the “legally questionable” evidence: I feel like Atlee allowed a lot of stuff to fly to try and show that he wasn’t favoring Jake. He let Lanier sandbag Jake with his illegally gained discovery of Lettie’s previous employer’s will, not to mention Julina Kidd, the woman he dug up who used to work for Seth. Here’s the thing, I think the will and Julina were both relevant to the case. I can see why Atlee thought so too, but I value courtesy and rules and Lanier was a crook, y’all. If I were Atlee I wouldn’t have allowed it on the grounds that the guy was a super rude jerk. Atlee allowed it and I really think it’s because he wanted to appear impartial. If Atlee hadn’t allowed it there would definitely have been talk of him playing favorites and wanting the hometown boy to win. The other thing I wasn’t fan of was allowing the video of Ancil. Yes, it tied the book up in a neat little bow and explained everything, but I don’t think it’s totally on the up and up. Ancil wasn’t dead; he was just a fugitive from the law. As much as I hate Lanier, he should have been given the opportunity to cross-examine him. I think the verdict would have been the same, but this goes back on my love for courtesy and rules. It just seems unfair that Lanier basically had to sit on his hands and let the video roll knowing there was no opportunity for him to question anything Ancil said. While most of my brain was like, “Yes! That stinky lil’ rat is getting what he deserves!” a tiny part of it was like, “but it isn’t fair!”
So, was Atlee a good judge? I’m still not sure. I might have liked him more if I knew he spent his fall Saturdays tailgating in The Grove, but no one is perfect.