Interviewee: James Bruton
Interviewee: Denise Stobbie
Date: July 29, 1991
S: This is Denise Stobbie, and I am interviewing Judge Bruton in Plant City.
Today's date is July 29, 1991.
[Would you] please state your full name?
B: James DeWitt Bruton, Jr.
S: And [what is] your date of birth?
B: February 2, 1908.
S: And your birthplace?
B: Magazine, Arkansas. To keep the genealogists from being lost, I am not a true
junior. My father was James David Bruton, and when I was a youngster they
called me J. D., Jr. I have been that for eighty-three years, although I am not a
true junior. I do not know what they are going to do about my tombstone. I will
have J. D., Jr., and the DeWitt will not fit the David on my father's [monument].
S: Do you think it will it read James DeWitt Bruton, Jr.?
B: Yes. That is my name.
S: Well, you will confuse everyone. [laughter]
B: That is my name. But already, in the writing of this Bruton book, some of the
people writing in [response] say: "It must not be the same lad. It says James D.
Bruton, Jr., and this is James DeWitt Bruton, Jr." They think it is two different
S: So your father was James David.
S: Where did the DeWitt come from?
B: Two places. I had a great uncle named DeWitt, and the doctor that delivered
me was named DeWitt. My mother said it could not be anything else but Dewitt.
I hate to disassociate myself with Arkansas, but I am [from] and old North
Carolina family. I only lived in Arkansas until I was three years old.
S: OK. So where did you go from Magazine, Arkansas?
B: To Texas! [I went to] Winnsboro, Texas, about 1911 or 1912.
S: You went to North Carolina first?
B: No. I will have to explain now. About 1905 my father had a house full of
children. He was a farmer in Montgomery County, North Carolina. The family
had been living in that county since 1744, coming from Virginia [before that]. His
nearest neighbor was about three miles [away], and that was too close. He
wanted elbow room, and somebody told him if he went far enough west, he
would get to a place where there was plenty of elbow room called Texas. So he
started to Texas. In 1908, in Arkansas, I was born on the way to Texas. We
lived in Texas on a farm and ranch there until 1918. I have lived here in Plant
City, Florida, since 1918. Everybody here thinks I am a native.
S: Well, when did you live in North Carolina? Or did you?
B: I never did. My eight brothers and sisters did. They were all born there. [Oren
C., August 1, 1891; Ila Dare, May 5, 1893; Oswald G., December 26, 1894;
Gladys W., January 7, 1897; Bonner J., April 18, 1899; Winfred M., June 2, 1901;
Edwin C., October 24, 1903; and Elgie, October 19, 1905.]
S: But you were never there.
B: Well, I have visited there, and I know a lot of people there. I go there a time or
two every year, but I never had a home there or never lived there. When they
wrote me about Who's Who in America, I told them I was from a Carolina family.
They wanted to know how I got mixed up with Arkansas, and I had to explain it to
S: That is something! So you were in Arkansas for three years.
B: About that.
S: And then how long in Texas?
B: About six or seven.
S: You came to Plant City when you were ten.
B: [I came when I was] about ten years old, in 1918.
S: And your father was a farmer?
B: Yes, all his life. Well, that is all they did for a living back in the 1860s and 1870s
S: What did he farm?
B: Well, they grew what they used. They raised their own wheat, their own
livestock, their own hogs, and everything. They lived at home. You see, this
country was a little bit rural back there in the 1860s and 1870s. He could not
see making enough money on a little farm--well, a pretty big farm in North
Carolina--to send all those kids to college, so he started looking for a place
where he could do better. And he did. He stopped off in Arkansas a few years
and made good farming. He went on to Texas and bought a ranch and made
good on it. [He] moved here in 1918. Although he had no education--well,
formal education because a man named Sherman had come through the
Southeast and destroyed the schools, and my father did not have a school to go
to--he was one of the most learned men I knew.
C: Why did he leave Texas?
B: The northwest wind [is] cold in northeast Texas. It got cold, and he had all the
cold northers he wanted coming out of the Northwest down from Montana across
Oklahoma. He learned a little bit about Florida. He came down here on a visit
in 1914 by himself to look at the place. [He] was going to sell the ranch and
move here along that year or the next. Then some fellow named "Kaiser Bill"
[Wilhelm II] came along and started a little war over in Europe. He got delayed
until the war was over. The war was over November 11 , and we sold that
ranch and arrived in Plant City, Florida, December 5, 1918. He got rid of it in a
S: Why do you think he chose Plant City?
B: When he came down here on the visit by himself in 1914, he was looking for a
comparable town to what we were living in in Texas--4,000 or 5,000 population.
Well, Plant City was not that big then, but it was good agricultural area. It had
family farms. They were not prosperous, but they made a living and sent their
kids to the University of Florida.
My brothers, Bonner and Edwin, went to Southern College [now Florida Southern
College in Lakeland] when it was still located on the coast north of Clearwater.
Well, the 1919 or 1920 football team was the only time Southern College ever
defeated the University of Florida. [laughter]
S: So he was attracted by that.
S: He thought that he could do the same.
B: Yes. He came here and was a very successful farmer. [He was] not rich, but
he was far better than average. We had a good orange grove. We raised
considerable acreage of vegetables. There is a winter market here, of course,
so vegetables bring a great deal more money in January and February than they
do in other states in other months.
The Depression made it a little rough, but when I went to the University of Florida
in 1926, money was not a problem. Of course, before I got out it was. He [my
father] said he spent more money educating children than on any other subject,
or just about. Out of those nine kids, all but two who became adults had one or
more [college] degrees. He believed in education. He said he did not have
any. Well, he did not have any [formal] education as such, but he had lots of
learning--lots of it!
S: What about your mother?
B: She was a Bruton when Dad married her: Pattie Lee Bruton. They were six
degrees apart in relations. I guess you would call it sixth cousins, [but] I do not
know [for sure]. They married October 13, 1890, and had nine children. One
[Edwin] was an electrical engineer who helped put WBT radio station in at
Charlotte, North Carolina, when it was accepted there. Another one [Bonner]
was a biochemist who did some of the work during World War II in connection
with the freezing of gas lines going from the Southwest to the Northeast. [They
were] freezing, and he was one of the scientist who arranged for some
improvement of the difficulty they were having in transmitting gas through the gas
lines. That was in the 1940s, during the war. That was World War II. He
graduated from Southern College. It was not at Lakeland then; it was over on
the Gulf Coast at Palm Harbor. Later, he taught at SMU [Southern Methodist
University] in Dallas and did research at the University of Washington in Seattle
and Southwestern University in Texas. [He was] a pure, unadulterated scientist
[who] had no concept of money. [He was] just a scientist, and he enjoyed
himself. [He] did not care about the front page. He enjoyed science--and
horses. He died at eighty-nine, about two years ago.
S: Do you have any siblings still living?
B: No. I am the last one.
S: And he [Bonner] died two years ago?
B: Yes, two and one-half or three years ago, in 1988.
S: So your father pushed education?
B: Very much.
S: What did he say about it?
B: Well, his education amounted to going to what was called summer school in
Montgomery County, North Carolina. In the cotton field there was a cotton
house where they stored cotton. In the summer it was empty. It was three
miles from downtown Troy, North Carolina. The school in town would be out in
May or June, and the farmers would hire a schoolteacher to come out in the
country there and teach their kids for a month during the summer. My father
went to school for one month three or four different summers that way. And that
is the "classical" learning he received. Now, he did not know that [Edward]
Gibbon ever wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He did not have
that kind of education. But he knew things and learned things and read
Well, the family, prior to my immediate family, [had a background in education].
Before the northern aggression into the South--I call it the Civil War; some people
call it [that]--some of the family had obtained a higher level of education. He
observed the necessity of it, and he wanted his kids to have the advantage of all
the education he could give them. And he did [give them that advantage]. He
thought he never was going to get me to go to college because it was during the
boom time in the 1920s here in Florida. After I got there, he said it looked like
he never was going to get me out. [laughter] Of course, I was at the University
S: But he wanted you to go.
B: Yes. Well, every one of the kids did. All of them. They had to go to school.
Edwin went to Washington and Lee [University in Lexington, Virginia] in
engineering. They learned to work. The reason you do not find a record of me
at the University [being involved in] all the extracurricular activities that some of
the kids did [get involved with was because] we were taught to work. Play came
second. As a result, a lot of the extracurricular things a lot of the kids were
involved in we were not.
S: Well, how did he afford to send all the children to college? Did you work? Did
you help support yourself?
B: At the University? No.
S: So he covered it?
B: Yes. I had an automobile while I was there most of the time, or half of the time
S: So his farming was successful.
B: Oh, yes. He liked to live one mile from the post office in the little town where he
lived. We did that in Texas. He came here and went to one of the nicest
houses and farms on the edge of town one mile from the post office. He told the
man he wanted to buy his farm. The man said he did not want to sell it. There
was a small orange grove on it. He [Dad] said, "Well, I want to buy it." [The
man] said, "You have not got enough money to buy it." He [Dad] said, "I don't
know about that." The man made him a price hoping Dad would not take him
up, but he did.
We kept enlarging that until we had about thirty acres of orange grove, which at
that time was a sizable grove. Now 300 [acres] would not amount to much. But
we had quite an orange grove there.
We also had an unusual thing in east Hillsborough County that was nowhere else
that I ever heard. We had what were called "strawberry schools" [in] all the rural
schools. The population of this area outside the city was probably two or three
times what it was in the city or [within] a radius of five or six miles. They were all
farmers, and a large portion of them grew strawberries. The town, of course, is
known as the winter strawberry capital of the world. In January, February, and
March those strawberries had to be picked. Well, we did not have offshore
labor. We did not have an influx of Latinos and Mexicans then like we do now.
So the schoolkids picked the strawberries. To do that they had to be out of
school during January, February, and March. So that is when they took their
school vacation. During the summer, when all the other kids were out of school,
they were going to school. That is where they got the name strawberry schools.
And that continued until about 1960.
S: So the school board would hold summer sessions for those kids.
B: It was regular with them. They had been doing it for thirty or forty years.
S: Just in Plant City?
B: East Hillsborough [County], yes, or where the strawberry area was.
S: Was it one school that did it?
B: Oh, no. All the rural schools [did it]. We had schools five and six miles from
town all the way around. Well, some were elementary, some were junior high,
and there was one high school four miles from town, besides the Plant City high
school, that did the same thing.
S: So you went to strawberry school.
B: No. Town schools did not do it. It was the outlying [schools] where the farm
kids were. That is how they got strawberries picked. [There is] none of that
anymore. It is too expensive for family farming. The way strawberry farming
has developed it is terribly expensive. Strawberries are planted in [rows of dirt
covered with] plastic now. The ground is fumigated and all of that sort of thing.
That is not the way it was. Well, that was seventy years ago or sixty years ago
when most of that was going on.
S: Well, did you pick strawberries?
B: Oh, yes! Yes indeed!
S: But did you go to school while you picked strawberries?
S: So you did not miss school, then?
B: No, I did not miss any school. There would have been a war in town if I had
missed a day of school. I picked strawberries in the mornings before I went to
school. I came home in the afternoon, and instead of playing football I hoed the
orange trees and picked the grass out of the strawberry plants. So I just did not
have much [free] time.
Dad believed in work, and I am glad he did. If you know what is on that plaque
of me in Bruton-Geer Hall at [the law school at UF in] Gainesville and also in
Who's Who in America--and at the end of my biography they have carried it on
for years in Who's Who--one of the things [attributed to me] was [that] hard work
and honesty pays. My father preached that to us, and I never was lazy. He
would not permit that. We worked! He always taught us that if we spent less
than we earned we would never have any financial troubles. Well, we spent less
than we earned, and we did not have difficulties. People will tell you they cannot
do it now, but we did. They could too if they wanted to. We would not have any
broken banks and terrible indebtedness of the government if everybody spent
less than they earned.
S: When did he tell you those things? Did you sit around at the dinner table?
B: Yes, at the dinner table. Well, he was a good Methodist. I never was home
when there was as many as nine kids at home. Six is about the largest number
of kids that I can remember being at home. They were all grown up and going
off to college before I came along. Dad was forty-four years old when I was
born. [Sometimes on] a cold winter night in Texas on the ranch before we all
went to bed we would have a big fire in the fireplace and a Coleman gas lantern
lit--we did not have any electricity out on the ranch--and he would call the whole
family into the living room. We called it the parlor. He would give us a little
lesson in economics, read a few passages out of the Good Book, and tell
everybody we had to have a little prayer. And we did! Well, this is what turned
out, what he produced.
S: Did he do that on a regular basis?
B: Yes. Yes, indeed! It was not every night, perhaps, but I remember it
particularly. Of course, I was only from four to ten years old then. I remember
those cold winter nights with that big fire going and that lamp there and him
telling [stories]. You know we were in the South, and he was telling us this
about his own life. He was less than a year old in 1865 when the Union army
came through and took all the cows and pigs and horses they wanted off the
farm. What they did not take they killed. My grandmother was there with less
than a one-year-old baby, who was my father, and she got on a horse and rode
across the hill and watched from a hill on the other side, across the ravine, to see
all of that going on. When they left I do not know how she took those kids she
had and brought them up, but they had hard times in Reconstruction. That is
one reason Dad did not get any schooling. There were not any schoolhouses.
Sherman came through there and burned them up.
Well, the point of all this rampage I am giving you here is this. You would think
that myself, having come from that traditional situation in North Carolina at the
time, would forever hate the North. Well, let me just ease your mind of that.
Some of those times when Dad would have the whole family gathered around, he
would explain to us that we were all Americans, and he was not going to condone
any of that intolerance as far as the North [was concerned]. He said, "You can
tease them all you want to, but, really, we are not going to have any of this North
and South division between our family and our friends in the North." See, we
had kin on the other side too.
And, you know, I have never have had any adverse feeling because of northern
aggression into the South. Now, I make a lot to do about it and have fun out of it
because I could not have made a fortune in Plant City if it had not been for the
Yankees coming down here and me picking them. [laughter] I love them!
But you can see what was produced in the way of children in those days
compared to today. It is hard for me to convince myself that I am an old man.
It is difficult.
S: So your father had quite an impact, an influence on you.
B: Oh, yes, he did. He was the best buddy I ever had. I only had two or three or
four men that really knew the inside of me, and he was number one. I really was
not acquainted with him until I was about twenty-one years old. I was afraid of
Well, you never will learn anything about the University of Florida if you get me
talking about my family. But when any one of his kids got to be twenty-one
years old, if it was a girl he gave her a cow and a piano; if it was a boy he gave
him a horse for his twenty-first birthday. Well, when I became twenty-one in
1929 I was still at the University, and he told me to pick out my horse. What
would I do with a horse? I had had one here on the farm in Plant City all the
time, but I was not going back to the farm. So he said, "What do you want?"
