Claim: Old lady responds to prosecutor’s query about knowing him with scathing analysis of his character.
[Collected via e-mail, July 2011]
When Grandma Goes To Court
Lawyers should never ask a Mississippi grandma a question if they aren’t prepared for the answer.
In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked
The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked,
She replied, “Why yes I do. I’ve known
The defense attorney nearly died.
The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice said:
“If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.”
[Collected via e-mail, February 2003]
In a trial, in a small SC town, a prosecuting attorney called his first witness to the stand. She was sworn in, asked if she would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, on the Bible, so help her God. The witness was a proper
The prosecuting attorney approached the woman and asked,
The lawyer was stunned and slowly backed away, fearing the looks on the judge’s and jurors’ faces, not to mention the court reporter who documented every word. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked,
The defense attorney almost fainted and was seen slipping downward in his chair, looking at the floor. Laughter, mixed with gasps, thundered throughout the court room and the audience was on the verge of chaos.
At this point, the judge brought the courtroom to silence, called both counselors to the bench, and in a very quiet voice said, “If either of you crooked bastards asks her if she knows me, you’ll be jailed for contempt.”
Origins: Variously, this tale concludes with the judge threatening to send the lawyers to the electric chair or have them jailed for contempt if they dare ask the witness if she knows him. The legendary outspoken “grandmotherly” sort of woman has in different versions been said to be from Mississippi, Texas, or South Carolina. One version from 2003 asserts “It happened in Pontiac, (a suburb of Charleston) South Carolina, in 2001.”
That claim we can certainly put to rest, in that the story of the old lady on the stand who delivers scathingly accurate character assessments of the lawyers present appeared in a self-published collection of jokes and anecdotes by British author Charlie Walker in 2000.
The story has subsequently been published in any number of joke and anecdote books.
As to whether there’s as much as a kernel of truth to the tale, it needs be kept in mind that any jurist worthy of sitting on the bench would swiftly intervene if a witness on the stand began subverting such podium into her own personal soapbox. Likely before the woman had finished saying “Why yes I do know you since you were a little boy, and frankly you’ve been a big disappointment to me,” the judge would have halted her either by admonishing her to restrict her answers to a simple “yes” or “no” or by telling the attorney who had placed her on the stand to control his witness.
The humor of the piece plays upon the notion that almost everyone has secrets about themselves they’d rather not see come to light. While we might not individually identify with shyster small town lawyers who cheat on their spouses and parade about as far better people then they actually are, the underlying truth that just about everyone’s past harbors something that person is at least a little bit ashamed of cannot be denied.
Barbara “truth and consequences” Mikkelson
Last updated: 5 October 2011
Hughes, Edmund. Chuckles. Victoria, Canada; Trafford Publishing, 2004. (p. 68). Rice, Wayne. Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks 4. El Cajon, CA; Youth Specialties Books, 2001. ISBN 0-310-23619-3 (p. 112). Walker, Charlie. My Little Bit of Nonsense. 2000. ISBN 0-9537432-1 (p. 176).