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Gordon Robinson | When Jamaica had 'character'

Published:Monday | April 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I can't believe I've been practising law for 38 years.

I recalled this recently while watching The Old Ball and Chain struggling to balance the limited domestic budget. Yes, I've been semi-retired for 20 years, but still, it's remarkable how little one has to show (materially) for a lifetime spent following the rules. Peter Phillips did warn me.

As a turfite, I relate to Damon Runyon's eternal truth: "A story comes with it." Runyon argues that all horse players die broke, but they have great stories to tell as every losing bet has a backstory (e.g., overhearing a whispered conversation between the trainer and jockey late at night).

Similarly, I'm not wealthy from law, but I do have stories to tell. When I started out, political correctness, a concept I steadfastly refuse to acknow-ledge, was non-existent and judges were 'characters'.

None more so than Vanderpump J, affectionately known as 'Pumpy'. Pumpy had one of the sharpest minds on the Bench but preferred to donate it to his favourite spiritual pastime. Pumpy's famous dark blue Opel Record (later on he drove an Opel Senator) was regularly seen parked outside several obscure drinking establishments. I'm sure outstanding anatomy professor, Campion College alumnus, and vintage car enthusiast Michael Gardner,will help with the difference. Pumpy was driving the Record when police rescued him from gunmen as he stopped on Hagley Park Road at 2:30 a.m to take a whizz.

In those days, you'd better know your judge. Court usually started with Pumpy sporting a foul disposition and a white handkerchief hanging from his mouth. Senior lawyers bided their time. By 10:30, Pumpy could be seen fumbling in his pockets (beneath the gown) and handing something to his CPO. The policeman soon returned with a glass of clear liquid. Pumpy immediately commenced sipping. By 11 o'clock, he was as mellow as a 'cello and patient lawyers got whatever they wanted.


Perfect preparation


Pumpy presided over the case that signalled my trial debut. In the beginning, I wasn't allowed to do anything but sit with legal legend Arthur Scholefield and early mentor Lowell F.D. Smith, watch, and learn. I followed 'Scho' to the Supreme Court where I learned legal etiquette (e.g., which staircase to use). I sat in L.F.D. Smith's office and learned trial preparation. He'd hold a pretrial conference a week in advance and cross-examine witnesses ruthlessly. This prepared them perfectly for the witness box.

Finally, Lowell informed me that I'd be addressing on damages at his next trial. I was ecstatic and studied the brief like it was a map to Paradise. The client claimed trespass to property. His statement had him visiting a friend. Upon leaving his friend's house, he saw the defendant (who he knew before) park his pickup behind the client's car. The defendants picked up a rock and smashed the client's bonnet. Then he used his jack handle to shatter the client's windshield. Keeping a safe distance, the client shouted, "Why yu mashing up mi car? What mi car do yu?", to which the defendant allegedly replied, 'If I catch yu, I gwine mash yu up, too.' Our client beat a hasty retreat.

Both parties lived in MoBay, so Lowell fixed pretrial for the morning of the trial. The client didn't show. Annoyed, Lowell rose to ask for an adjournment when the client was spotted scuttling in the courtroom door and so went directly into the box. Under cross-examination from Thomas Ramsay, a most intelligent and entertaining counsel, the true story emerged. It seems that the defendant's wife was impregnated without his participation then left to live with her father. The 'friend' our client visited was the wife's father, and he was exiting at 5.30 a.m. when the incident happened. When the client shouted, "What mi car do you?", the defendant's reply was, "I have a legal right to mash up yu car. Yu breed mi wife!"

During closing address, Ramsay submitted, "My Lord, the plaintiff took away the Defendant's wife ... ." Pumpy interrupted, "No, Counsel," flipping through his notebook, "I have here the Plaintiff BRED the Defendant's wife"

"But," was Ramsay's riposte, "it's the same thing ... ."

"No, Mr Ramsay," said Pumpy with perfect comic timing. "You must be more open-minded than that. For example, if it was MY wife, I wouldn't mind."

The Courtroom fell apart not the least because, at the time, Mrs Vanderpump was senior resident magistrate at Half-Way Tree and had a reputation as a dragon that makes Judith Pusey's soothing by comparison.

A story always came with it.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to