Amazingly enough, Model-A Fords had just come out. So he said, "Pick it out."
I did, and it went through the University with me the rest of the time, until I
S: You must have been a big man on campus with that car.
B: No, I was a very small item on campus. But that summer my father and I took
that little car and drove around the United States--about 15,000 miles in about
two or three months--and I got acquainted with my daddy. I found out that when
a cute gal walked down the street on the other side, he could not keep from
looking at her to save his life. I did not know he was like that. [laughter]
S: You saw a different side of him.
B: I never heard him say damn in my life, he did not know what whiskey tasted like,
and I do not think he knew what tobacco tasted like. I have been smoking black
cigars for sixty-five or so years.
S: So you all traveled the country.
B: Yes. We drove the Lincoln Highway down through Nebraska and Iowa when it
was not paved. When we were in New York City we drove right down the middle
of Broadway in that Model-A Ford looking at all the buildings. Dad said there
was not any sense in building them as high as that. [laughter] That was 1929.
Look what [size] they are now.
S: So you just went from place to place on that trip.
S: You stayed in motels?
B: There were not any motels. There was no such thing as motels.
S: Where did you stay?
B: Well, there were little hotels in some of the little towns we would pick out, and
some of the towns had what they called wayside homes. We would call them
motels now, I guess. They served the same purpose.
S: Like a rooming house or something?
B: Yes. We were in Laredo [Texas]. We were on the Mexican side of the border
[in Nuevo Laredo] playing around a little bit and came back over to Laredo,
Texas, that night. We had a telegram. The local banker had wired us that our
bank was closed [and had been] taken over. I guess what was a lot of money in
those days--$50,000--went up in smoke. I looked at our travelers checks (we
had a couple of hundred dollars in travelers checks left), and Dad said, "That is
all the money we have left in the world."
Well, we had left Mother in North Carolina that summer when we were on the
trip, so we went by and picked her up. On the way home he got to talking to me.
[He said,] "I sure hate not to see you go back to school this fall, son, but I do not
see how it is possible." She said: "Don't worry about it, Dad. Remember before
we left Plant City, Florida, that morning you gave me $1,000 and said: 'This will
take care of you during the summer. We will come by and pick you up and take
you home'?" She said, "You know what I did with that $1,000?" Dad said no.
She said: "I put it in the bank across the street that did not break. So J. D. is
going to school this fall." [laughter]
S: So your father lost everything.
B: In cash, not property.
S: Did he recover from that?
B: To some extent. Well, you would not say he was well-to-do, but he never
wanted for anything. When I was eleven years old I wanted a bicycle. He said,
"Well, if you want a bicycle, you can go get a job and buy yourself a bicycle." He
could have bought me a wagonload of bicycles, but he would not do it. I said,
"How can I go feed this horse and these pigs and these chickens every morning
before I go to school and get a job?" He said, "Well, I will let you off that if you
get the job." So I did.
I went downtown in Plant City, and there was a business there [that there] are a
lot of now but few in those days--auto parts stores. They had a bicycle shop and
an auto parts and tire store. It was the only one in town. I opened that place up
and swept it out every morning from 1919 until 1926, and I always saved a little
of it. I spent less than I earned, which he always taught.
Well, a lot of the kids did a lot of extracurricular things I did not do. It was the
same way at the University. I am either retarded or a slow learner, I do not
know which. I would like to think I was just a slow learner. But I had to study to
get through the law school. It was not easy for me; it was hard. Maybe I told
you once before about the IQ rating I got. They told me that I better go on
home, [that] I was wasting my daddy's money staying in school.
S: Who does the IQ test?
B: Well, it was not the LSAT like they have now; it was an IQ test.
S: You took an IQ test before you went to college?
B: No, it was after I got there. In fact, I did not take it until the second year when I
was going to switch to law school, which is where I planned to go all the time.
S: So the University administered that?
S: Was there a big group of people that would take the test?
B: Well, there were forty-nine in my class at the law school, so it was not a big
group. I do not know what the other colleges on the campus were doing. I do
not know whether they required it or not. I do not think they did. There was not
any medical school or dental school. There was engineering.
S: But they would have you take this test before you would go into law?
B: Yes, and I came out low. Well, they asked a lot of questions [about things] that
had not had my attention. For instance, they asked who the drawer was of a
certain funny strip that came in the paper in those days [called] "Katzenjammer
Kids." You are not old enough to remember it.
S: I have heard of it.
B: Well, I had looked at that funny strip in the Sunday paper, but I never paid
attention to who wrote it. [Rudolph Dirks was the cartoonist. Ed.] Well, I did
not know. They gave you 500 questions and a certain length of time to answer
them. When the time was up I was about a third through answering the
questions. Of course, a lot of them were yeses and no's.
Dean James W. Norman, who was the dean of the College of Education, had the
job of telling me me to go home. I told him: "No. I believe I am going to law
school." He said, "I don't think they will take you, son." I said, "We'll see."
Anyway, I said: "Let me have that examination again. I will run though that thing
and pick out the ones I know right fast and then go back to the other ones." Of
course, that time I came out all right. They did not think I [could make it]. I had
to work. I was a slow learner, no question about it. I still am.
S: So everyone took that IQ test?
B: I do not know about the others.
S: If you were going to go to law school, you had to take that test?
B: I had to transfer. I went into the College of Education with no idea of being a
teacher. That was not the objective. I went over there so I could take more
electives. When I applied to the College of Education, which was [at] Peabody
[Hall] then, that is when they gave us the examination.
S: OK. [They wanted] to make sure you had the brains to make it through school.
B: Yes. They found out I did not, but I did [make it.] I made a fairly good living
practicing law, I guess. I would not have done what I did for the University if I
S: So you learned to work early.
S: Your father was bent on teaching you that lesson.
B: That is the lesson I had to learn.
S: So even though he could provide [for your needs] and buy things for you, he
would have you work for it.
B: That is correct. I used to grumble about the kids across the street having things
I did not have. My family was more able to have them than they were. He said:
"That is all right with them, son. Let them go their way. We are going our way."
We learned to work, and [I] enjoyed it. I have found it a most practical thing in
the last, shall I say, sixty or sixty-five years. I have been out of college sixty
S: So what would you say, other than your father, influenced you as a child? What
kinds of things did Plant City have that would have even given you the idea of
going to law school? What kinds of activities did you do? What were you
exposed to? Did you ever go into the courtroom?
B: No. I guess I do not know how it crept up on me. We had a good high school;
we had a good school system here then. [That is] not to say we do not now, but
we did then. By the time I got into high school, I got to reading a little more
history. I liked history. I got to observing men of various times during the year
and some of the then-current [great] men in this country, and I just slipped into
the notion that I wanted to be a lawyer. It was kind of a childish notion, I
suppose, but it stuck.
S: Did you read the newspapers?
B: Oh, yes.
S: You stayed up with current events?
B: Yes. A lot of my chums did not, but I did.
S: Your parents were both readers?
B: Yes, they were both readers. [They did] all practical reading. It was not what
you would call "cultural" reading nowadays. They did not do much of that. It
was all practical.
Dad read a lot of agricultural material. When I say he did not have any
schooling, do not get the notion the man did not know a lot. He was an
educated man. He took part in things. He did not try to be the front man on
everything. He was more, I guess, restrained. I started to say retiring, but I,
rather, think he was restrained. Poetry was not a part of his life. [He did not
read] much history [and] very little literature, unless it was literature that had a
See, with his coming up when he did--[he was] born during the Civil War [and
grew up] through the years following--survival was the main thing. Whether you
knew who [John Greenleaf] Whittier was was unimportant to surviving.
Consequently, there was a certain gap in there. As a result, I find myself, when I
get around you college folks with so much polish and advanced learning, kind of
outnumbered. Some of those things got into my life that they say made me an
ultraconservative. But I do not think I am. I have given away, while alive, more
money than any [other] man this town has produced, yet I am known as a rather
I did not play football [while in school]. I had a few physical deficiencies along in
the nine- or ten-year-old range. I could not play some of those [contact sports].
But I was on the track team. When World War II came along and they started
examining us for the army, they turned me down quick because they said I could
not walk. I had been on the track team for two or three years, but they said I
could not walk.
I did have a foot [problem] that I got through milking a cow. We had a kicking
cow when I was nine years old. We had a stall built for her, and you milked her
through the hole in the wall of the stall. My feet were sticking under the boarding
of the wall of the stall, and I was holding the milk bucket between my knees
milking her. She did not like the way things were going, and she kicked at me.
Her split hoof came down on my little old foot. I was nine years old, and it broke
it all to pieces. Well, it still swells up every day, and I get along pretty good. I
am eighty-three. I do not reckon it is going to hurt me much.
S: So that kept you out of the army.
B: Well, that and some other things. They said I could not hear, and I had lost a
finger when I hit it with a hammer one time. They said, "You do not have a
trigger finger." [There were] a few other little things they did not like about me.
They just told me to get out of the way, [that] they were looking for good men.
[laughter] Of course, a lot of those I go to their funerals. Those were good men
S: Would you describe your family as having been prominent in Plant City?
B: Well, I do not know what prominent is. Yes, I guess you would have to say that
Dad was a prominent farmer here. [He was] a successful farmer. He took part
in organizational things, but not at the front. He was very religious, and so was
Mother. They were very prominent in the Methodist church. He was not an
extremist. [For example,] when the movement came along here one time to
close all the drug stores on Sunday under the blue law, [he was in favor of
keeping them open]. [The intent was] to keep us kids from buying Coca-colas.
[laughter] He was not an extremist on that. But he was very religious.
Before, [when] I went to school in Texas, you had to have had your birthday by a
certain date or else you had to wait until the next September to start school.
Well, that put me about six or eight months behind everybody else on account of
my birthday. You had to be seven to go. I was born in February, [and] that
fouled it up for the September opening of schools. So I was late starting school.
When we came to Plant City, there were twelve grades in Florida. We did not
have but eleven in Texas.
Well, when they put me [in the third grade here] like I was in the third grade in
Texas, I had had that stuff the year before. Some of it [I had] more than a year
before. Before I started school, Mother taught me the ABCs, how to count and
multiply and add and subtract, the Twenty-third Psalm, the Beatitudes, the Lord's
Prayer, and all that before I ever got to the schoolhouse. Now, she was not
what you would refer to as an educated woman, but whatever she had, it was
S: And she gave it to you.
B: Yes. Well, when I went to school and the other kids were learning their ABCs, I
was bored to death. I was not interested in sitting around and learning about the
ABCs. I had been knowing them a year or so before I went to school.
S: She wanted you to have a good start.
B: Yes. So when I came down here they moved me up a grade. So somewhere
along time, I got a high school diploma here in ten and a half years. I do not
know how I got it, but I got it. Well, that is on account of the change from Texas
to here, you see. I was that slow learner I was telling you about.
S: [But you] graduated early. [laughter] So Plant City High School [was where
you went to school].
You asked if the family was prominent. Well, after I got out of college I made
some of it prominent. [laughter] Of course, my father was a little different kind
of prominent. He was well known. Everybody knew him. He was known to be
honest. He was known to be frugal. He was known to be a hard worker, and [it
was] known that his kids were reared right and that they respected the
schoolteacher, the policeman, the judge, and the preacher. They were good
people, and you respected them.
S: I wish I could look back in time and see what Plant City was like then.
B: Well, it was a town of about 2,300 population in 1918. It had about four or five
lawyers, four or five doctors, [and] no hospital. In 1914 they built a three-story
brick high school. It had all twelve grades in it. It did when I went there in 1918.
It is the community center now that my wife got the East Hillsborough Historical
Society to it take over. The Quintilla Geer Bruton Archives are centered there.
It was not good enough for a schoolhouse anymore. It covered a whole block.
[Plant City] was almost totally agriculturally oriented. Nearly everybody was
conservative. There were a few people in town I guess you would call rich.
They had the big house uptown and had automobiles before anybody else did.
That is the kind of town it was.
At that time the mainline churches were well established here. Well, the city was
established in 1885. The population started coming in here in the 1840s.
When we came here there were Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches
[in] wooden buildings. Of course, in the 1920s, when I was still in high school
and at the University, all these brick churches you see downtown now, the big
churches, were built then when the population started growing. The little banks
were solid little banks. They were small banks, but they were good little banks.
My father always got interested in industry in the town, [but] there was not much
industry here then. Of course, we have gotten away from being agricultural and
have gone industrial here now.
S: What industries?
B: Just about anything you want to mention so far as light industry. There is an ice
cream plant. I just cannot think of the names of all those things. [There are]
two mobile home factories [and] two or three large wholesale distribution
warehouses. Food Lion just opened a $21 million distribution building here a
few weeks ago.
S: So there is more light industry here now than agriculture, would you say?
B: Yes. There is more employment now in industry. So much agriculture that was
done by hand before is done mechanically now.
S: But there is still a lot of agriculture.
B: Oh, yes. There are over 6,000 acres of strawberries in this area this year. And
we used to have 10,000 to 12,000 acres of citrus in the immediate area, but that
is down some now. The freeze [line] is moving south and has eliminated some
of that. Where my father's orange grove was on the edge of town is a shopping
center now and a radio station. We have a large meat packing plant, Lykes
Brothers, that employs 1,500 people. There is a shrimp plant that works 300 or
400. Now, you would wonder why a shrimp plant is not on the water. I do not
know why, either, but it is here. Plant City Steel is important. Well, phosphate
has been important here through the years. It is not as important as it used to
be, but there is more industry [here] now than previously. The high school
graduating class now is about 600; it was 55 when I graduated.
S: That is pretty big.
B: Well, the population of the town is about 25,000. Within a five-mile radius there
is another 25,000 or more. The trade-area population within seven or eight
miles of town runs around 60,000 to 70,000. Now, it was not that much when I
came here in 1918. [laughter]
S: When would you say that shift from agriculture to industry started?
B: It is still going.
S: How about when you came back here after college?
B: [There was] very little industry then. Of course, phosphate was [being mined]
here. The steel company had just started. There was not much industry
[beyond] small meat-packing plants then. Of course, the employment industry
was citrus-packing houses. That was one of the main things. Really it was
agriculture, but it was all on the edge of town where fresh fruit was packed and
shipped each year. That--fruit and strawberries--was really where the money
In the last sixty years it has gotten [to be an area with] lots of cattle. There are a
lot of cattle here--good cattle. A good many of the farmers had a few cows.
When it came to paying their taxes, there was $100 to go kill a cow or sell a cow.
