By: Jerry Barksdale
Judge Richard L. “Dick” Hundley was smart, colorful, and a bit eccentric. He was one of my favorite judges. I tried many cases before him until he retired in 1994. Shortly after I returned to Athens in November 1968 to practice law, Hundley, who was District Attorney at the time, was appointed Circuit Judge by Governor Albert Brewer.
Athens lawyer, Jere Trent was Hundley’s first and only Deputy D.A. back in 1966, when he was 28 years old and wearing a flat top. Judge Bloodworth called Trent “Deputy Dog.” Trent and Hundley became fast friends and went on at least 30 elk hunting trips to the Rockies over the years.
When Hundley was D.A. and prosecuting a rapist, the defendant’s lawyer brought to court the back seat of the car where the rape occurred. His intention was to persuade the jury there wasn’t enough room for the rape to occur. Hundley pounced. “The defendant has the audacity to bring his work bench into this solemn hall of justice,” he told the jury. The defendant was convicted. When a lawyer was making a stupid argument to the court, Judge Hundley would say, “Counselor, you gonna hav’ta pour that whiskey back in the jug.” Hundley had no patience for b. s. arguments. He would interrupt, “Counselor, just show me to the hole where the bluebird flies.” In other words, stop the b. s. and get to your point.
One hot summer day back in the early 1970s, Judge Hundley was hearing a contentious divorce case in the old Limestone County Courthouse before it was remodeled with central air. Ancient ceiling fans whirred monotonously, stirring the heat in the courtroom. The day was growing long. Neither party would budge an inch. They argued over every stick of furniture, the wheelbarrow, yard rake, hoe, and even the hammer. Finally, they got down to who would get the coffee pot. The husband said he loved good coffee, and he not only wanted the pot, he needed it. The wife wouldn’t agree. “I bought it and I want it and that’s that!” The husband claimed it was purchased from a joint bank account.
Hundley, who was ready to go home, leaned over the bench toward the wife in the witness box and asked, “Ma’am, how much did that coffee pot cost?”
“Twenty dollars!” she said. Hundley summoned the bailiff to the bench and lifted a twenty from his wallet. “Bailiff go across the street to U.G. White’s and buy this good lady a damn coffee pot. We’re going home.”
One morning, I was attending docket call where Judge Hundley was setting criminal cases for trial. He called the defendant’s name, “John Brown” (not real name). A lawyer stood. “Yo Honor, I represent Mister Brown. He can’t be in court,” he whined. “He’s in the hospital. I move for a continuance of his case.”
Hundley reviewed the court file then looked over his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.
“Counselor, it appears that your client wasn’t in court the last time – and the time before that,” said Hundley.
“Yes, yo Honor.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Yo Honor, I don’t know for shore,” said the lawyer. “His family says he’s in Athens-Limestone Hospital.”
Hundley was suspicious. He picked up the phone and called Athens-Limestone Hospital to determine if the defendant was actually in the hospital. “Bring him to the third floor of the courthouse,” Hundley said. No way was I going to miss this show. I watched out a west window. Pretty soon an ambulance rolled up. Two EMTs got out, opened the back door, and pulled out a gurney. A nurse exited holding an IV bottle connected to the patient. The defendant was rolled into the courtroom before Judge Hundley.
Hundley looked down at the poor fellow. “What’s wrong with you this time, Mr. Brown?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Jedge,” he mumbled weakly. Satisfied that the poor fellow was actually ill, Hundley said, “Well, I wish you a speedy recovery. Case continued.”
Hundley was a Civil War scholar and could recount minute details of long ago battles. Perhaps his interest was spurred by reading about the exploits of his great grandfather’s brother, Daniel Robertson Hundley, a Harvard educated lawyer, who commanded the 31st Alabama Infantry and escaped from a Yankee prison. According to Jere Trent, when Hundley was in high school, he and his buddies decided to build a cannon. Having completed it, they were curious to know if it would fire. They mixed up a batch of gunpowder and loaded the cannon and pointed it toward the Tennessee River. “Fire!” They did and it did. The ball struck the Decatur railroad bridge causing damage. The boys fled the scene. An FBI investigation turned up no saboteurs and no suspects.
Hundley, a 32nd degree Mason, was a radio operator gunner on a B-25 during WWII. After the war he attended Auburn on the G.I. Bill where he received a B.S., then on to Alabama for a law degree.
Following the construction of the new Morgan County Courthouse, and long before there were security checkpoints, Judge Hundley designed his own bullet proof bunker in the courtroom. He stacked thick law books, two rows deep, behind his court bench. If a shooter opened up, his plan was to drop to the floor behind the books, then crawl military style through a rear door to his office where a gun was located.
A lawyer with a nervous tick that often appeared before Judge Hundley would rub his neck and twist his head. I asked Hundley about it. “Yeah, in his former life, he was a house thief or hanged.”
“He loved the Rocky Mountains,” Trent said. He purchased a log house near Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and had it dismantled and moved to his 40-acre farm in Morgan County. Before he died, he requested that his ashes be scattered in the Rockies. Trent, who delivered the eulogy at Hundley’s funeral in September 2007, carried a zip lock plastic sandwich bag filled with Hundley’s ashes to the Rockies and scattered them in the beautiful San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado.
Even in death, Judge Hundley was a bit different.
By: Jerry Barksdale