DON'T KILL ME!
I'M JUST THE MUSIC TEACHER!
Charles Vet didn't know at the time why he was being thrashed and pommeled. When he found out, the music maestro hired two of the best out of town lawyers he could find and afford. He took his attackers to Federal court and won.
In the winter of 1906, Dublin's Board of Education hired Charles Vet as the school system's music teacher. The French-speaking teacher taught piano and music lessons on the side to supplement his woefully meager salary.
On the night of May 29, 1906, Professor Vet went to bed in his modest apartment contemplating the next day's musical lessons. Vet maintained that B.A. Hooks entered his room and through a clever ruse induced him to come outside because he was wanted by the Board of Education. All of a sudden, a quintette of malefactors flogged, beat and battered him with wooden clubs and brass knuckles as retribution for his alleged wholly inappropriate and highly offensive remarks directed at a young unmarried female teacher in the school. Hooks maintained that Vet drew a gun on him and his friends as they were leaving the scene. He claimed that they acted solely in self defense. Vet, on the other hand, claimed that he did try to draw his gun, but that his attackers ripped it out of his coat and stabbed him in the throat.
Vet was so drubbed that he could not get out of his bed for a week. Being an helpless outsider, the pummeled professor had no luck in having his attackers arrested on felony criminal charges. With no other place to go, Professor Vet moved to Florida. His only practical remedy was to file a civil suit in a court of jurisdiction outside the limits of Laurens County.
Professor Vet, seeking at least $10,000.00 in damages, hired Du Pont Guerry and Peter W. Meldrim to file a case of trespass and assault in Federal court in Macon. He named as defendants, B. A. Hooks, T. W. Hooks, Blount Freeman, Daniel Driggars, and Andrew A. Cowart. Guerry, a frequent gubernatorial candidate and a long time U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, left his previous position as President of Wesleyan College in 1909 to return to private practice. Meldrim, known to have been both a literal and figurative fighter in the courtroom, would later become Judge of Chatham County Superior Court.
A trial was held on May 20, 1911 in the Federal Court Building in Macon. The illustrious Emory Speer served as the presiding judge. The defendants hired Alexander and Charles Ackerman, both of Dublin to defend them. Alexander Akerman was the Assistant U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District. A year later, Akerman would become the U.S. Attorney. After moving to Florida, Alexander Akerman was named to the Federal bench by President Calvin Coolidge. His brother Charles was a practicing attorney in Dublin.
After a series of procedural maneuvers, the first day's testimony shocked those spectators who were hoping for a sensational scandal. Defendant B.A. Hooks took the stand first and professed that it was Vet, who drew a gun on him and the other defendants.
Professor Vet, speaking in broken English, took the stand and reiterated essentially the same story of the unprovoked attack on him. Courtroom curiosity seekers, the lawyers and even Judge Speer had to lean in toward Vet to understand his barely discernible testimony.
Vet testified that he had some difficulty with Miss Dew, the school's elocution teacher. According to the music teacher, Miss Dew wanted to use the piano in an upcoming school exhibition. He testified that he told the young teacher that she was "unladylike" as he took the piano into his own classroom. The Akermans introduced police reports tending to indicate that Vet had committed prior instances of insulting comments toward women.
To prove their claim that Vet's body had been seriously injured, Guerry and Meldrim introduced his broken, crushed hat along with his tattered, bloody coat, spattered with Vet's own blood. His lawyers pointed to a scar on his throat and claimed that the brutal attack was the proximate cause of their client's deafness.
Professor W.R. Lanier, a most credible and well-respected witness, testified that he heard Hooks say, "If I could get two or three helpers, I will give Vet a thrashing."
Miss Dew, described by a Macon Telegraph reporter as "young and attractive," took the stand next. A hush fell over the room as all present intensely listened. Judge Speer ruled that her testimony was irrelevant and excused the teacher from the courtroom.
One by one the other defendants took the stand. Blount Freeman, T.W. Hooks and Daniel Driggars denied that they had any part in the alleged attack. A.A. Cowart did not make an appearance, a move claimed by some to be calculated to avoid a judgment as he was insolvent. The trio placed the blame on Hooks and Cowart, who had previously plead guilty in the Dublin City Court. J.L. Robinson was sworn in and testified that Freeman, T.W. Hooks, and Driggars had no part in the fracas. Dr. J.M. Page, testifying on behalf of the defendants, stated that Vet's wounds were not as serious as he had declared.
In their closing arguments, Vet's attorneys reviewed the evidence and asserted that they had established a prima facie case against the defendants. Dublin Judge John S. Adams, one of the city's most well respected attorneys, argued that Vet had been lying about his $100.00 a month income as he had earned more than $60.00 a week. Alex Akerman pointed out the fact that Vet's straw hat was not bent on its right side, the side in which Vet stated he could not hear out of. Akerman proceeded with a grand theory that the actions of the defendants were nothing more than Southern chivalry in protecting the virtues of the young and innocent female teacher.
Meldrim, a consummate courtroom performer, rose to his feet, threw down his notes, and yelled, "Southern chivalry, bah!" He questioned whether or not chivalry was luring a simple stranger from a foreign land into the dark and beating him dangerously. Judge Speer agreed and charged the jury that all evidence of chivalry was irrelevant. Speer accented his point by stating generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the epitome of Southern chivalry, would not have shown that kind of behavior.
The jury deliberated for an hour before returning a verdict against B.A. Hooks and A.A. Cowart in the amount of $1,000.00 each and $300.00 from T.W. Hooks, Blount Freeman, and Daniel Driggars, collectively. B.A. Hooks appealed to Judge Speer for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict of the jury. Judge Speer denied the motion and Hooks filed an appeal to the District Court of Appeals. The following November, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.
It was one of those cases when no one went home happy. Vet, partially deaf and only slightly compensated after paying his two high-priced attorneys, and Hooks and his accomplices, greatly lighter in their wallets, couldn't understand what they did was wrong. Vet, at least could take some consolation in the fact that he was still playing the piano with two good hands and listening with one good ear.