We were not quite as rural and hickish as maybe I have made it sound because
the UDC [United Daughters of the Confederacy] and the DAR [Daughters of the
American Revolution] and the Colonial Dames and all of those highfalutin
societies were here. These old families had ancestors that qualified them for all
of that. Quintilla, my wife, was, of course, a member of those things, except the
UDC. She could not [join the UDC because] one of her ancestors was a Yankee
and another one did not get into the Civil War, so she could not get in the UDC.
But she got into the Colonial Dames, the DAR, and all of that.
We had all of that here and some fairly prominent women of the day. [This was]
a little bit before women took the front stage as much as they have [recently].
Habertha Hathcock Leonardy was from here. She went to high school here.
She was a lawyer but never practiced. Her husband was a lawyer in Sanford.
Robert's Rules of Order was a fetish of hers, and she made herself pretty well
known over the Southeast in connection with organization of women's clubs. I
do not mean "Women's Clubs" as such; I mean clubs that women belong to as
organizations in society. We had, among the women who were important, the
regent of the DAR, the Daughters of the American Revolution. We had a couple
of them here, and a lot of big cities in the state of Florida have not had any. So
some of those old roots are still carrying forward. And, incidentally, some of
them were Yankees, too. [laughter]
S: Well, I would think everyone in Plant City when you first arrived was a transplant.
B: No! No!
S: The city was not that old, and I would think everyone had come from up North.
B: Well, they did not. You will find that the long-time-ago families in Florida came
down through North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Now, before they
ever got to the Carolinas they probably came from Pennsylvania and
Connecticut. That is how Quintilla's family started. [They were] in Connecticut
in 1641. She did not know she was half Yankee. But they ended up down
In 1848 the first post office was established here; the first postmaster in Plant
City [was appointed] in 1848. Jake Summerlin, a name that if you have read
much Florida history you run into, was the largest cattleman in Florida in the
1860s. He furnished much of the beef for the Confederate army during the
northern [army's] aggression into the South. Summerlin Institute in Bartow was
their high school. It was called Summerlin Institute. The main downtown part of
Orlando was first built [by Summerlin]. The first permanent buildings in Orlando
were built by him.
Now, Plant City was not called Plant City then. It was called Itchepuckesassa.
Now, I cannot spell it because it has a half a dozen different ways [of being]
S: That is an Indian name.
B: That book I gave you that Quintilla wrote [has] it in there. [Plant City: Its Origin
and History, by Quintilla Geer Bruton and David E. Bailey, Jr.].
S: Then I take it Plant City is named for Mr. Plant.
B: Yes. Henry [B.] Plant brought the railroad through in the 1880s. That is where
that [name] came from. Yes, that is a good story, but it is too long. I was a
lawyer for the railroad.
S: It was quite a bustling town then.
B: Oh, yes, it was a bustling town. And a substantial town. Of course, two dollars
was lots of money then. Well, there were a good many people here who had
two dollars then. We were the last of the tribes in this area to take up the dole
soup lines, the WPA (Work Projects Administration), during the Depression. We
were the last to give in to the Depression.
Well, we had people here that would not dare let you know they were out of
something to eat during the Depression. They were too proud. The fact that
the lady of the house stayed home and did the laundry [was not publicized].
She would not let you know it for anything in the world. They were too proud [to
let on that they did their own washing] instead of sending it to the laundry or
having a colored laundry women. But those families were transplants.
Beginning in the 1840s was when the first of them started coming in. They did
not settle here much until the turn of the century, of course.
[I know] two or three good stories about prominent men. In 1918 Plant City had
its first speaker of the Florida House of Representatives [George H. Wilder]. [He
was] from Hillsborough County [and was speaker of the extra session] in 1918.
This [Terrell] Sessums boy in Tampa claimed it one time, and I could not let him
do it. I had to call him down about it. Some of the old families [that] have good
connections in the South are farther north than here. The Mays family was
important in South Carolina. A couple of them were generals. [Samuel Mays
was a lawyer and professor of law in Columbia. He came to Hillsborough
County in 1875 to farm. His son, Samuel, was prominent in mercantile, banking,
farming, citrus, and politics. Ed.]
The Schneider family here was not a big family. [They] came here from
Philadelphia. They are nice German people. Of course, they were Yankees
when they came here in 1900, but they turned into Southerners like the rest of
us. [Albert Schneider was prominent in Plant City lumber, politics, banking, and
citrus. His brother, William, was involved in lumber, banking, and real estate
interests in Plant City. Ed.] Lumber is an industry that was important here then
that is not anymore. One of the largest crate mills in this area of the state was
here because all vegetables [and] all citrus was shipped and handled in wooden
crates. Well, they made those crates here. The crate mill worked about 300
people. Of course, that is all gone. They do not do that anymore. It is all
plastic and manufactured stuff.
I guess we were a typical, solid, little country town. People that I know came in
from other states I could see that their backgrounds and their family prior to them
had some substance and some, [as] I call it, character.
S: Let us talk a little about your college. There was no question that you were
going to go to college?
B: No! No! They would have had to bury my daddy if I had not gone to college.
S: How many years were there between you and the next oldest sibling?
B: Two, but she [Elgie] was a little girl [that] died, and I never saw her. I was born
long after she died. There were two [years] between her and the next [older]
one. Then there were two [years] between me and her. It was every two years
[that my mother had a child].
S: That kept your mother busy.
S: So had all of your siblings either gotten degrees or were in college at that time?
B: Yes. The two girls [lla and Gladys] were in music. Two of the brothers were
scientists [Bonner and Edwin]. One [Oswald] came out of World War I and
came here and had a citrus grove and grew strawberries and [had] what you
would call then a big grocery store, though not a supermarket. He, too, was a
S: He came back to Plant City?
B: Yes, when he came out of the war. See, we were living in Texas when he went
to the war. We moved here immediately after the war, and when he came home
he did not go home to Texas. He had to come home here.
S: And where did he go to school?
B: Wesleyan College in Greenville, Texas. It was a Methodist school, you can bet
that. What do you think my other brother went to SMU for? My mother is still
grieving because I did not go to Duke [University]. Her first cousin [John
Fletcher Bruton of Wilson, North Carolina] was chairman of the board of Trinity
College in 1924 when they changed Trinity College to Duke University. He was
first on the board of Duke.
S: Did all of your other siblings settle elsewhere, or did any others come back to
B: No. My brother Bonner stayed in education in the West. Edwin was an
engineer who worked for Tampa Ship Building Company sometime after World
War I. Then [he] went to [be] an engineer in Charlotte. My brother Oswald,
who was in business here, came back here. He had never lived here, though,
before we moved here. I was the spoiled brat of the crowd. I never was going
to amount to anything.
S: Were there any other lawyers in the family?
B: Not immediately in my family. This cousin of my mother who was one of the
creators of Duke University was a lawyer in Wilson, North Carolina. He was
quite a prominent man at that time.
S: Did you know him? Had you met him?
B: No, I never knew him. He died about 1930 or somewhere along there. I guess
I have probably a dozen cousins in North Carolina that, in one degree or another,
are lawyers now. There were some of them in politics up there like I was down
here. One [Wade Bruton] was the attorney general in North Carolina in the
1940s. Another one [Oliver Bruton] was in the [North Carolina] senate and
some other little offices.
In Montgomery County, North Carolina, from about 1917 to [back] before the
Revolution was over, the family got ahead right much. My
great-great-grandfather had the [area's] largest collection of books, he called it.
Other folks called it a library. He had the library in his home. There was not
one in the county during the 1700s. He had quite a collection of books. The
whole neighborhood--the ministers, the doctors--all used his library. He was
slated to go to Princeton, but he got mixed up in the Revolutionary War and could
not go. He was going to be a preacher, but he ended up being a plantation
owner. The man that took care of President Eisenhower at Walter Reed
Hospital when he had that heart situation and had that surgery was a second
cousin of mine, Colonel [Ogden Carr] Bruton. Two or three of them made a little
something [out of themselves]. Most of us are just ordinary people.
S: So how did you decide to go to the University of Florida? You could have gone
to Stetson Law School.
S: I guess there were not any other law schools at that time.
B: Those were the only two. Well, I had to go to the University of Florida. I first
wanted to see to it that the law school I went to was a grade-A law school. Well,
both of them were at that time. I guess that was one of the guiding things that
sent me to Gainesville. I had no idea of ever leaving Florida anyway, and it
looked to me like the thing to do was go to Gainesville. The law school had
begun to acquire some reputation. Well, the University had begun to acquire
some reputation, even though the student body was only 3,000.
S: So the reputation was at Florida?
B: The standing of the law school at that time--Dean [Jeffrey] Lewis would laugh
about its standing then compared to what it is now--was good among law schools
in the South. It was a well-rated law school. Of course, the University was just
like it is now. It was the university in Florida. There was one down in Miami, I
think. I heard about them having one in Miami that was a pretty good university.
S: [laughter] So how was that reputation made known? Did you ask teachers?
B: Well, reading the paper and contemplating going to college years before I got
there, I began to notice various schools and so forth. I talked to my mother
about it, and she said there was but one place for me to go, and that was Duke.
I did not want to do that. In high school I had a reputation of being a debater. (I
had them fooled.) I got on the debating team a few times and went to
Gainesville to the debating tournament.
S: While you were in high school?
B: Yes. I kind of liked what I saw up there. It was a big university to me then. (I
should ask them what it is now.) But it was a big university to me, and it just
kind of crept up on me. The law school's reputation and the University's
reputation and my knowing I was going to be in Florida the rest of my time--or
convinced at the time I was going to be--caused me to go to the University.
And they had a president at that time that was a lovable character, Dr. [Albert A.]
Murphree [1909-1927]. Whenever we would go there to debating tournaments,
he would be down at the front door shaking hands with us sixteen- and
seventeen- and eighteen-year-old kids. Of course, the president of a university
could not do a thing like that now. It is too tremendously big. But,
nevertheless, that impressed me. He looked the part and was the part. He was
a good man. We loved him. That had something to do with my going to the
When I got to looking into it a little bit before I went up there [others influenced
my decision]. You have heard of Dr. Jimmy [James] Farr the vice-president
during those days that everybody loved? He was an English professor. He had
an influence, too. I think he got into it [and] was involved with the debating team
in some way. [The] John Marshall [Bar] Society conducted the debating
tournaments in those days. It is still there, you know. They used to call it the
John Marshal Debating Society.
S: Did that have anything to do with the law school?
B: Yes. The membership in the John Marshal Debating Society was law school
S: So they would host high school competitions.
B: That is right. They would host these tournaments. And that did have a good
deal of influence.
S: Were the debates at the law school?
B: Yes. They held them in the law school up on the corner of the campus, at 13th
[Street] and University Avenue. Bryan Hall they call it now. That was the law
S: Do you remember were they were inside the building?
B: Well, there was a courtroom--a sort of courtroom--where they had the moot
courts, and that is where the debates and tournaments were held. One time
they were in Peabody Hall, too. I do not know why. Maybe it was on account of
the size. But I liked that debating sort of thing.
S: You said it was Dr. Farr [who also influenced you]?
B: Yes, Jimmy Farr.
S: And he was vice-president of the University?
B: Yes. [He was] a little bitty man [who] wore a French collar all the time and tiny
glasses. He was a little bit of a fellow, but [he] was sharp as can be, and all of
the students loved him.
S: So you talked with him when you were still in high school?
S: You had a good feeling about the University.
B: Yes. They did not recruit in those days like they do now. The University does
now, I am sure, but we were not recruited. We were recruiting them! [laughter]
We were hunting them; they were not hunting us.
S: They recruit the merit scholars now, the top students.
B: Yes. You know, I am keeping a little merit scholar in school up there.
S: Are you?
B: Yes. The National Merit Scholarship pays about half of what it costs her to go,
and I am seeing to the rest of it. That is the twenty-second kid I have helped put
S: That is terrific! I would have thought a National Merit Scholar would get a full
B: Well, [they get] $2,500 a year plus what the state puts in. Of course, the state
has not been putting [in] too well I do not think. But she is a National Merit
Scholar. She was a valedictorian here, just like Quintilla was. [Do] you know
the story about Quintilla being valedictorian? I was going to be [valedictorian]
until that little brat came down here.
S: [laughter] Well, did you get to be the salutatorian?
B: No! When she beat me so bad I got discouraged.
S: So her grades were pretty good.
B: Oh, yes. She was a sharp cookie.
S: I am not surprised. And your grades were good, too?
B: Well, let us say they were not bad. I do not know how good you would say [they
were] until my senior year. I got to doing a lot of other things during my senior
year. I did not do as well that year as I did the other years of high school.
S: That must be when she beat you out.
B: It was. [laughter]
S: Was that when you became preoccupied with her?
B: It could have been. [laughter]
S: That had something to do with your grades? [laughter]
B: Yes, it could have. I thought if that gal [was] going to beat me out of that,
doggone if I would not marry her. Of course, it took me six years longer, but I
S: You must have been pretty studious, then, through high school.
B: I was studious, but I did not learn fast. Yes, I studied more than most kids.
Well, I had to. You see, the home chores that I had to do as a kid [kept me
busy], and I did not read all of the fiction that the other kids were reading. There
is a missing thing that you do not appreciate. It is a little bit of, [as] I call it,
cultural status. It is so neglected [and] so needed. Yet the people who have
tried to expose some of the rest of us to some culture are such extremists that
they hurt their own cause.
[That is] why I never got interested in music. My father could sing, and he knew
music. Oh, I do not mean the classical music, but [rather] his kind of music.
That is why he wanted the girls, my sisters, to be musical, and they were. But I
can see where I am still a plowboy in my boots and overalls, whereas the fellow
that was with me who was in a little different situation wears a polished suit. I
can look back and see that. Now, that is not to say I have not been around a
few places. I had lunch with Winston Churchill in London in 1957.
S: You did?
B: Yes. And [I attended] a garden party at Buckingham Palace that time.
S: He spoke?
B: The American Bar [Association] met in London in 1957, and I was in the House
of Delegates to the American Bar. You have not gotten to that yet.
S: No. Winston Churchill spoke at that [meeting]?
B: Yes. They had a dinner for the House of Delegates, and Churchill spoke. Of
course, I could not tell you how it happened, but I got a seat pretty close to him.
After we got through eating, I lit up one of my good Tampa cigars. He smelled it
[and] told what I call a waiter (they call them something else over there in
Guildhall in London) to see what kind of a cigar that fellow was smoking down
there. He came down and asked me, and I told him. He went back and told
Mr. Churchill. Churchill said: "That is what I smoke. [I] get a box from Tampa
every week. Tell him to send me one." So I gave him one of my cigars. I did
want to do it because I hardly had enough cigars to see me back home.
S: But you gave one up?
B: Yes, I gave one up to Winnie.
