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

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

Bobby Lee and his wife, June, had a large home on Riverside Drive, out among the dogwoods and Georgia pine, with a front entrance crafted of native stone; a mantle-piece from Italy that took eight men to hoist into place; and antique furnishings that included a gold-encrusted concert harp and a bronze statue of Mephistopheles, both from a gothic mountaintop mansion called Corpsewood Manor, whose devil-worshiping owners had been murdered. He and his family, including grandchildren, had the run of The Walk, his lodge on Lookout Mountain, the southernmost of the Appalachians, including a guest house, complete with hot tub and antiques, as well as a fishing cabin along a quiet river where the mist fell in droplets from the rhododendron and the mountain laurel. He called it The Walk because that was where cock fighters put their prize game cocks to rest and mend after battle and to regain strength and strut and get ready to fight again.

Kept the Common Touch

But despite all this, Bobby Lee kept the common touch. No matter where he went, he returned always to the hills that nurtured him. He'd gotten to like a fancy meal; but whenever he wanted barbecue he went down Commerce Street to Armstrong's. His pipes were Dunhills; but when he was offered fancy tobacco, he smoked a little and put the rest of it loose into his suit pocket. He never put it into his pouch, lest it contaminate the Sir Walter Raleigh. He savored the country idiom. A mighty good man was "a high type feller" and a plain fool was "a pumpkin head." A comeuppance was something "that'd break you from suckin' eggs." If an opponent fell into a trap, "the feller took the hook and went under the bank with it." When it was impossible to shake a cold, one "wore it out." An invitation to dinner went like this: "Let's have a drink, and we'll cook a chicken."

Most of all, Bobby Lee took care of his people. He made his law library available to all lawyers in northwest Georgia for the asking. And he devoted every Saturday to helping folks with their legal problems--free.

They came from all over the mountains, from Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, everywhere in Georgia, but mostly from around Summerville, and they took seats in his waiting room. The first person to arrive put his name at the top of a yellow legal pad; the second put his name right below, and so on. And Bobby Lee saw them first-come, first-served. Social Security snarls. Workman's compensation claims. The start on a defense against an assault charge. A will.

It was all part of helping people get a fair shake. And that was what made Bobby Lee Cook tick. That was the heart of the matter--to him, fair treatment is crucial, whether it is a matter of the deposit on a Coke bottle, the life of a Jewish pencil maker or the trial of a child rapist.

'I'm No Different'

"I'm no different. I do not want to be robbed or to have my children or grandchildren raped or robbed. But yet, at the same time, if this republic is going to last, and if we are a nation of laws, and if the Bill of Rights is meaningful, then we have got to view this problem within the Bill of Rights. You can't have it both ways. Protecting the rights of some but not of others leads to far greater abuses. And these days there is a wave of judicial precedent that I find to be very frightening. Every time the Supreme Court considers a Bill of Rights case, you can figure somebody is fixing to be hurt."

Not that everyone understands.

"Sometimes I'll get up in the morning, and I'll go down to a little restaurant downtown, the little M & M Cafe, and have some breakfast. There are many people there, a lot of them that I've known a lifetime. It is 6 a.m., or maybe 6:30, and maybe I'm involved in a major case.

" 'Goddamn! one of them'll say. 'That fellow's charged with killing four people. How do you deal with a situation like that? Hell, everybody knows he did it.'

"And so I'll go through this litany of constitutional arguments about the Sixth Amendment and about the effective assistance of counsel and the presumption of innocence and all of the other things.

" 'Well,' he will say, 'we don't understand this. We like you. We grew up with you, and we think you're a great feller. But, hell, we don't understand that.'

"The next time, I tried something else.

"One of 'em said, 'Well, we see you're trying old Rick Meyer. How in the hell can you do that?'

Bobby Lee's Reply

"I said, 'Well, I'm going to tell you. The last time you asked me that question, I told you about the Sixth Amendment, the constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel and due process and the presumption of innocence and the fact that the burden of proof never shifts to the defendant and all of that stuff.' And then I said, 'Now I'm going to tell you really what moves me in this case and the reason that I am able to represent him.'

" 'Well, what is it?'

"I said, 'Rick Meyer gave me $150,000."

" 'Goddamn! That's great! Go get 'em, Bobby Lee. Kick 'em in the ass. We hope you win it."

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