A VIEW from LICK SKILLET: The Roane County Bar as it was, Part Two

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Gentle reader, as promised last week, we continue with our recollections of the membership of the Bar as it was when I was admitted to it in March of 1959.

My intention from the time I first resolved to pursue the law was to open an office and establish a general practice in Harriman as soon as I could, however it was not until some six months after I was admitted that I was able actually to open my first office on the second floor of Mrs. Edington’s building at 416 Roane Street, up the street from the bank, and down the street from the post office.

At that time Judge Stone and Judge Cassell, both of whom I mentioned last week, were still living, but died not long afterwards. Judge Stone’s office was in the Bank building, and Judge Cassell’s was in the old City Hall, now known as the Temperance Building, which at that time housed offices, including the Red Cross, and shortly thereafter a collection agency.

Most of Judge Cassell’s efforts by this time were devoted to pursuing his claims to a substantial acreage of land in the Lone Mountain area of Morgan County.

The offices of the other active Bar members in Harriman at that time were all housed in this same 400 block of Roane Street: Ladd & Qualls and Jess Pearman were on the second floor of the Bank (First National Bank in Harriman); McDavid & Lockett were on the second floor of the Roberts Building; and Willard Kittrell was around the corner on the second floor of the meat market building facing the Post Office and across the alley from the Methodist Church.

Ladd and Qualls was a partnership of Leonard Ladd and J. Frank Qualls. Leonard was the son of Frank Ladd who, with his brother Chris Ladd, had interests in timbering, and excavation. (It is my understanding that they did the initial excavation for the streets of Harriman, and built the highway from Clarkrange to Jamestown.)

Chris was grandfather of Howard H. Baker. Frank and Chris’s business was based in Oliver Springs and so Leonard’s early years were spent there, although he later attended Roane County High School, and as an adult moved to Harriman, where he lived the rest of his life. During the War (WWII) he maintained a part-time practice in Anderson County in Clinton and commuted there by bus, as was not uncommon in those days of rationed gasoline, tires, etc.

(In full disclosure, Leonard and my father were first cousins, so that he and I were first cousins once removed.)

Meanwhile Frank Qualls, who was a native of the Oakdale community in Morgan County served in the military, and shortly after receiving his licence to practice law came to Harriman, and not long thereafter joined forces with Leonard Ladd and they practiced law together until Leonard’s death at his desk some time later.

These two made an ideal partnership. Frank was a born advocate whereas Leonard was a born scholar. Frank could pick a jury and he could persuade a jury, while Leonard could feed him the law and argue legal points with the judge.

As a result of their great compatibility their firm had a successful and lucrative practice over a wide swath of East Tennessee, both in trial and appellate practice.

Only once am I aware of the slightest problem in their relationship. Frank being the talking part of the partnership, developed a great following and being only human began to believe the praise heaped on him and seemed to think that Leonard wasn’t pulling his weight.

Leonard saw a potential problem developing, when suddenly he came down with an ailment that required his absence from the practice for some time.

Strangely enough, during his absence, the formerly smoothly functioning office became less smoothly functioning, and Frank quietly concluded that Leonard was pulling all the weight he needed to pull, and all was well from then on.

Frank and Leonard were strong leaders in the Republican Party, where once again their innate natures came to the fore: Leonard moved more behind the scenes and Frank was out front on the podium making speeches and running for office.

If memory does not fail me, his first race was for County Attorney against Fred Fennell whom he defeated.

The pinnacle of his election success was his primary race for Congress for the Second District, in which Roane County was situated at the time, which race most people would say he had won, except for the Scott County practice of voting tombstones.

As a good loyal party man, Frank did not contest the election, and John Duncan (father of the current Congressman John J. Duncan) served until his death.

But some of us were convinced that this race and the frustration of being cheated out of his just reward without being able to fight it out, lead to his later problems, only made worse by his long-time partner, Leonard’s, untimely death.
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On that same floor of the Bank building was the office of Jess Pearman.

I am not sure where Jess was born, but I think it was Knoxville. He also came to Harriman after the War and soon established an independent general practice, but he soon became the principal defence lawyer in the county for the State Farm Insurance Company, and since that company carried so much of the automobile insurance in this area, there was an almost constant stream of lawsuits arising out of car wrecks involving State Farm Insurance interests.

Jess just had a knack for this type of defence work, and we used to josh him about his ability to convince a jury that a rear-end collision involving his defendant was invariably caused by the plaintiff’s backing up into the front of the defendant’s car! And sometime it worked!

We all have our idiosyncrasies, and Jess had two: One was a habit of running his forefinger under his wristwatch band. The more he got involved in his argument to the jury, the more that wristband got turned and tugged. The other one was his tendency to blurt out what came to his mind, even if on occasion it was an oath.

Jess was such a fine fellow that judges seemed to tolerate his outbursts, no matter how outrageous, and act as though they never happened.
And this, no doubt was the proper approach, because Jess meant nothing by these comments.

One that provoked a great deal of mirth among most of us was a time when he was teaching a Sunday school class.

He was using a text approved and supplied by the denomination. Jess was going along fine reading what the booklet said when all of a sudden Jess realized just what he had read and he roared to the class, “Why Hell! That’s not Right!”

It wasn’t too long after that that he concluded that if that church was going to put out the kind of material he thought wasn’t right, he wasn’t going to help them, and he moved to another more congenial congregation.

When the long-time Clerk and Master, Bill Ladd, died, the then Chancellor selected Jess to fill the vacancy and he held the position until his own death, when his deputy, Marietta Winfree Roberts, succeeded him as Clerk and Master.

Kind reader, I am proving to be even more garrulous and loquacious than I feared, so it will take several more chapters to cover this subject of yesteryear’s Bar, and there may be some interruptions for treatment of other topics.

Bear with me, please.