S: Not just anyone. [laughter]
B: No, but to Winnie. The afternoon following that Queen Elizabeth gave a garden
party for the House of Delegates to the American Bar.
S: [Let us go back a bit.] You already mentioned your twenty-first birthday and the
trip, but as far as the onset of the Depression, the big bank that your father
banked with closed. What was the name of that [bank]?
B: The Bank of Plant City.
S: Your mother put the money in [what bank]?
B: Hillsborough State Bank. [laughter] It is now Hillsborough Sun Bank.
S: And you were a director of that bank?
B: I was a director for about twenty-five years and still am an emeritus director now.
They still pay me my director's fee even though I am not having to go to
S: Was that the first bank you got involved with?
B: No. Banking started growing in Florida in the 1950s, and I got involved with two
or three banks. I invested in them [in] St. Petersburg, Tampa, and here. All of
them profitably advanced [and] were taken over by larger banks. They turned
out to be good investments.
S: So because of the growth in Florida, the banks were making out well
B: Well, at least the people who bought them thought they were.
S: You thought that was a wise investment.
B: I did, and it turned out good. I am a little bit heavy in Sun Bank right now.
S: So Sun [Bank] bought out Hillsborough [State] Bank?
S: When was that?
B: In 1983 or 1984.
S: What do you think of all the big banks buying all of the little banks?
B: Well, I guess I am not competent to give an opinion, but it seems like in America
we have to do everything by extremes. And we are doing it in banking. Greed
has a lot to do with it. I do not approve of the thing going as far as it has. Of
course, it may be necessary. As I say, I am not really competent to give an
opinion. But I have made more money out of banking than anything.
S: With bank stock?
B: Yes. I was in about five banks when I went on the bench. I have to start
getting out of them now.
S: So when you were looking for an investment, that is where you turned?
B: Well, I do not know whether I was looking or [just] fell into it. I never would
represent a bank as a lawyer. There is a small-time reason for it. If you were a
lawyer in Joliet, Illinois, and had a [banking] matter come up in Plant City, Florida,
and wanted a lawyer from Plant City, Florida, you turned to the
Martindale-[Hubbell] Law Directory to pick a lawyer. You would see [that] the
best lawyer in town represented the bank. Well, you could not use him because
[that created a] conflict [of interest] with the bank. Well, I found that in all the
towns under 50,000 [population] across the country, if a lawyer there wanted a
lawyer here, he did not want the bank's lawyer.
There are is two sides to that. There is another set of lawyers who do want to
be the bank's lawyer. Well, I never did, and I found that [to be true with] lawyers
who would send me business from Saint Louis and other cities that I never heard
of. They said: "We looked up in Martindale and found two first-rank lawyers in
Plant City. One of them represented the bank, and you did not. So we wanted
you." Well, now, the other is true, too.
Anyway, it turned out to be profitable. I gave banks the devil for a long time.
They got tired of me puncturing them, so they decided to take me in. I declined.
Finally, it looked like the town was growing so big we had to have some more
banks. I tried to start a new one and failed. Back in the early 1950s it was a
difficult job to get a bank charter.
A few years after that another group wanted to start a bank. Five of the ten
[members of the] board of directors on the new bank had to have a certain
amount of stock to become a director. Some of them did not have the money to
buy the stock, so I loaned the money to buy the stock. They did not do so well
with it, so they gave me the stock back to cancel their debt with me. I just sat on
it. It turned out well.
S: They just did not hold out long enough.
B: They could not keep their feet on the ground. In one particular bank it turned out
S: What bank were they creating?
B: First National here at that time. That stock, they thought, was never going to get
anywhere. They could not make it go, but First Florida finally took it over. I
came in with more stock than the board of directors had in the bank.
S: So you remained a director of Hillsborough Bank.
S: Were you a director of other banks?
B: No, that is the only one. It is a $200 million bank now.
S: So now it is Hillsborough Sun Bank.
S: Let us get back to college. Did you work any jobs in college?
B: No. There was a period of time when I could go to the University of Florida on
$50 a month. Would you believe that?
B: Well, you could then. Hamburgers were a nickel. You cannot eat the ones they
have now, either.
S: But you did not hold a job?
S: Your parents paid for your housing and your books and school.
B: That is right. Well, sometimes I would work in the summer to make a little
money, but I did not have to work. I do not think it is a good idea. A slow
learner like I was has to study all the time. I did not have time to work.
S: So you studied all the time?
B: I had to to keep up. I was a country boy.
S: Did you burn the midnight oil in the library?
B: Yes, or in my room. The textbooks we had then (I do not suppose they use
them now), if you got through them you were doing pretty good.
S: Where did you live?
B: To start with, in a wooden rooming house on the north side of University Avenue,
right across from the old dormitories near what used to be the College Inn, which
is not like it used to be. There was a rooming house there.
S: Was it behind the College Inn or part of the College Inn?
B: It was behind the College Inn; it was not a part of the College Inn. It was north
of the College Inn a half a block off of West University [Avenue].
S: That is a parking lot now.
B: Well, there was a rooming house there that was purely for boys. There were
twenty rooms in that house. I went in there as a freshman and stayed a
semester. I did not like it too much. I got acquainted with a boy from Tampa
that was a pretty nice fellow. For a year we had a garage apartment on a family
lot farther north, off of University Avenue about two or three blocks. Then I
joined the fraternity. I lived in the fraternity house after that.
S: So you never lived in the dormitories?
B: No. I ate at what we used to call the Commons. I ate there some, but not
S: And then you lived at the fraternity [house]?
S: That was?
B: Chi Phi. They had a hard time getting me in the fraternity. I was afraid of them.
S: Was your fraternity house very big?
B: We only had about fifteen or twenty boys living in it at that time. I think it has
S: Were they wild and crazy then like they are now?
B: I do not know how they are now, I guess, but they were pretty wild. Well,
according to those standards they were wild. Initiations were worse than they
are now. Of course, all freshmen had to wear rat caps in those days.
I really do not know how they are now because I have almost disassociated
myself from colleges and universities. Organizations are continuously asking
me for money to help with scholarships for students, and I find out that
commercial businesses are what they are. So I would not give to any of them,
nor will I give to any foundations that furnish scholarships, or [I do] not
[contribute] much anyway because I think I can make better use of the money. I
have my own scholarships. As I said, I have helped twenty-two kids through
college, which I would have done through some scholarship otherwise, I guess.
After Quintilla died, the local Gator Club established the Quintilla Geer Bruton
Scholarship Fund. Well, they knew how to get to me, so when they told me they
had established that, they started looking for funding of it. Well, I went along
with them. Since it started I have been giving them about half of what it takes a
kid to get through school every year.
But during those years I was putting kids through school. Well, I still have three
in school now. I quit doing it in 1975, but I got back into it again. I know when I
give them $1,000 it is going to be used to go to college on and there is not 10
percent going here for administration and 10 percent for commission for raising
the money and all that sort of thing.
A group in Tallahassee just worries me to death trying to get me interested in
helping them finance scholarships. It is an independent thing. A commercial
device is what it looks like to me. Somebody is making themselves a job. Well,
it may be doing some good too, but it nettled me to know that some of the money
given to put a kid through school was going somewhere else. Well, I just would
not do it. In 1940 I was a young man. I did not have any business putting kids
through school then. I took my first one on in 1940. I had been practicing law
only ten years. Beginning in the late 1940s, after World War II, I helped a bunch
of the kids that had been in the service. They had GI funds to go to school on,
but it was not adequate to see them through. What I did was [help out] local
boys here: a couple of doctors, two or three schoolteachers, one engineer, [and]
four pharmacists. A whole bunch of those kids that came along after World War
II in the 1940s and 1950s I gave scholarships.
S: How did that come about? Were you just aware of their need, or did they
B: Well, I do not contribute to national charitable societies. I think they are
commercial. Now, there is some good about them, but [there are things] that
nettled me. As long as the local United Way tended to local things, I supported
them. When all these commercial charities [began] eating into the pot, I quit
them. That nettled me.
Well, it got known around that if somebody had a good kid [that was] willing to dig
and was honest and decent [and] wanted to go to college and could help
themselves some, go to Judge Bruton. He would help them some. I started
doing it. I started in 1940 with it but really did not get heavy into it until 1945 or
1946. Since then, until 1975, I had one, two, three, or four kids in college all of
the time. Well, I did not pay their whole thing. Some of them I did.
[I helped] one little gal, a little cracker, strawberry-picking girl here [that was] half
French and half Florida Cracker, I called her. [She was] ugly as sin, at the time,
but smart. She wanted to go to college. Her grandmother was born in Paris.
Her family was poor, and she did not know how she was going to get through
college. She had heard about borrowing money to go to college, so she went up
to the bank. This was about 1950 or before that, I guess. Anyway, the bank
said, "You do not qualify for a loan." There were not [many] federal loans then.
So she told the president of the bank: "You know, I am going to college some
way. I have made fairly good grades, and I want to go to Florida State." "Well,"
he said, "I would like to help you if you go to the University of Florida, but I do not
know whether I can help you go to Florida State or not." She wanted to know
why. "What is wrong with Florida State?" He said, "Well, I was going to send
you to Judge Bruton, but I do not think he would help anybody going to Florida
He sent her up to me, and I put her through Florida State. Then I put her
through, partially, that NIH thing in Washington, the National Institutes of Health.
So she had her bachelor of science. Then she wanted more science, so she
decided she wanted to go to Iowa State for a master's degree. I put her through
there, or helped put her through. Then she got the notion she had to have a
Ph.D., and she came back to FSU to get it. I could not understand that, but she
did. I guess I paid about half of her expenses all the way through. You know
where she is now? A year ago this past June she resigned from Iowa State
University as one of their top scientists in dietetics. They were paying her very
S: So she left Iowa State?
B: Yes, and she went into independent consulting. She had her office in Fort
Collins, Colorado. During her teaching--she got her Ph.D. in 1955 or 1956, I
believe, or somewhere in there--she encountered some good minds that she
liked in her field. She ranks now as one of five or six dietician experts in the
country. Some of these kids that have come along she has noticed, kind of like I
noticed her. They are pretty smart, too, so they have a consulting firm in Fort
Collins, Colorado. Guess who their four main clients are? Kelloggs, Quaker
Oats, General Mills, and I forget who the other one is.
S: She did OK.
B: Yes. Of these kids that I gave any money to, there has never [been] a one of
them that I told had to pay it back. [There was] no interest, no repayment.
From 1950 to 1965, every now and then, I would get a deposit slip from the bank
that I did not know where it came from. It turned out that she had made
arrangements with the bank to repay me all the money I let her have. I expect it
was $25,000 or $30,000. I do not know how much it was. I never kept up with
it or never tried to. But she and the banker figured out how much I had given
her, and she paid every bit of it back.
Very few of them did that. And most of them are ungrateful. The most
ungrateful people I have ever know are people I have helped through college. A
few of them are not. I have one at the University of Illinois now getting his
master's in computer science. [He is] smart. Gosh, it cost money to go to the
University of Illinois if you do not live in Illinois. It costs right at $20,000 a year.
Tuition is something like $14,000.
S: And these were all local kids?
B: Yes. There were two or three that were not local. There were some boys that
were in school with me at the University who had to drop out and needed some
help after they got out, before I was able to help them even. But I did help some
of them. One of them dropped out of law school and had to go back several
years later. He never did practice law. [Of] all these twenty-two kids that I have
helped, not a one of them are kin to me and not a one of them are lawyers. That
is hard to believe, isn't it?
S: Yes, it is.
B: There is one that was on the medical faculty at the University of Florida. He got
in trouble, and they let him go. He is practicing somewhere now. I have not
seen him in twenty years.
S: Do you keep in touch with some of them?
B: No, I do not keep in touch with any at all. They are ungrateful people. There
are two physicians here in town. Oh, I do not see them [but] once a year. One
of them is retired. Here and in Brandon [there are] four pharmacists. One of
them lives three blocks from here. I hardly ever see him. He came out of the
army after World War II. He was there four years, and he had enough money to
see himself through except for about $400 or $500. Well, for those four years I
let him have $400 or $500. He never said thank you or good-bye, and I have
not seen him since then.
S: I just cannot imagine.
B: Well, I cannot either, but it is true.
S: I hope that the ones who were appreciative make up for those who have not
been. Like that woman. I am glad there are people like that.
B: It is as my mother used to say: "You cannot be responsible for everybody else,
but you are responsible for yourself. You do your part whether they do theirs or
S: That is good advice.
B: You have seen why I have let a lot of charities alone. Some people get up front
in charities, but I never did. I have given away more money, while living, than
any man in Plant City. Now, we had a man down here that was worth over a
million dollars, but he did not give it away while he was living. I do not know how
much I have given away in the last twenty-five or thirty years.
S: Well, I hope you have gotten satisfaction out of it. I know there are a lot of
ungrateful people out there.
B: Four or five doctors, four or five pharmacists, two schoolteachers, [and] one
engineer. No preachers. My mother would have scolded me for not taking care
of some poor preacher somewhere.
But that boy at [the medical school in] Gainesville was a pediatrician. He was
teaching pediatric orthopedics there at the University. He was in Gainesville
several years. He was a plum nothing here. His daddy was a barber. He
never had anything [and was] poor as a church mouse, but he wanted to go to
school. He wanted to go through medical school. I helped him through
Bowman Gray School of Medicine (that is at Wake Forest University) and Johns
Hopkins. Then he took some of those things doctors take to specialize. His
specialty was orthopedics. He kept limiting it. Finally, he limited it to pelvic
orthopedics for kids. That is his field.
He was on the top of the heap for a while. Well, I think they would not have had
him at Gainesville if he had not have been. His daddy was barber here. The
boy never amounted to a thing here. He was just an ordinary kid; nobody paid
him any mind. But when he got up to Bowman Gray medical school in
Winston-Salem [North Carolina] he did all right. I kept pouring money into him.
About twelve or fifteen years after he finished college--he graduated, I guess, in
the middle or early 1950s--he paid all of that money back. I have not seen him
in twenty or twenty-five years.
S: That is interesting.
B: The public does not know this, and I never talked about it. I never even talked to
you about it I do not think until after I retired. I did not want anybody to say that I
was going around boasting as a lawyer trying to make myself a big shot. After I
retired and after I left the bench I got to where I would talk about it.
When I came out of the law school in the middle of the Depression, in 1931, Dad
had not recovered by any means financially. I started a one-man law practice.
I married Quintilla in 1932. That was the best thing that ever happened to me.
God, she was a great woman. She was a great woman! She was not just a
good woman, she was a great woman. As bad as I am, what good there is that
gal pushed it. She was a great gal. Do you know that she did not go to
S: I wondered about that. I am surprised. As intelligent as she was, I would have
guessed she had a college degree.
