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4

In Chambers

| Summer 2016

feature

Characters

By Judge Larry Gist, Senior Judge

N

obody who has been in any type of business or profession for any length

of time hasn’t run into some “characters”. I am certainly no exception, and

after working in the criminal justice system for 50 years, there were

some unforgettable people to cross my path.

So I thought I might take a moment and reminisce about some of the of-

fenders I’ve dealt with over the years. Unfortunately, in so many cases,

their lights were on but nobody was home.

Let’s start with Little Joe.When I first became an Assistant Dis-

trict Attorney, I was assigned like most new prosecutors to work

in Justice of the Peace Courts. That’s where I first met Little

Joe.

I was a young prosecutor and he was a young thief. I pros-

ecuted him several times for Class C misdemeanors. Then I

got promoted to County Court at Law cases and sure enough, here came Little Joe, now

stealing in Class A & B amounts.

As my career advanced, I was assigned to felony court. Who do I see there but Little Joe,

now committing Third Degree crimes. I later became the Chief of the Trial Division and Little

Joe moved up to Second Degree offenses. And as

a newly elected judge, I got to sentence Little Joe

to life in prison under the then mandatory habitual

offender statute.

Our careers paralleled each other. As I went up

a notch, so did Little Joe.

And then there was Frank. I was prosecuting mis-

demeanor offenses when I first ran into him.Way

back then our jail was on the top of the courthouse

building.The sheriff didn’t have funds to hire profes-

sional cooks for the jail kitchen, so inmates had to

handle all of the food preparation. And an inmate who knew how to

cook was very valuable.

Frank was a seaman and cooked on ships when he wasn’t in jail. And

he had been in almost every jail and prison in the country at one time or