The Edinburg Town Court Story

With a Phi Beta Kappa key, and admission to the New York Bar in 1956, John L. McMahon started a criminal defense practice in northern New York.* This is a story about one of his early cases. It is told by his daughter Jill, and I love it:

Edinburg Town Court Story

My father was a newly minted criminal defense lawyer in the 1950s. One of his early cases was defending a bar owner alleged to have assaulted her neighbor. The bar owner, D, was a longstanding member of the tiny community of Edinburg on the north shore of Sacandaga Reservoir. The complainant, S, a relative newcomer, ran a small general store next to the bar. Relations between the bar owner and the store owner were strained because the store owner alleged that the bar owner also sold alcohol for consumption away from the bar (i.e., in competition with S’s store). One summer night, the bar owner had a party on the beach across the shoreline road from the bar. There were many noisy partiers that evening, and S took a flashlight to investigate. He found D and another reveler together in a boat, in a compromising position. According to the complaint, when S shined his light on the two, D punched S in the nose.

On his way to night court, Dad stopped at a restaurant in Edinburg for a bite to eat. The owner explained to Dad that he had to eat fast because he was closing the restaurant early in order to attend THE TRIAL. The whole town was going. Dad told the guy, don’t worry, they wouldn’t start until he got there.
When he arrived at the courthouse, a small building about 30’-by-40’, it was standing room only inside. Scores of people were massed outside, closer ones with noses plastered to the windows providing play-by-play to the rest.

The site of the trial

The site of the trial

The prosecutor questioned S at length about his interactions with D. Whenever S’s answer cast D in a poor light, from deep within the gallery the stentorious voice of the Town Clerk would comment, “Bullshit.” Or, “My ass.”
When Dad’s turn came, he was able to get S to admit that during the short time they had lived there, he and his wife had filed complaints against D to the Sheriffs, the State Troopers, the Alcohol Control Board, NYS Taxation and Finance, and the IRS, ad nauseum.

I think you can guess which way the verdict went. Dad says that the victory party at the bar lasted a week, during which time he was held hostage and deprived of water.

 Thanks Jill!


*See The weasel and the pigeons: A Christmas story about lawyers in general practice, another story by Jill about her dad’s firm.

The weasel and the pigeons: A Christmas story about lawyers in general practice

I relate to lawyers in a general practice, particularly a rural general practice. They labor in obscurity and mostly for small pay. But, they do good work for real people. Along the way, they build up strong relationships with their partners and clients. Frequently, they also have real stories worth the retelling.

One of the readers of this blog recently wrote about her father’s firm.  Jill described the genesis of the firm this way:

Firm started with Grandpa Carl who was country lawyer. Liked his beer, cigars, betting horses, and cockfighting. My dad and his bro Ed joined in 1950s. McMahon&McMahon. First office on Broadway in Saratoga Springs [New York]. Moved to present location (location, location) on Lake across from SSPD in 1956, Cousins Pete and John Coseo [later] joined firm . . . . I worked off and on since . . . doing legal and medicolegal research, etc.

She then went on to describe the big news:

Excitement at the law office today! A mink/weasel was trapped in the office! We had been hearing weird noises overhead for 2 days- pigeons cooing, but other scampering noises. It’s an old row building and birds, especially, try to get in and nest. This AM, my co-worker who comes in early heard something when she came in. She ran upstairs to her desk and heard something running up the stairs after her. Then she saw it dashing around and said it looked like a weasel. She shut herself in her office and called Dad and Pete [cousin]. Pete came in from the back lot, left the door open, and rummaged around hoping to drive it outside. Afterwards, they found a ceiling panel knocked aside where it came in from the walls. Also, it chewed the heck out of the blinds in Pete’s office. In case you’re wondering, we were planning to call a “wildlife remover” . . . . [but] Pete had [a deposition] . . . with the thing running around in the walls.*He said it was pretty quiet . . . [so nothing was done to hunt the critter down].

As it turned out, the weasel was still in the office. I heard it on the cellar stairs near my work area. I was the last one out of the building that evening, so I left the mail slot slightly ajar, thinking it could squeeze out that way. We haven’t heard it since. Current thinking is it probably followed the pigeons in, hunted and ate them over 2 days, and left for better hunting grounds. I have seen mink crossing streets late at night. Another 2 or 3 blocks, and they are right downtown. My dad misses the pigeons, sort of. They used to coo when they heard him in his office.

"Pigeon on guard. Looking down from roof above Dad's office. About month or so, ago. RIP."

“Pigeon on guard. Looking down from roof above Dad’s office. About month or so, ago. RIP.”

Now, that’s a genuine story about a general practice.  It has all the ingredients: a family of lawyers, a small town, weird depositions, old buildings with second story offices, scampering weasels, a cellar, fleeing secretaries and pigeons that coo until they meet a violent demise. While there are computers in use, the figurative quill pen, and all that means, is alive.

Legal realism at its finest. Thanks to Jill P. McMahon for helping me remember what it meant to be a real lawyer all those many years ago. It is a very warm memory this cold and grey Christmas day.


*Observation by RGK: Not the first time a weasel attended a deposition.

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