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

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

"Now that island is one of the most beautiful places in America. The government had one appraiser from Washington, D.C., and one from Brunswick, Ga., and what have you, and one testified that the value of the land was $250,000 and another one testified it was $400,000. Well, I had one witness, an old country appraiser from Vidalia, and he testified that the property was worth $5.5 million.

"And that's what the jury gave us--$5.5 million."

Bobby Lee's acclaim also took him overseas: Costa Rica. Norway. England. In Vietnam, he represented a military contractor. In Cuba, his client was a man accused of dealing in illegal currency. In Germany, he won an acquittal for a U.S. airman charged with strangling his wife. This he accomplished by hiring one of the foremost psychiatrists in Europe to trace the airman's brain waves. The psychiatrist found that the airman had suffered a brain injury and was, in fact, temporarily insane at the time of the killing.

In Nicaragua, Bobby Lee was hired by the Somoza government to report on its regard for human rights. Somoza needed to file the report with the U.S. State Department to get more aid. In retrospect, the exercise bothers Bobby Lee. He likens it to trying to teach a skunk about table manners. In his report, he said, there were "a lot of things that ought to be changed, but I said that they could be worse.

"And I told them that they needed to straighten up and give people a fair trial, quit torturing people.

"Apparently it didn't have a hell of a lot of impact."

Made an Impression

But back home, the trip seemed impressive.

When Bobby Lee returned, the conversation turned to representing governments, and a fellow lawyer asked him if he had ever represented any cities or counties.

"No, no. Hell, no," Bobby Lee said. "I stay away from representing municipalities and things like that. I'd rather be on the other side. But let me tell you what you need to do." He put his hand on the other lawyer's arm and spoke in a low voice. "Go and get yourself a couple of damn countries. Now, that's good money."

"How in hell," asked the lawyer, "does a guy from Jesup represent a damn country?"

"Well, hell, I don't know. I'm from Summerville."

In time, Bobby Lee seemed to grow larger than life. His suits were custom-tailored by Brooks Brothers, and he wore a different one each day. Light gray, three-piece pinstripes; pale blue shirt, with French cuffs and small, octagonal gold cuff links; maroon suspenders, dark blue bow tie. Deep brown, two-piece; tan-and-white striped shirt; straight brown tie. He wore gold-rimmed granny glasses. Whenever he rose in court and put them on, he paused to use both hands. First he placed them on the bridge of his nose. Then he tucked the right earpiece over his right ear. Finally he tucked the left earpiece over his left ear.

It created a moment of impressive silence.

His red hair had turned dark and almost totally sandy, and it was flecked with gray. He parted it in the middle, and it fell on both sides. It curved back behind his ears, and then it flowed down over his collar. He grew a goatee. It was snow white. People variously said it made him look like Colonel Sanders, Abraham Lincoln, Ho Chi Minh, a preacher, a leprechaun or a billy goat.

By now, Bobby Lee was making big money. He had moved out of the block building in Maude Bloodworth's front yard and into a cypress edifice that he had designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. It stood on Commerce Street like a silver watch on denim overalls. Oriental carpets covered stone floors. His desk was an 18th-Century serpentine antique with two serpentine end tables and a lamp with a genuine Tiffany base and a counterfeit Tiffany shade--elegant, so he had bought it anyway. Near the fireplace were portraits, including a striking picture of Judge Clovis Rivers.

Extensive Library

Down the hall was a semicircular library with floor-to-ceiling law books that cost $30,000 a year to keep current, a chandelier of clear electric globes hanging from a skylight and a large round table littered with law reviews.

In the hallway were signed lithographs by Salvador Dali.

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