B: Well, she was better informed than most people with their college degrees.
S: And she did more than most people with college degrees.
B: Yes, and all for somebody else. [She] never did a thing for herself. I find things
now, in fiddling through her things, [that] I did not have the least idea she was
doing for somebody else. She never said anything about it.
S: Why did she not go to college?
B: She came from a poor family. Her family were not monied people. She went to
a commercial school for a while. But she was a good student. When she
married me, I was trying to tell everybody along about then that I knew everything
there was to know. If they wanted to know, ask me. [laughter] That is just
about the way it was. Well, it is just like the kids coming out of college today, I
guess. I had all the answers, and they told her: "Now, you are going to have
trouble keeping up with J. D. He is going to run off and leave you if you do not
do something." She said, "I will take care of that." And she did. I would stack
her vocabulary up with any [person with a] master's degree or Ph.D. She had a
S: How did she do it? Just from reading?
B: Well, you know, [from the time] I left the house early in the morning until I got
back late in the afternoon, I do not know what that woman was doing. She
reorganized the woman's club here in 1949 when it was dead. That library
would not be sitting up there except for her. Of course, the archives center
would not be there except for her. She was even vice-chairman of the county
Democratic Committee when [Franklin] Roosevelt was president the first time. I
do not know [how she did it], but she could write. She was quite a writer. She
had a calendar on the front of her typewriter there, and every day on the calendar
that day had a word. She learned to use that word. Until the day she went to
the hospital the last time she did that. I used to think that I had a pretty good
vocabulary. (Well, I did until I retired. Now I have lost it all. I cannot think
anymore.) But she had a better vocabulary than I did. Well, she studied Latin,
S: So all her [formal] studies were [done] in high school?
S: I am surprised there was not a scholarship that she could have gotten with her
B: Well, they were not being handed out much then. They may have been
S: That was 1926.
B: Yes. Well, you see, the [Florida] boom [bubble] was just breaking. The real
estate boom was just breaking in Florida and going down. It hit the bottom
along in 1929 to 1935, you know. She was talking to me, bless her heart, before
I went off to the University, about getting married. I said, "Honey, we cannot
even discuss that until I get out of school, and then I have to practice law at least
a year after I get out of school." She said, "Well, so what?" Well, I said, "So
what." And she waited. I practiced law a year before I married her. Along in
that period, those five years, she was improving herself right along. She worked
for some important people. Wayne Thomas was quite a wealthy man here.
She worked for him about five or six years.
S: [Who was] Wayne Thomas?
B: He was a man who did not even finish high school but was editor and owner of
the Plant City Courier.
S: What did she do for him?
B: She was his secretary. Do not get me on her because I will get too far off.
S: Well, I have a lot of questions about her, too, so we might as well cover them
now. So she was working and improving herself all those five years?
B: That is what I conclude. You know, I did not run home every weekend from
Gainesville like some of the kids did. I stayed up there and studied. Of course,
I slipped home to see her every time I could. After she graduated [from high
school] and I went to the University, her family moved to Tampa. They stayed
there until I came out of college. She was a quick perceiver, but she did not
know what money was. They were not destitute. That is not the point. Her
daddy was a working man, but she did not know what money was.
S: What did her parents do?
B: Her father drilled oil wells in Kentucky and other places. And he drilled wells in
Illinois for the coal mines. He graduated from high school in Boliver, New York.
S: What did he do in Plant City? Was he retired?
B: No. You do not remember the news that far back, but along in the 1930s
irrigation became an important thing in Florida--more so than it had been
previously. It had been important previously, but every farm had to have an
irrigation well. Not a small well but a twelve-inch well. He was doing that.
These well fields over here that the city of Tampa gets their water from--the
Cosmy Well Field and the Brooksville Well Field, and two or three others in
northwest Hillsborough and north Pinellas [counties]--he drilled those wells in the
1940s and 1950s. But it was [as] a wages man, not an executive.
When her daddy worked he made pretty good money, but he did not work all the
time. Of course, he could not send Quintilla to college, but she knew how many
cents were in a dollar, and she knew she had to work. Well, she worked for the
first six or seven years we were married. If she had not, I do not know how we
would have lived.
S: Did she move to Tampa with her family when they moved?
S: And then they moved back?
B: No. He followed these wells to Avon Park and Sebring where all the new
[development was going]. Towns were getting bigger, you see, and they needed
bigger wells. He would drill those wells for those cities.
S: So he would move where the work was.
B: Yes, from place to place. They had a mobile outfit that moved from location to
S: So did she continue to move with them, or did she stay?
B: No, she had an apartment in Tampa during that time with her sister. She
worked for Standard Oil Company for quite some time while I was in college.
S: And then when you moved to Plant City did she move back here?
B: Whenever I came out of law school I came back home. That was in 1931. The
next thing I knew she was living back in Plant City. [laughter] It was 1932 when
we got married.
S: And you said she worked.
B: [Yes], until 1938 or 1939.
S: What was she doing then?
B: [She was] Mr. [Wayne] Thomas's secretary. He was a man that lived halfway
between here and Tampa, at Seffner. He was a real estate man, but he
specialized in phosphate land. He dealt in pretty big stuff for that day and made
a good deal of money. She worked for him several years.
S: So she was working the first years of your practice?
B: Yes. Well, I called it a practice. I did not have much.
S: Well, I want to go into detail on that. Let us go ahead and talk about that. (I
wonder if we are getting ahead of ourselves. Maybe we should not. Let us go
ahead.) You graduated in 1931 and opened a law practice by yourself as soon
as you graduated.
S: What was involved in opening a law practice?
B: Well, up in the archives room they have my old desk.
S: So you had to have a desk.
B: Yes, and two chairs. You had to have a few law books. I accumulated law
books. I had the biggest library in town. There were thirteen lawyers here
when I started. I had been used to the library at the law school. I spent lots of
money on books. When I closed my office, I had 6,500 law books just myself. I
gave most of them away to these lawyers here. I sold a few of them.
S: So there were thirteen lawyers here then.
B: Yes. Gosh, I do not know how many there are now.
S: Even [for] then that seems like a lot.
B: Well, the town was about 6,000 or 7,000 population, maybe more. The family
retail business was important. It is still retail, but it was not chain stores. It was
family stores. The man that owned the store downtown, you would have to say,
was a well-known man in town and was making a living. Most of them--not all of
them--sent their kids to Gainesville. (Well, a good many of them went to
Southern [College] in Lakeland and Stetson [Law School] because of church
connections.) Well, in 1920 there was a football player at UF named Joe Merrin
[who was] from here. His grandfather started the first newspaper in Plant City,
the Plant City Courier, in 1884. It is the oldest continuous newspaper in Florida.
S: I did not know that. His name was Merrin?
B: Joe Merrin. He was right end on the Gators [football team]. The Gators that
year beat Texas, Army, [and] everybody [else] but one. There was not any
Southeastern Conference then; you played who you wanted to play. He made
quite of splurge, or what was a splurge in those days, in the sports pages. He
was a small fellow, but he was a good player. Then along in the 1920s we had a
fellow on the football team named Justin Clemens [who] was from here. [He]
was right up front. Then in the early or mid 1930s [there was] Peanut Hull. You
[probably have] never heard about him, but he was one of the stars on the Gator
team. We backed up the University scholastic-wise right good.
S: So there was enough business in town to keep thirteen and, when you came,
fourteen lawyers busy?
B: No, I was [number] thirteen.
S: Oh, you were [the] thirteenth.
B: Yes. There were thirteen doctors and thirteen lawyers.
S: Did you have a secretary?
B: No! A secretary? I did not know what one was.
S: Where was your office?
B: In the Farmers and Merchants Bank building, which was a bank that had closed
in 1927 and had reopened under a different name. I stayed there ten years.
S: So was that an office building then, or was it still a bank?
B: No, it was a bank down on the ground floor. The top was offices. [It was] a
two-story building. I had two small offices [upstairs].
S: And that is where you first started?
B: Yes. My chair and the chair for the client and that desk [were all the furniture I
had]. The drawer in the side of the desk was the file cabinet in those days. It
lasted me a year.
In about a year I began to get a client or two now and then. If I went anywhere, I
had to close [the] office. I did not like that. If I went to court or anything, I had
to close my office. Or if I had a confidential law [case], I had to close.
Well, an insurance man came here and put his office next to mine, and he had a
girl [a secretary]. He said he could not pay her full pay and would I take her half
way. Well, I could not pay her half way. Anyway, she stayed with me for about
a year and a half. My business got to coming along, even if this was the bottom
of the Depression. Lawyers were quitting practice all over the state and going to
driving taxicabs, but I stuck at it.
Along about 1933, President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt appointed me attorney for
the NRA. Now, you do not know what the NRA was. That was the National
Recovery Act during the Depression. [There was] no pay, but it got me on the
front page. And it put me to mixing with those people around town who thought
they were somebody. My daddy told me one time, "Son, you know if you fool
with a flea dog, you will get fleas on you." I said, "Yes, I heard that, Pop." He
said: "Well, if you are going to associate with people with money, you may get
some sometime. If you associate with people who do not have any money, you
are not going to get any." Well, I got to associating with those people that I
thought might have two dollars. That was in 1933.
In January of 1934 the man who founded the Kilgore Seed Company [Henry M.
Kilgore] lived here [and had] his headquarters here. It was the only big seed
company in Florida. It had about fifteen or twenty stores. The headquarters
were here, [and] the warehouse was here. He was a man sixty-five years old.
He sold out all those stores to some chain. It belongs to Upjohn now, the
druggists. They own them now. He sold his whole outfit out for a good-size
piece of money, and he did not have anything to do. So he ran for the [Florida]
legislature in 1932, and he served through the 1933 session [representing
He did not want to run anymore, and they (the general public) were scared a
lawyer would run that they did not want. So in January of 1934 they were
looking for somebody to run. Well, I was looking for someplace to run.
Anybody that said "make a speech" did not have to drop their hat for me to do it.
I was raring to make it.
So two or three businessmen came to me that I had done a little bit of work for.
I was not their regular lawyer, but they threw a few crumbs my way. Of course,
they had known me since I was a kid. They said [among themselves]: "He may
be a pretty good boy, and he does not have anything else to do. Let's send him
to the legislature." I thought I had about as much chance of getting elected to
the legislature as the man in the moon. I was twenty-five years old then; I
turned twenty-six in February. They came to me again and [told me they]
wanted me to run. I did, against this man [who was] forty-six years old [and had]
been a lawyer for twenty-five years. I did not know two people in Tampa.
S: Whom did you run against?
B: A man named Martin, E. P. Martin. He was a criminal lawyer. I did not know
anybody in Tampa or anywhere else except around Plant City. You asked if my
daddy was prominent. I guess he was. A lot of people said to me: "Well, J. D.'s
daddy is a good man. His son must be all right. We will take a chance with
him." And I ran. I had some of the top brass in Tampa right on my ticket, and
how I do not know: the president of the Tampa Electric Company (Peter O.
Knight), bankers, labor unions. I had given the labor unions hell, but they
supported me. I got elected. I was twenty-six years old.
Right about then my business started picking up pretty good. In 1935 I was a
little bit laid back at the session of the legislature. I did not try to run the place.
[If I had] been down here I guess I would, but I thought I better not be so noisy up
there. I got elected beaux brummel of the legislature. I do not know what that
meant, but whatever it was [I was elected to it]. It was supposed to be the
handsomest man in the legislature.
Well, I started getting noisy then. I came back from the legislature. Business
started picking up [and] kept picking up. It just kept picking up. Well, until I
went on the bench it kept picking up. I had a lucrative law practice for a sole
S: So what kind of practice [was it]?
B: Mostly civil [law]. I started out taking anything that walked in the door. It did not
matter what it was.
S: What did walk in the door?
B: Just about everything in the world from nigger knife cuttings to shootings to
robberies to lawsuits over fence lines, over debts, mortgages, divorces--anything.
I just snapped at it. [I] worked at it hard, too. I worked at a little old $10 item
like it was $1,000.
S: When you first started, were you prepared to practice law when you came out of
S: Who helped you? I know back in those days judges used to help young
attorneys. At least that is what I have heard.
B: I do not think they went out of their way to help me. However, the judges we
had then were real toughies. They were pretty well aware of the fact that what I
laid before them had some substance to it. I had their confidence, but I do not
think they coddled me any. The first several years I took anything. Well, after
1934 I was appointed assistant county solicitor. That is the assistant
S: Before you go on, let us cover the other questions I had about you first starting
your practice because you are moving ahead in your career. Did you have any
mentors in town? [Were there] any other lawyers you turned to?
B: Yes, I had one. The others were jealous of me. Well, if a new lawyer were
coming to town, I would encourage him to do it. If he went to them, they would
discourage him from doing it. There was one lawyer here, a single man, who
was a good lawyer [and] a decent gentleman. He had the best practice in town.
Even during the Depression he made money. He was helpful to me.
S: What was his name?
B: J. A. Henderson. [He was] an Indiana University man [who] came here in 1925
or 1926. He was kind to me. The older lawyers in town, at the time, did not
want to see me come.
S: They thought there was not enough business?
B: The way they handled it there was not. One of them had graduated in 1896,
one graduated in 1911, [and] another one in 1920. But the way they did it just
did not make it work. There were not any out-of-town corporations represented
in town. If "John Doe Corporation" in Atlanta, Georgia, had something in Plant
City, they got a Tampa lawyer. I just thought that was sinful. I thought that was
not right, and I wondered why in the world they did not do something about it.
Well, local lawyers did not act as if they knew a bar association existed. I got
active in the bar, [and] I mean real active. I got noisy.
S: In the Florida Bar?
B: Yes. It was way up in the 1930s before I got [involved] in the American Bar
[Association]. Every now and then I would get some little piece of business, and
I did not know exactly where it came from. Well, I knew how it came to me.
Somebody would write me. Maybe [he was] a lawyer in Tallahassee. [He
would] say: "I got this little business down in Plant City, and I want you to handle
it for me. I noticed [you when] I heard what you said over at the Florida Bar
meeting the other day."
S: So you got some attention.
B: I had it. I just directed it. [laughter] I was associating with people like Colonel
[Peter O.] Knight of the Holland and Knight law firm. Colonel Knight had moved
to Tampa in 1899 and established the [Tampa Suburban Company, which was
later acquired by the] Tampa Electric Company. I got acquainted with him, and
sometimes I would get in his way when he was not expecting it. Old man J. A.
[James Arthur] Griffin was head of the Exchange [National] Bank in Tampa. It
just so happened that sometimes he would be somewhere doing something,
[and] I would be in his way. It was just coincidence, I am sure, but things like
that got to happening.
