We are here!

Well, I am, anyway.

Like the Whos in Horton’s dustspeck, NouveauSoileau is very tiny indeed in the great enormous  internet, but as those Whos would say, I am here, I am here, I am here!

And I’m here today with an update from a post last fall, when my brother Mark emailed me a photo of The Hung Jury, a print that the West Publishing Co. , purveyor of law books, gifted to 1950s lawyers.

My father, you may recall, was not a ’50s lawyer, but assumed the practice of one who was, and presumably the contents included this print, which hung on the wall of his office throughout my childhood. After my father’s death, my mother gave my siblings and I some mementos of my father, including The Hung Jury. It was in the possession of the aforementioned Mark when a fire completely demolished his home a few years ago.

Well, last week an extremely pleasant comment landed here on the blog from a lady in Albuquerque, N.M., who is in possession of a copy of The Hung Jury. It belonged to her late husband, who got it from his father, a lawyer who practiced in Elizabeth City, N.C. Curious about its origins, she Googled and arrived here at NouveauSoileau and learned the history of the print, which I, your humble investigative journalist, had unearthed last September.

Since she kindly left her telephone number, I gave her a jingle and we had a wonderful conversation. We talked about small towns. We talked about genealogy. And, unsurprisingly, we discussed attorneys.

One of the reasons she and her husband liked the print is that the more reasonable-looking jury member, positioned to the left of Grumpy Mr. Holdout, looks a lot like her father-in-law. Interestingly, the apoplectic guy on the left, he of the pounding fist, closely resembles another figure from my childhood, a Mr. Pierce, who ran a liquor store downtown and, memorably, gave me a free candy bar on my seventh birthday. I’ll never forget it because, in addition to the unheard-of gift from heaven of a candy bar, I also couldn’t help but notice that half of the store was decorated in my honor; lots of Seagram’s 7 posters and 7-up advertisements about.

So there’s another quirky thing which makes this strange and wonderful print so interesting: anyone who’s seen it finds someone they know among the hung jury.

I’m anxiously awaiting the news if The Hung Jury will be among my eclectic art collection at some point in the future. Oh and hey —I know it’s not Art. But it’s also not Dogs Playing Poker and by golly, just because I didn’t go to law school, it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a little courthouse humor. After all, I practically grew up in one.

The jury’s still out

My father was the county attorney for Carroll County, Ky., for 16 years. His office was in the courthouse on the third floor, the walls painted a strange shade of Seventies Chartreuse.

I worked there, in the county attorney’s office, for several summers during college, and my brothers followed. (Well, Mark did for sure. I’ll have to double-check with Paul.) It was a great summer job, helping my dad prosecute  recalcitrant “absent parents,” the state’s term for the well, absent parent of children who received Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC. The state would like its welfare money back, if it can, so it leaves it to county attorneys to try and squeeze some out. We Baker kids kept the records.

We also kept the books, and by this I don’t mean any sort of real accounting duties. We kept the law books up to date. Now, I ain’t no lawyer so I can’t speak with absolute authority on this topic, but basically the cases are frequently updated and require the addition of supplements. When there’s too much supplement to be added over the course of X number of years, they replace the book. When I took the job with Dad that first summer, you would not believe the backlog. But I whipped him, or rather his law books, into shape and the brothers kept them in order after I went on to more journalistic pursuits.

But while AFDC cases and law books occupied a lot of my time, sitting around waiting for Dad to give me something to do occupied a rather hefty chunk as well and boy did I get a lot of books read. I even read cookbooks and copied off a lot of recipes I liked. But that’s not really the point. The point is, as I sat around reading, talking to Jessie, his secretary, the room wherein I loafed, the waiting room, was decorated with a rather humorous little painting called The Hung Jury by one H.M. Brett.

It still amuses me to look at it.

This photo of the print was taken by Mark, who had occasion to visit a law office in Burkesville, Ky., last week. He whipped out his iPhone and emailed it to me, which naturally made my day. For Dad’s print of The Hung Jury has been lost forever to the Baker clan, a victim of poor Mark’s condo fire three years ago, where he lost absolutely everything. I’m not kidding even one little bit.

So it was a minor thrill, for he and I both, to catch a sighting of The Hung Jury, now that our own copy is gone, gone, gone.

“Ah well, I’ll just buy another one somewhere,” I thought. Well, apparently not. According to Mark, who got it from the Burkesville lawyer, The Hung Jury was presented as a gift to clients of West Publishing, purveyors of the aforementioned forever-must-be-updated law books. Apparently it’s even printed on the thing somewhere: Compliments of West Publishing. The Honorable Mr. Burkesville-At-Law isn’t even sure when this happened. He got it from his father, and he isn’t any spring chicken himself. Mark and I theorize that maybe Dad got his from Old Judge Hardin, the lawyer whose practice Dad assumed when we all (a family of three and a half: Dad, me and a pregnant-with-Mark Mom) moved in Carrollton in 1967. And the thing can’t be found anywhere. Mark knows. Mark Googled. Nada Hung Jury.

I ruminated upon this for a little more than 24 hours, and the journalist in me kicked in. I did a quick Google myself and located West Publishing, now purveyors of all KINDS of lawyerly products, and gave ’em a jingle. I talked to a nice young man who listened quite politely to my long yarn, made appropriately sympathetic noises when I mentioned A) the death of my father and 2) the fire of Mark, which brought me to the predicament of being Hung Juryless here in 2009. He actually sounded quite interested in the whole case, truth be told (hey, it’s a case and he works for a law-book outfit) and promised he’d start digging deep in the bowels of West Publishing to see what he could come up with. He would do his best to see that the progeny of Stanton Baker, Attorney at Law, would have their nostalgic, kitschy giveaway picture from 1952! *applause*

It’s also captured the interest of Tras, who’s amused too at his wife’s dedication to hanging on to every last sentimental thing from her childhood — and from her father.

Despite the fact that he’s home today, knocked blind by a sinus headache, he trudged out to the computer this morning, asking, “H.M. Brett? What Publishing? The Hung Jury?” He loves a challenge — and now he, too, is On the Case.

Stay tuned for the verdict.