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Famous and Plain Folks : Country Boy Loves Law, a Good Fight

July 30, 1986|RICHARD E. MEYER | Times Staff Writer

Of Tilton Lamar Chester, dashing former airline pilot accused of leading a multimillion-dollar drug-smuggling ring. Of Ruth Chancey, 67-year-old mother of the alleged leader of the Dixie Mafia, charged along with her son in a murder case. Of Jack Agnew, charged in what came to be known as the Bank of Sark case, one of the more famous swindles of the 1970s. Of Abdillahi Haji Hussein Omar, a director of the Central Bank of Abu Dhabi, accused of stealing $2 million and fleeing to America. Of Mike Thevis, said to be the head of a $100-million pornography empire and one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Men.

Although he lost the Thevis case, Bobby Lee did well often. Only once did he lose a defendant to the chair.

He charged significant fees.

In addition to a blue-and-silver Rolls-Royce, he bought two Mercedes-Benzes, a light tan 380SE and a dark brown 450SLC, and he hired drivers so he could spend his considerable travel time reading case law and writing briefs.

One of his chauffeurs was a fellow known as Boss. He wore overalls and plaid flannel shirts; and he looked like he had just gotten off a bulldozer. He became quietly famous during a case involving a little lady from Big Sand Mountain. The little lady had killed her husband.

'Terrible Husband'

By Bobby Lee's retelling, here is what happened:

"He had been a terrible husband all of their married life and had periodically beat her very brutally. They lived together for some 20 years, and he came home this particular night, and they didn't have an argument, you know; he'd been beating her and whipping up on her for 20 years, but this was a peaceable night, and he lay down on the bed over in the corner, and she took a damned double-barrel shotgun and put two rolls of buckshot in it, backed off about 15 feet and let him have it two times; and then he moved a little bit, and she ejected those two shells and put two more in and shot him again; and then she called the funeral home, you know, because she wanted to give him a Christian burial.

" 'I want to tell you now, Mr. Bobby Lee,' she said, 'I really didn't mean to kill him. I just wanted to make an example out of him--to scare him.'

" 'And I said, 'Well, now, let me tell you something. We're not going to tell the jury that story, because that's not the truth, and it won't work. That would be like me telling a jury over in Dade County that Teddy Kennedy swam the Chappaquiddick. You just tell the jury what a son of a bitch that husband of yours has been for the last 20 years.'

"Now, the courthouse was on a square, and I got back from lunch, and I saw my car driving around the square two or three times. But I didn't think anything about it.

"The jury went out and came back and forgave the lady.

"And then I found out, much to my chagrin, and what could have been much to my embarrassment, that a juror had heard I had a Rolls-Royce and knew that Boss was the driver, and he'd walked up and said, 'I'd sure like to ride in that thing.'

"And Boss had said, 'Hell, come on.'

Big-Name Clients

Bobby Lee's acclaim attracted some big names.

When Tongsun Park, was indicted in Koreagate, the congressional bribery scandal, and he wanted to negotiate with then-Atty. Gen. Griffin Bell, he phoned Bobby Lee from Seoul. When F. Lee Bailey got tangled up with Glenn Turner, the cosmetics salesman who dared to be great, Bailey summoned Bobby Lee. When Bert Lance, President Carter's budget director, got into trouble because of his banking practices, Bobby Lee testified in Washington on his behalf. When the federal government took the Rockefeller and Carnegie families to court to force them to sell their land on Cumberland Island, off the south Georgia coast, the Rockefellers and the Carnegies came for Bobby Lee.

To Bobby Lee, the Rockefeller case was instructive about plain folks.

"On the jury, as I recall, the highest-income person was a truck driver who made about $23,000 or $24,000 a year. And in my opening statement, I took about 15 minutes and I told the jury that I represented the Rockefellers. 'Let me tell you at the outset, they've got more money than you or I could possibly conceive,' I said. 'I was talking with Mr. Rockefeller last night, and he was concerned about the fact that he didn't believe that he could get justice down in south Georgia because, No. 1, he is from New York and Maine, and he figured that made him an outsider, and, No. 2, the jury would obviously know he was a person of considerable wealth. And I assured him that he was entirely wrong.

'Fair, Honest and Decent'

" 'Georgia people are fair, honest and decent,' I said. 'You'll get just as much justice or more justice here than you would in New York or Maine.'

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