Colonel Knight said: "We have to have a lawyer out there in Plant City. Things
are getting so much [busier]. We had better have a lawyer." He was talking in
his firm about who it should be, and he said: "Why don't we get that little old
Bruton boy out there. He is noisy." They did. Oh, I think they paid me $250 a
year to do nothing. (Well, [I did] whatever there was to do.) I had a retainer.
God! I was getting in high cotton when I got [that].
Well, it was not long after that when the railroads got to be pretty important.
They had already been important, but they got heavily important. There got to
be a little business around. The Seaboard [Airline] Railroad owned several
thousand acres of land around here. The Seaboard said, "Well, we had better
have us a lawyer down there in Plant City. Let's see about that Bruton boy down
there. What is he doing down there?" First thing I knew I was appointed
attorney for the Seaboard Railroad.
Carl Brorien was president of the Peninsula Telephone Company in Tampa.
The telephone business was getting to where they had so much business going
out here [that] they needed a little help once in a while. The first thing you know
I was appointed attorney for the Peninsula Telephone Company, which is
General Telephone Company now. Little things like that happened.
I was prosecuting attorney for three and a half years, and I made a lot of noise.
I was reasonably successful, and I got the attention of other lawyers. Tampa
lawyers [would send me business] when they had something out here that did
not warrant their spending time [here] or [when] doing what it was would be more
profitable to have me do it out here. Business began building up.
These other lawyers around the town [were] good boys, and they were friends of
mine. They were good lawyers, too, for this size town. But they began to
notice how J. D., in the bottom of the Depression when everybody else was
about to lose their house, went and bought himself one. And they found out that
he paid [cash] for it. The next thing he did was quit driving that Model-A Ford
that he went through college on and bought himself] a new Chevrolet. They
said, "How did he do it?" I did not tell. I just worked hard and stayed at it.
Things like that just kept coming along, and local people who had been going to
some of these older lawyers (and some of the older lawyers were dying off, too)
had a little money and some business to tend to. They kept dribbling in. The
first thing you know I had a good law practice. I quit that prosecuting; I did not
like that. But it helped with [putting] groceries on the table.
S: So [as] the prosecuting [attorney], were you trying cases here in Plant City?
B: In Tampa. It used to be the criminal court of record, they called it. I was the
assistant to the prosecutor. They called them solicitors in those days. Why, I
think they paid me $1,800 a year.
S: So would you prosecute cases here?
B: No, there was not any court here then. The only court here was municipal court.
I was its judge. I prosecuted in Tampa. See, liquor was still illegal then. I
prosecuted a lot of bootleggers. It was good experience. The cattle business,
[as] I told you, was pretty big around here. Cattle [were] being stolen, and some
of them had to be prosecuted.
S: [So you handled] the law cases from this area?
B: From anywhere in Hillsborough County. Not just Plant City, but Hillsborough
County. Well, people began noticing some of the cow thieves going to jail and
some of the car thieves going to jail, and they wanted to know how they got
there. Well, I let them know.
S: Who appointed you to that position?
B: A man named C. J. Hardee appointed me his assistant solicitor. His uncle was
[Florida] Governor Cary [A.] Hardee [1921-1925]. He [C. J. Hardee] moved here
from Live Oak and was a University of Florida graduate, the class of 1921. [He
was] way up on top of the class, too. He was a good criminal lawyer. Well, I
did not like criminal law. I quit.
S: Were you still living in Plant City?
S: You were just commuting?
B: Yes. Then I got going pretty good in practice. Before the Depression was over,
I was making more money than some of the lawyers who had been practicing
twenty years. I got to be known as the highest-priced lawyer in town.
Somebody would say, "Well, I believe I will go up and see J. D. about so in so."
[Someone else would say], "It'll cost you." [They would answer]: "All right. It
will have to cost me, [but] I am going up to see him." You know, I did not try to
discourage any of that. [laughter]
There was a municipal court out here where they [heard] misdemeanor offenses.
Right after I got out of the legislature [in 1937] I thought I wanted to be a
municipal judge. It paid fifty dollars a month and held court on Mondays and
Friday. I carried my practice right on. I was doing that. So I took that job.
You know, I could not get rid of it. I sat on the bench there for twenty years.
S: So what did that involve? That was in Plant City?
S: Had it just been established?
B: No, it had been here all the time. Every city had its own city court in those days.
It is all thrown into the county court now [and has been] since 1972.
S: So what cases were heard in the municipal court?
B: Misdemeanors. No capital cases [but things like] fights, stealing, traffic
[violations]. [There were] a lot of traffic [violations]. I tried to quit two or three
times, but there was nobody else who would take the job. So the city insisted
that I stay on. I did, and I stayed on for twenty years.
In the meantime, the city had offered me the city attorneyship. That was paying
at that time $2,500 a year. They came to me and offered it to me. I said, "Not
at $2,500 a year." They thought they were paying me pretty good to do that. I
told them: "No. [Make it] $3,500 and I will take it." They would not pay it, and I
would not take it. So I stayed on the [municipal] bench until 1957.
S: Let me go back and cover a couple of things that you have already talked about.
You continued to practice while you served as a municipal judge.
B: Yes. You could do it in those days; you cannot do that now.
S: You stayed a solo practitioner?
B: [I was a] sole practitioner [and] never had a partner. Do you know who some of
[the people were that] wanted to be [my partner]? Reese Smith was one. He
came to me when he got out of school. He went to the University of South
Carolina and then went to law school in Gainesville. Then [he] went [as a]
Rhodes Scholar to Oxford. In 1950 I admitted him to the bar. (I was on the
board of law examiners then.) He came to me and said, "You know, we could
get together, and we could make a good show in this town, couldn't we?" I said,
"Do you want to came to work at 7:00 in the morning?" "No!" "Do you want to
stay until 6:00?" "No." "Do you want to work six days a week?" "No."
Well, of course, his family was not rich, but [they were] pretty well off. His father
had a good insurance business. Neither of his parents had much education, but
they were top-flight people. They had taught him that the best was not near
good enough for them. Well, he said: "I'll tell you what. While I am deciding
what I want to do, will you let me sit over in your library?" I said yes. For about
two or three weeks he stayed up there with me, sitting in my library, working on
what he called a pro bono case. You know what a pro bono case is?
B: I had worked pretty dadgum hard building up a good law practice in 1950, and I
just was not about to share it with somebody. Right along then I had an
opportunity to be president of the Florida Bar [Association]--uncontested. I
talked to my accountant, and he told me I was a plain fool if I took it. Another
good Gator man [Bill McRae] took it. He became [a] federal judge later. He
was from Bartow.
S: Why was [it] that [your accountant advised you not to take the bar position. Was
it] because it would have taken so much time away from your practice?
B: Yes. I had given about three or four years of my time to the Florida Bar up until
then. That is how I happened [to be in line]. I had earned the position. I am
the monkey that did what we call integrate the Florida Bar. Now, that is not
racial integration. It had nothing to do with race. [The Florida Bar was
"integrated" in 1949 with the Florida Supreme Court, making membership in the
Bar mandatory for all lawyers in the state of Florida. Ed.] Well, integration is
the improper word for it, but that is what they still call it, you know. Well, I am
the monkey that carried it to the supreme court to get it done. The state bar
association had been trying to do it for fifteen or twenty years. We have gotten
off [and] ahead of time now.
S: Yes, you skipped up [a bit], but that is OK. We will talk about that. You
co-authored the rule of court?
B: Yes. I was chairman of the Florida State Bar Committee. That was the old
voluntary bar. Bob Pleus, the president from Orlando, appointed me chairman
of that committee in 1948. He said: "Now, look, Jim. You can do it if you will."
A prominent lawyer in Tampa had tried to do it for three years and did not.
Several others had. Several other bar presidents [had tried also]. It was the
prime thing that the bar wanted to do, and they could not get it by the supreme
court. Well, they let me pick my committee. I picked a couple of good lawyers
from Jacksonville and a some good ones from Miami, Pensacola, and
Tallahassee. They were all first-class, top-flight, good lawyers in their areas of
great influence. They told me, "Do not feel bad if you do not succeed." But in
December of 1949 we got the supreme court to rule [that] it was the thing to do,
and they created the Florida Bar.
S: So before that it was the Florida State Bar Association?
B: Yes. It was voluntary. You belonged to that if you wanted to.
S: Was there anything else, or was there just the voluntary [association]? When
they talked about integrating, were there two entities that joined?
B: No, but up until that time nobody knew how many lawyers there were in Florida.
There was not any list you could go to. See, after a lawyer was admitted to the
bar by the board of law examiners, he went down to his own circuit and signed
the register as becoming a "lawyer of record." That was it. He did not have to
belong to any voluntary organization or anything to support the bar or the
lawyers. It was purely voluntary.
S: But he did have to take an exam?
B: Well, yes.
S: If he was from out of state, right?
B: No, [even] if he was from in state. Well, they called it an exam. There was a lot
of politics in it before World War I. A lot of people got by the exam back in those
days that did not have any business getting by. That is why we wanted to
integrate the thing. [We wanted] to get it under control. You belonged to it if
you wanted to. Well, it was a good organization, but when we integrated this
thing we got every single solitary lawyer in Florida required to put his name on
the book so we would know who he was and where he was.
S: Why was it so difficult to get that through the supreme court?
B: Well, there were more country lawyers than there were city lawyers then--or a lot
of city lawyers who were country lawyers--and it was a question of
independence. There was great opposition to it, calling it control. Well, we had
no way to disbar a lawyer or even penalize him at all except through the local
state attorney and the local circuit judge, but we saw too much politics in that.
Anyway, we got it integrated, and the supreme court allowed it. Everybody that
was a practicing lawyer in Florida could not walk into a courtroom until he put his
name on the books as a member of the Florida Bar and agreed to comply with its
S: And who enforced that? Who would keep them from practicing [if they were
guilty of wrongdoing]?
B: The Florida Bar became an official arm of the supreme court under the direction
of the supreme court. It [still] is now. The Florida Bar had its various
committees on various subjects like they do now. Anytime there was a
complaint filed with the grievance committee of the Florida Bar, it investigated
just like it does now. They have offices in Tampa, offices in Miami, and [offices]
elsewhere, you know, besides Tallahassee. Any complaint filed against a
lawyer was investigated. If it appeared there was reason for accusation, the
Florida Bar committee filed its recommendation with the supreme court. The
supreme court either accepted what was sent to them or asked for more
information. It is that way today.
Well, the rule of integration is all under the Florida Bar. I was chairman of that
committee for about two or three years and got myself a name where lawyers of
Florida had decided that if Bruton wanted to be president [of the Florida Bar] he
could be president, and nobody would think about running against him. I turned
it down. Well, honey, I had gotten to where I was making money.
S: Before you go on, at that time I read where you were on the state board of law
S: And then The Florida Bar Examiners was created out of that?
B: Well, my work in the Florida Bar really attracted the attention of the supreme
court. The supreme court, under the integration [rule], had control of the bar.
The question of admissions prior to that had been under a state law whereby the
state board of law examiners was appointed to admit persons to the Florida Bar.
[They] gave them the examination, graded the papers, and admitted them.
Governor Fuller Warren, in 1949, appointed me to that board. I served until
Of course, in the meantime we had integrated the Florida Bar. The old Florida
Bar Association became nonexistent, the state board of law examiners became
nonexistent, and the board of law examiners was [then put under] the direct
control of the supreme court. That is how it is now. That is how you get
admitted now is through the Florida Bar. It was fathered by the Florida Bar and
[is] an arm of the Florida Bar, but all of it is an arm of the supreme court. A lot of
people do not know that the supreme court has its hand on every lawyer in
S: Was there a problem with lawyers who were not ethical or who were not good
B: We still have them.
S: But before there was a Florida Bar there was nothing that could be done about
B: Except [through] the local committee.
S: And except through the state attorney.
B: Yes. There was a state law providing that the state attorney could file charges
against a lawyer before a circuit judge. If the judge found he had been
unethical, violated a law, or had been dishonest, the circuit judge could disbar
him right there. Of course, you could take it to the supreme court from that
circuit judge's ruling. That is not the way it is now. [If] a complaint is filed with
the Florida Bar, it investigates and takes testimony and witnesses and everything
else, you know. If it finds there is reason for penalty to be applied, they file it
with the supreme court, and the supreme court decides whether the lawyer will
be reprimanded, disbarred, suspended, or what.
S: So why did you take that up as a cause? Why did you see it so important to
B: Well, in 1948 my wings had already sprouted, and I began to think that the place
of a lawyer should be a little bit better respected than it was. I think it has gotten
worse since. I had already learned that if Mary Smith's husband [from] down the
street died, she did not know anything about lawyers, but she was worth a couple
of hundred thousand dollars. There is a $10,000 fee in handling it [the estate].
I had already learned that she saw [in the paper] where that little old J. D. Bruton
was working in those circles and accomplishing those things. The press said
that after twenty-odd years the bar had been trying to do this, and Bruton chaired
the committee [that finally accomplished integration] and so forth. Well, she
sees that in the paper. She hears it talked about among her friends. "Well, I
have known that kid all my life. Maybe I had better use him." It did not make
me mad when she did. And it just kept building.
I was doing two lawyers' work easy when I went on the bench. You know why I
went on the bench? To keep from paying so much income tax. I wanted to be
a judge, yes, but I was not interested in any salary the state had to offer. My
salary was not but about a fourth of what I was making. But I had been working
too hard, and I was kind of afraid of burnout. I thought, "Well, I will take this for a
year of two." I stayed sixteen years and liked it.
S: You said you did want to be a judge, though, and you liked that idea?
B: Well, every lawyer somewhere along the line says, "I wish I could be the justice
and decide some of these things that are being mishandled." Of course, every
lawyer knows something that is mishandled all the time. I served in the [Florida]
legislature with Judge [Harry N.] Sandier and Judge [Henry] Tillman. Those two
and myself [were] all in the Hillsborough delegation to the legislature in 1935.
Sander became a circuit judge, Senator Tillman became a circuit judge, and
here I was the only lawyer in that delegation that had not become a circuit judge.
Here was an opportunity, and I guessed I had better do it.
S: What was Tillman's first name?
B: Henry Tillman. His daddy was "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, the senator from South
Carolina. Judge Sandier was a Jewish gentleman from Tampa who was one of
the finest circuit judges we ever had.
S: So who appointed you judge?
B: [Governor] Farris Bryant. He called me in January of 1961. He said, "I want to
S: OK. Who appointed you Plant City municipal judge?
B: The Plant City commission did that.
S: OK. Before we go to the county bench, [you were] municipal judge. You held
that for twenty years?
S: You have heard a lot of cases during that time?
B: [laughter] Oh, my god, yes! Thousands and thousands of them.
