The Case Of The Fallen Sparrow

By: Jerry Barksdale

Hobey (not real name) didn’t look like a country clubber nor a deacon in the Baptist Church, because he wasn’t. Far from it. He liked whiskey – good or bad – loved to listen to Hank Williams, and was well respected at the local pool hall. To borrow from Roger Miller’s song, Hobey was a man of means by no means. He appeared at my office unannounced with a “case” as he called it. I sized him up from across my desk. Of average size and in his late 50s, his faded complexion reminded me of a pair of overalls that had been washed too many times. He looked me straight in the eye. I liked that.

“I’ll just tell ya right off the bat,” he said, “I’m a drinking man with the longest drinking rap sheet in Limestone County.” I liked his honesty, too.

I always sized up a potential client like a juror would. Did I like him? Was he believable? Did I want to help him? Over many years of trying cases, I had learned one immutable law: Jurors won’t lift a finger to help a litigant unless they know something about him and like him. I listened in silence as Hobey told his story.

It was a hot summer morning in Athens when Hobey departed his small rental house in North Athens and walked downtown to the pool hall. He had lost his driver’s license years earlier. After shooting a few games of pool, he purchased a bottle of “bootleg” whiskey and walked back home. Athens was “dry” at the time, and I knew jurors wouldn’t approve of his drinking. His modest house was located next door to an in-law. She didn’t approve of Hobey and didn’t approve of drinking. He raised the window in his bedroom to catch a breeze, placed a stack of Hank Williams records on the turn table, and killed the bottle of whiskey. He lay down on the bed and let the alcohol work its magic while he listened to Hank whine about cheating hearts and lost highways. Hank’s lyrics wafted out the raised window as Hobey dozed off. Not only did his in-law dislike drinking, she didn’t like Hank either. She called the sheriff’s office. “Hobey’s drunk again and playing loud music.”

Shortly, a county brown skidded up. Two deputies emerged and, without a warrant and without knocking, they entered Hobey’s castle where they found him peacefully asleep on his bed. They grabbed Hobey and began pulling him from the bed. Hobey, being suddenly and violently awakened from his alcohol fog and not knowing who was attacking him, began flailing at his attackers. Then one of the deputies beat the crap out of him. He was cuffed and thrown in the back seat of the squad car and hauled off to jail. “I’m hurting bad,” he said. They ignored him. After all, he was just another drunk. He was placed in a cell. “I’m hurting,” he said. Finally, he was transported to E.R. with fractured ribs.

“Why do you think a jury will help you?” I asked him.

He leaned close to my desk. “Them damn Japanese didn’t treat me that bad,” he said, referring to his WWII service. And that was the crux of his case. A man’s house is his castle and the king’s men have no right to enter without a warrant. Our ancestors fought a revolution to secure that right. A citizen can get drunk and listen to Hank all day long in his own house if he chooses. “Hobey, you just found yourself a lawyer,” I said.

I filed suit in Federal Court against Limestone County, the sheriff, and the two deputies. After the defense lawyer had milked all the money he could out of the insurance company, they offered to settle.

I didn’t think a jury would approve of Hobey’s lifestyle, but neither would they approve of the king’s men barging into a citizen’s castle without a warrant and dragging him from bed. Not in America! Justice is blind. She knows no distinction between a fallen sparrow and a soaring eagle, a deacon or a pool player. She knows only justice.

The case was settled. I received a nice fee, and Hobey got enough money to keep him in good whiskey and Hank records for a long time. Later, I was sitting at my desk with my back to the bay window that looks out to South Marion Street. I heard “beep – beep.” I turned around and there was Hobey astride a brand new shiny, red bicycle. It was loaded – basket in front, horn and tassel handle bar. Hobey was smiling like a kid. After telling him it was against the law to ride on the sidewalk, he pedaled off. That’s the last time I saw him until several years later when I was Athens City Prosecutor. I didn’t recognize him. He was charged with public drunkenness. “I’ll plead guilty,” he said, “but I don’t want to attend ‘drunk school.’”

“It’s mandatory,” I said. “The city makes a fat fee, and the defendant must attend classes.”

We approached the bench. “Your honor, Hobey admits he was drunk, but says he ‘don’t want to attend drunk school’ and pay a fee.”

“Why is that?” asked the judge.

“Your honor, I’m a drunk. Always have been and will be till the day I die. Attending drunk school and paying a fee won’t change that.”

“He’s telling the truth Judge,” I said. “I know Hobey.”

Hobey didn’t attend drunk school and I never saw him again. I heard that he died several years ago. No streets are names after Hobey, and he was never voted Man of the Year; but he had an honesty about him that not all of us are blessed with.

By: Jerry R. Barksdale