S: And [your decisions] never were reversed?
B: Never on that court, no. I was not as a county judge, either; I was not reversed.
But when I got to the circuit court I got reversed now and then. It got a little
tougher up there.
S: So Warren Cason [UF College of Law, class of 1950; senior partner, Holland and
Knight in Tampa] and Governor Bryant came to you about becoming a county
S: What did they say? How did they approach you?
B: Warren said, "The governor has looked into you, and he thinks you ought to be
the new county judge." I said: "Warren, I am not interested. You cannot pay
enough. I am doing all right. Will you let me alone?" [He said,] "See you
later," and he left. A few days after that the governor called me and told me
what he wanted to do. I said, "Well, I will think about it." It went on two or three
more weeks, and I did not call the governor. He called me and said: "Jim (he
called me Jim), I have a dozen lawyers from Hillsborough County that want to be
county judge down there. They are just scrambling to get it. Here I am trying to
give it to you, and you will not take it. What is the matter with you?" I told him.
S: Why did you not want it?
B: Well, I am afraid to tell you the truth. I thought I had advanced a little further
than county judge. When I got there I decided I was wrong on that. The
important thing county judges did then was probate. They do not do that
anymore. See, a county judge now is not at all like it was then. The county
judge listened to me [when I was a lawyer] more than I listened to him.
S: So you were not interested in that.
B: It did not flatter me to offer me that job. I was probably wrong. I probably
needed a new hat, but that is the way it was. So I held them off [for] six months.
The position was open [for] six months.
Me and my accountant and Quintilla got together. She knew I was working too
hard. I was getting old fast. (And I was.) She said: "I think you ought to take
it. We have got to live anyhow, so let's do it." I talked to Judge Sandier, who
was then the circuit judge that I later succeeded and a good friend of mine. He
said, "Yes, I think you ought to take it." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, I am not
going to stay here much longer, and this place is going to come vacant here." I
said: "I am not interested in this, Judge. My income tax is more than your
S: And he was a circuit judge?
B: Yes. He said, "Well, you will like it." Well, I finally took it and liked that job!
See, I had had lots of probate practice and had made some of my best money
out of probate practice. It was a good practice. At the time I went down there I
do not guess I was considered an expert by anybody but me. Anyway, I got into
that job and liked it, and I got to be [an] expert in it, according to the press. You
know, I was called all over this state to make speeches at bar meetings,
accountants' meetings, [and] insurance agents' office meetings to talk on probate
and the responsibilities and duties and where you get into complications and
bigger matters. Well, bear in mind that this is 1961, and probate cases involved
a lot more than they did in 1931. [There was] more wealth, and the population
was bigger. Well, I liked that job. It was a good job.
It flattered me when the bar association of West Palm Beach called me one day
and said they wanted me to be at their annual banquet on a certain night. "We
will either send a car up for you, or we will send you an air ticket." Well, that
kind of flattered me a little, and I suggested they tell me what they wanted to talk
about. [laughter] I said: "Birding is my hobby. Do you want me to talk about
birds?" No, they wanted me to talk about contingent and fringe liabilities of
trustees and executors and administrators. Fringe liabilities are where you get
into the feathered edges where it is gray and precedents were being made.
Well, I had been studying on all those things. I had the famous Culbreath law
suit before me as a probate judge. It involved $250,000 worth of inheritance tax
if I ruled one way and no tax if I ruled the other way. If I ruled one way, the
Baptist church got the money; if I ruled the other way, the Culbreath heirs got the
money. That was the Culbreath family of Tampa Electric. It was a big case,
and I worked with that. They had good lawyers on it.
Well, they had gotten wind of that decision--it had been sustained on appeal--and
they wanted me to talk about that fringe place in there, [about] who got the
money and who did not get it and whose liability was what. If I gave the money
to the church, it would not be taxable. If I gave it to the beneficiaries of the
Culbreath will, it would be taxable. It would change the inheritance tax liability.
Well, I got a pretty good little feature up before I went down there. I held court in
Tampa that afternoon until 4:30. I went and caught a plane, flew to Palm Beach,
and got there about 6:00. The dinner was about 7:30. I spoke about forty
minutes. (It should have been thirty.) Before the [dinner] I told them I had to
get back and hold court in Tampa the next morning at 9:00, and I could not stay
there at any late party. So I got through my speech and dinner and everything,
[and] about 9:00 I went and caught a plane back to Tampa. I was back home in
bed by midnight. It is not good for too young a man to be doing things like that.
But, you see, I was fifty-four, so it should not have bothered me.
They did send me the air ticket and everything, and I guess about two or three
weeks after that the Estate Planning Council sent me a check in the mail for $500
[as an] honorarium. I was not accustomed to that.
A few weeks after that, I got a call from the bar in Jacksonville. There happened
to be a couple of Jacksonville lawyers at that dinner, and they said, "Our lawyers
ought to hear this stuff this boy is spreading around." So they called me to come
up there. It was not long after that that the council in Orlando called me and
wanted me to come make that same speech. Well, I got to where I made it
pretty good after two or three times.
S: [laughter] You did not have to prepare anymore.
B: No, and it did not cost me anything. I had to work, but that is all. I had some
tale to tell in it. We are getting too close to bragging.
S: What was your relationship with Warren Cason? I know he was from Plant City,
but he was not practicing here.
B: No. When he was nine years old his daddy died. They lived about three or four
miles out in the country. His mother and those kids had to be raised. They had
a strawberry farm and I do not know what else. Lawyers stayed open Saturdays
then, and he would come by where my office was and see me, a young man,
maybe standing at the stairs ready to go home or waiting and hoping a client
would come along wanting to go back upstairs. He would tell his mama, "You
know, Mama, I am going to be like he is one day." He will tell this story.
S: He would stand there and watch you?
B: Yes. He told me this story himself. Well, I did not know I was being watched.
And for the whole time until he was admitted to the bar, he watched everything I
did. He began to glorify me. [He believed that] if he could just get a law
practice like that young'un--I was fairly young then--that would suit him.
Whenever he would get some questionable something [that would] come up, he
would come talk to me about it. I did not really know his father. I knew his
mother well. He grew up on me while I was being a big shot. I do not know
why he took up with me, but he got the notion that I was really making more
money than I was.
S: And he would come to you while he was growing up?
B: Yes. I do not know why that guy took up with me.
S: Well, I guess you were making noise, and you were a role model.
B: He will tell you that he would go by that office; he would want to go down that
street where J. D.'s office was. That is where he got the notion he wanted to be
a lawyer. We never were bosom-buddy, hugging friends. I respect [him], yes.
But he went through law school [at the University of Florida], and I did not even
know he was up there. He worked his way through, you know. Did you know
B: He sold potatoes. He and his brother went to the law school, and they had
nobody to help them. They started a business of french fries. Every morning,
about 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, they would load up an old wreck of an
automobile and deliver previously sliced white potatoes. [They would] deliver
them to every restaurant [and] even the University. They sold lots of potatoes to
the University. [He] furnished restaurants and hotels in Gainesville while he was
working his way through. That is the way they got through. Did you know that?
B: Well, he did. They worked. They got up early and delivered them before the
places all needed their potatoes. They would buy potatoes by the carload. He
was ingenious; he was not lazy. He learned to make decisions. He can push
hard. Gosh, that guy can push hard! The worst thing that ever happened to
him was [his admiration for] Charlie Pell [head football coach, University of
Florida, 1978-1984]. You know, he loved Charlie Pell.
S: Did he?
B: Yes. That is the worst thing that ever happened to him, I think. [In 1984 Pell
was forced to resign amid allegations of rules violations in a National Collegiate
Athletic Association investigation into the University's football program. Ed.]
S: Did that tear him up?
B: He still thinks the University did not treat Charlie Pell right. Oh, he has gotten
over it as far as the University is concerned, I think.
S: So you were on the county bench for [how long]?
B: A little less than four years [1961-1964].
S: And then [Governor] Bryant appointed you to the circuit bench as well.
B: That is right. I stayed until [I retired, in] 1975.
S: Was that the vacancy created by Judge Sandier?
B: [It was created] by Sandler's retirement, yes. And I had served in the legislature
forty years before [when I was twenty-seven]. See, fifty-seven years ago I was
elected to the legislature. Fifty-seven years! Imagine a kid like that being
S: What was going on in the legislature when you were there?
B: Oh, my goodness, the bottom of the Depression, no money, and everybody
losing their homes and so forth. And the schoolteachers were raising hell about
salaries. See, they were paying them $50 or $60 a month then--if they had the
money. If they did not [have the money], they gave them a slip of paper. About
the worse thing it had, and I guess it was about the meanest thing we had to
confront, was sales tax. The sales tax [issue] came up. Of course, nearly all of
us were opposed to it. But the schoolteachers [were in] that gallery of the old
house chamber (not the one it is in now). Oh, there must have been 500
schoolteachers up there, and they were putting the heat on for us to vote for a
S: There was no sales tax at that time?
B: No, there was not any until 1948 or 1949.
S: So you did not approve it?
B: No, we voted against it. And those teachers threw spitballs and little pieces of
paper folded into airplanes and pencils and everything else right down on us.
B: Yes. I had always been taught to do what the teacher says. "Respect that
schoolteacher." "Respect that policeman." "Respect that judge." "Respect
that minister." And women! My daddy told us: "Boys, you respect a woman. It
does not matter if she is a streetwalker. She is still a woman, and you have to
show a woman respect." Well, those schoolteachers really hurt themselves that
year. Of course, we could not stand a sales tax, and we did not want it. But,
boy, they were mean on the legislature. It was awful. I did not know
schoolteachers were like that, and I was twenty-six years old then.
S: Is that what turned you against politics?
B: [That was] one of the things. It cured me of ever wanting to be in the legislature
again. See, I would have gone back to the legislature unopposed. I did not like
prosecuting, [and] I did not like the legislature. I liked that law practice. It was
S: Did you ever get any help in the law practice, as busy as you got?
S: Did you ever take any clerks?
S: Did you ever get a secretary?
B: Oh, yes. My whole legal career I had four. Now, I had some intervening when
they were on vacation or out to have a baby or something. I had four permanent
S: Four at the same time?
B: No, I never had but one at that time. But when I got one I kept her. I always
had a good one.
S: So it was always just you and your secretary.
S: Well, how did you handle so much business and so much work?
B: [I] worked.
S: Sunup to sundown or sunup to after sundown?
B: I worked lots of nights. I took a briefcase home nearly every night for years.
Quintilla did not like that too good because she would want me to go somewhere
with her. I liked it. I did not think it was hurting me any. I was making money.
I was making what I thought was a name. All along through there I [served] on
the [Florida] Board of Bar Examiners, the Board of Governors [of the Florida Bar],
the old Florida Bar Association, and the new Florida Bar.
Then in 1951 I stepped in deep water. (Gosh, I did not know it had been that
long ago, but it has.) In 1951 the Florida Bar elected me as Florida's member of
the House of Delegates to the American Bar Association. Every state had one
delegate [regardless of its size]. Then there were other delegates [elected,
depending on the number of lawyers in the state, from the membership of the
Florida bar. In 1951 Florida had its one delegate, and the Bar elected two
more.] Anyway, I was the third one, and there were only three from Florida then.
I think there are about a dozen now.
I got in deep water there. That was kind of high up for me. For about thirty-five
years I did not miss an American Bar [Association] meeting, even if it was in
London. I enjoyed that, and I met great people. Well, Winston Churchill said
that the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association was the greatest
deliberative body on earth. Somebody said, "Including the House of Lords?"
He said, "Oh, my god, yes!" (See, he was a member of the House of
Commons.) He said: "Oh, my god, yes. It is better than the House of Lords."
And, he said, the House of Commons. He made that statement public. He was
quoted in the paper as saying that. Well, those are top-flight lawyers from all
over. There are about three hundred and some members of the House of
Delegates now. There were only about 150 then.
S: What was involved in being a delegate?
B: Well, the American Bar Association, of course, is a voluntary association. It
speaks for the bar of America. It sets policy. It sets ethics. Its policy-making
[power] is tremendous. It is important governmentally. You see, there is every
flavor of politics under the sun in the American Bar [Association] and the House
of Delegates. We did not have a communist while I was there, but we had
Those lawyers were the cream of the crop of the legal brains and legal
importance in this country. It is a tremendous body, and I liked that. It was as
high as I wanted to go and as high as I could go, I guess.
Then we created the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation in 1955. Now,
you had to be an outstanding lawyer in your state to be admitted to that order. It
started out with 600 in the whole United States. There were 5 of us from Florida
out of that 600. Well, I was just a little bit distinguished from everybody else for
being a member of that body. Of course, Florida probably has 200 members
now. There are about 6,000 or 7,000 members in the whole United States, but
there are 650,000 lawyers in the United States. There were [only] about
I enjoyed that. Family names and lawyers from New York going way back [were
in that association]. I mean, there are firms in New York that still carry names
[that are] 100 and 200 years old, like Sullivan and Cromwell, [for instance]. I like
to know those people. It was good. I was out of place. I did not have any
business there, really. I was not that far up. But I liked it anyway.
S: I am glad you were there.
B: I am, too. At that time it was a little bit more [of a] distinction, maybe, than it is
now because there are so many more of them now.
S: Well, what matters were being discussed by the House of Delegates then?
B: Everything under the sun. Everything! American diplomacy, international law,
unification of law. The American Bar has tried for many years to unify many
phases of law to cover all the states. (There were forty-eight then, fifty now.)
For instance, [the question of] how a will should be signed [was discussed]. If
you move here from Utah and you bring your will, it is usually good in Florida.
There is a difference in the proceedings in, we will say, Massachusetts than there
is in Florida. Of course, now they are hanging on to the old procedures in
Massachusetts, you know.
S: So you would discuss all of those things.
B: There were committees on all those things, and new laws were coming in that
were taking a lot of space and time, [such as] workman's compensation, trusts
and antitrusts, and always something constitutionally. The faculty of the law
school is aware of what the House of Delegates of the American Bar is. They
We are going to extremes. We cannot do things except in extremes in this
country it looks like. Right now we do not even have the word rape in the law of
Florida. It does not call it that. [It is called] sexual assault or sexual battery.
Well, you can look at all fifty states and all fifty definitions of it right now and they
are anything but singular. Well, that is kind of ridiculous.
[Another one is] murder. [According to] the law in Utah, murder is when you kill
somebody and ought not to have done it. Down here we have one, two, three
kinds, and first- and second-[degree] murder, manslaughter, involuntary
homicide, voluntary homicide, and all this other stuff. The [issue is] uniformity,
[and] the American Bar is working on that all the time.
Now, we have in Florida [a] probate law where [a will from] most any state [would
be valid]. If your will was drawn by your Massachusetts lawyer who had been
the family lawyer for generations, or that firm had, you would not think about
talking to another lawyer about it. Well, we have it now to where if you singed
your will in Massachusetts Florida can conform to it sufficiently for it to be valid in
Florida. And, of course, they try to get all of the states to do the same by
Well, that is all to the advantage and good of the people, but the public is not
aware of the fact that lawyers try to do something for their good all the time.
S: Yes. That does not make the news.
S: Well, what were you personally involved in? What committees?
B: Well, to start with I was on a committee I should not have been on: the American
Bar Committee on Resolutions. It is probably the most powerful committee in
the American Bar. In 1951, just before I was elected to the House of Delegates,
I was appointed to the Resolutions Committee of the American Bar. [There
were] about twenty members, and anything that came on the floor for discussion
by the American Bar had to come through that Resolution Committee. That is a
powerful spot. It is like the Rules and Calendar Committee in the senate in
Tallahassee. Well, I did not have any business [being] on that committee.
Those lawyers were all big names--national and international names.
S: Well, how did you get on there?
B: Cody Fowler appointed me. He was president of the American Bar. He said he
wanted somebody on it that had come from Florida and had guts enough to tell
those big shots they were not so big.
S: Had you known him before?
B: Oh, yes. I had know him for a good many years. He was president in 1951.
Well, I liked that. That was about the most powerful twenty men, legally, that
existed in this country. I was sitting there in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel with those
men around that mahogany table. Most of them were older than I, most of them
millionaires, most of them top-firm people. I mean, they were household names
as far as lawyers were concerned. I was sitting there and thought, "What in the
devil am I doing here?"
Well, before I knew it I did just what Cody Fowler wanted me to do. I did not
know it at the time, but Cody had said, as president, that he wanted somebody
up there that had guts enough to tell those big shots which way to turn. Well, I
do not know how they felt about it, but whenever they came up with two or three
things I did not like and I just did not think it was the thing to do, it got kind of
quiet. But I said, "Well, I am going to tell you what I think." I lectured them
about five or ten minutes. Do you know they listened to me? I began to decide
there was some reason why those fellows were there. I liked that committee. I
served on that thing for two years.
Well, when you walk into the Tweed Office in New York, which has been there
since the early 1800s, [you realize the importance of some people]. Of course,
[throughout] the politics of New York there has been a lot crookedness from the
Tweeds, too. But when you walk into that office, you have to get by three or four
secretaries, an orderly, and a security guard to get to one of those Tweeds.
There were 100 lawyers in the firm, covering three or four floors of one of the
buildings up there, and I was thinking about my little four-office building down in
Plant City with no elevator.
The first thing they ask you for is a [business] card. I never use cards. I never
carried a card with me. But I guess in a city like that you have to, almost. The
receptionist outside would say, "Let me see your card" or "Hand me your card" or
"May I see your card?" [I said,] "I do not have a card." "And you want to see
Mr. Tweed?" "I sure do." "Well, have a seat over there, and I will see what I
can do." I said: "Have a seat, thunder! Tell him Jim Bruton from Florida is out
here, and I will see him." She began to wonder if this guy was crazy or drunk or
just what he was. Anyway, she buzzed Tweed's secretary and said: "Tell Mr.
Tweed Jim Bruton from Florida is out here and wants to see him. What shall I
do with him?"
Tweed came walking out of there himself. He had to come from another floor
from where that receptionist was. He said: "Jim, how are you? Come on in.
Let's go in here in the coffee room." You look back to that Tweed family who
has been lawyers in New York for 150 years and helped make New York what it
is, at the influential man he was, and it gives you a feeling. It makes you know
how small you are. It does! It really makes you know.
When I first got to working with the American Bar, there was an old retired judge
from New York named [William] Ransom [former president of the American Bar
Association]. I went to a meeting one time, and I happened to be sitting by him.
I did not know who he was, and I was sitting by him where we were. I did not
have much to say, and he started asking me questions. I answered them rather
limitedly. Finally, I looked over at him and said, "By the way, where are you
from?" [laughter] I guess he thought I was an ignoramus. Well, I guess I was.
But, you know, for ten or fifteen years at the annual meeting and the semiannual
meeting, Judge Ransom and Jim Bruton would get together.
S: Who was he?
B: He was a retired judge from New York, a very wealthy man, and a very big
lawyer. [President] Woodrow Wilson appointed him [to the bench], I believe.
He was an old man when he was talking to me.
S: What things did you lecture the delegates on? You said you did just what Cody
Fowler wanted you to do.
B: Representation. There were nineteen men sitting around there, and I just took
them one by one. I looked up a little at all of them. "Now, you are from
Chicago, you are from Los Angeles, and you are from Boston. You are looking
at it from the perception of a Boston lawyer and a top-flight, upper-level lawyer.
But let me tell you something. There are more lawyers that are not on your level
that do not see from your point of view and who determine the rights of these
small people. These are big things to those people, and you think they are
small. But that is why this country is strong and has been strong because those
who could did look after those who could not look after themselves." I was
talking about the small country lawyer. That is who I was talking about.
They looked around the table, and the chairman made everybody stand up and
say where he was from, where he went to school, if he was in his hometown or in
practice somewhere else. You know, a bunch of them were small cracker
lawyers like I was. Like the fellow from Iowa. He came from Waterloo. Have
you ever been to Waterloo?
B: Well, all they do there is make bacon. I guess [they make] some other things,
but they make bacon there, or did then. Well, he grew up in Waterloo, and he
ended up in Des Moines. Well, of course, there is nothing else in the world
[more] pleasing to an Iowan than Des Moines. I mean, that is just heaven for
somebody from Iowa. Well, I told him. [I] pointed my finger at him and told him:
"You are looking at it from a Des Moines [perspective]. You have been reading
the Des Moines Register ever since you can remember. Your daddy read the
Des Moines Register since he could remember. I expect your granddaddy read
it." They said, "Who in the hell is this young fellow coming down here talking so
loud to us?" Well, Cody told me to, and I did not know any better. I forgot I was
a small fry.
S: So you made them see the other point of view?
B: Yes, sir! You look at the residences of the members of the House of Delegates
right now. I started to say they were not big lawyers, but they are. They are in
towns like Tallahassee, Gainesville, Leesburg, Plant City, and Bartow. Some of
the finest lawyers we have are in these towns, but they were not being listened to
S: Was it only the New York and the Des Moines [and other "big"-town lawyers that
B: It was a hierarchy. A lot of the younger and smaller lawyers would not belong to
the American Bar because [they thought]: "Oh, well, all that bunch from
Broadway, Wall Street, [and] La Salle Street in Chicago were going to run it the
way they wanted to anyway. What the hell. We will not have anything to do
with the American Bar."
S: So you really were a voice for small-town lawyers.
B: I made a noise. It has improved. That did not improve it, but continuations of
that, and some previous ones to that, [changed it]. The chairman said they were
not accustomed to some young whippersnapper coming up to the Resolutions
Committee telling them just what they had to do and what they did not have to
do. So it was changed, not as a result of my efforts but as a result of a lot of
folks' efforts, so that the Florida Bar itself names delegates to the House of
Delegates of the American Bar from the membership of the Florida Bar [and] not
all from Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami.
S: How was it done before?
B: There was not any rhyme nor reason to it.
S: Was the House of Delegates selecting [them] before?
B: Well, no. Under the rules of the House of Delegates to the American Bar, every
state has one delegate. He is called state delegate. Then for every certain
number of members of the [American] Bar [they had], they were allowed another
delegate. It seemed to me like it was for every 10,000 lawyers there was one
delegate, or something like that. Well, with that limitation--[there were] just two
from Florida, as many lawyers as there were in 1950, [although] it has doubled
now--the small fellows did not have much of a look into it. They did not have
much of a chance. So we changed that population rule, and now each bar can
control its own [delegate make-up]. So if Rhode Island wants all of its delegates
to come from Providence, they can have it that way. And if Florida wants all of
its [delegates] to come from Gainesville, they can have it that way, too. But that
is not likely to happen. [laughter] That is most unlikely. Well, it was a lot of
fun. You are making me think I have been living for a long time.
S: [laughter] So before that, then, there was a set number, and you said there was
no rhyme nor reason as to how they were chosen.
B: That is right. The little fellow did not have a chance.
S: Who would select the Florida Bar [delegates]?
B: Well, Florida only had 2,700 lawyers in 1948.
S: And who would decide who the delegates were?
B: The Florida Bar. But with one to be selected from the whole state of Florida,
where do you think he would come from? Plant City?
S: [laughter] But I am wondering how that changed. How did the control over that
B: The control was taken clear out of the House of Delegates as far as the
designation of members from a state. They do not know who is coming up there
[now]. They do not know who we are going to send. All you have to do [to be
eligible] is be a reputable member of the American Bar.
S: So the membership of the Florida Bar decides who [will be the delegates].
S: By vote?
B: Well, you know traditions ruin a lot of things. For a good many years they were
elected from the body. In the last ten or fifteen years--maybe more than that;
maybe twenty years--there has [been] a growing tradition in Florida that is not
good but is prevailing, that the president of the Florida Bar can never quit being
president. His term may have been over ten years ago, but he still has to be
president. So to satisfy their egos, when they elect a new member of the House
of Delegates, they nearly always select a former president of the Florida Bar or
the retiring president of the Florida Bar. And I do not think that is good. Many a
fellow would make a good delegate that never will be president of the Florida
Bar. It is not good.
S: And before that, just so we will have everything on the tape, the House of
Delegates controlled it?
B: Yes. They sent the rules down as to how to do it. Well, of course, that left it in
the hierarchy's hands. The half dozen lawyers that used to run the old Florida
Bar Association, before it was the Florida Bar, [made the decision]. There would
be ten or twenty lawyers over the state who were important people, [and] they
just controlled it. It just is not quite that way now. I am not up on it as much as
I ought to be.
S: Let me ask you a couple of questions about things we have already talked about,
and then we will move on. You had said you were appointed to the NRA, the
National Recovery Administration, by Roosevelt.
B: Yes, by FDR.
S: How did that happen? You were a fairly new attorney at that time.
B: Yes, I sure was.
S: So how did that appointment come about?
B: Well, Roosevelt was looking for young people that did not have anything to do,
and the Democrats were kind of in vogue then, you know. They were not quite
as unpopular then as they are now. [laughter] In every community he wanted
to touch every profession [and do] anything he could to get support for his
endeavors. Nearly every community where they had one of these National
Recovery Act Boards [was a part of FDR's plan in some way]. That is the one
the [U.S.] Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional on account of the chickens.
[The case decided before the U.S. Supreme Court involved the A. L. A. Schecter
Poultry Association and the Schecter Poultry Market and their violation of the
Live Poultry Code as established by the NRA. Ed.] Do you remember?
B: Well, I cannot go into that. That is too long now. The Supreme Court case
knocked it [the NRA] all out because it was unconstitutional. It was brought into
the court through the chicken argument. The National Recovery Act was to
bring together the whole people of the United States and [lift them] out of the
Depression. Well, he [FDR] was pretty smart in polishing these young egos, like
a young fellow named Bruton down here [who was] just looking for something to
do and [was] trying to get on the front page [and had] a political nose and all that
sort of stuff. Well, that is the guy. It happened all over the country. There was
not anything unique about his appointing me.
S: He was looking for the go-getters.
B: The noise-makers, anyway. That happened in 1933. See, he was inaugurated
March 3, 1933.
S: Well, you mentioned making speeches and just being at the right place at the
right time--on purpose. [laughter]
B: Anybody that wanted a speech made, drop your hat. I already had the speech
half done [by the] time the hat fell.
S: How did you develop that confidence? You obviously were not timid.
B: I was timid. I am still timid. I am shy. Nobody ever believes me when I say
S: Well, how did you overcome that and move beyond it?
B: Everything was in front of me, and sitting still did not get you anywhere, so I kept
moving. If somebody needed a patriotic speech made, I was ready to make it.
I had some serious aspects about it, too. I thought I was helping my country.
FDR made us think we were. Everybody loved him then, you know.
S: Did that kind of attitude--your drive and your ambition--begin in college? Did you
have that gumption?
B: No, I did not have that in college. I was purely technical in college. I was not
social. Oh, I went to a few things, but not much. If my fraternity had a dance, I
let them dance. I sat down on the front porch and smoked a cigar and looked at
the weather. I did not care anything about a dance. I was not looking for a gal.
I had the nicest gal back down here at home you have ever heard of in your life.
No other gal interested me. The other boys were all chasing some cute skirt. I
did not care anything about those skirts.
I did not try to be a big fellow on the campus. [Florida] Blue Key had just come
to the campus, and, of course, every fraternity was trying to get all of its men that
it could into Blue Key. I was president of my fraternity right along in there. I
have to say I did try to do that. That was intentional. But my fraternity, like all
the other fraternities, wanted to get as many men qualified for Blue Key as they
could. Of course, in mine they jumped on me first. They said, "Now, if we get
him down there, we will make that one." I did not do it. I was not interested. It
took too much time away from my books.
S: So you were really into your studies.
S: That is why you were there.
B: I was serious about that, although in dollars and cents, by the way we measure
them now, it did not cost much. But at the time, the dollars and cents were
being wasted if you did not make use of your time while you were there. That
was provided there for you to use, and if you did not use it, it was being wasted.
I was serious about that business. I knew I had an uphill climb, and I had made
up my mind that I was going to be a lawyer that would not turn the world upside
down, but in my little corner of the world I was going to have a hand in it. And I
stayed with it.
I did not bother with [extracurricular activities]. Homecoming one time up there
(I forget what game it was now) came along, and we had some tests coming up
right after Homecoming. Do you know I did not go to the Homecoming game
that day? I knew I was weak before the examination was coming, and I tried to
shore it up while the rest of them were down there yelling. I do not recommend
that, but I did it.
Right now, you ask me, "What about your history at the University? What did
you do while you were there?" Nothing but study. You will not find any records
where I [did anything else]. Well, the John Marshall Debating Society, but that
did not amount to anything. They call it the John Marshall Bar Association now.
Oh, I belonged to the International Relations Club and a few little things like that.
At that time the Twentieth Century Club was the women's club in Gainesville, and
every weekend there was always a big, big dance there. I did not bother to go
to those things. Half my fraternity was there. I did not bother with it. It did not
concern me a bit. They said: "There are going to be some cute gals there. You
might meet one." "Fine. You go meet them." I was not looking for one. I had
two things in my mind: get out of that law school reasonably creditable and get
out and make it professionally.
You know, I have maintained hard, conservative professionalism ever since. I
still do. I do not like this lawyer advertising. It disgusts me until it hurts. And a
few other things. Like [Earl] Warren of the [U.S.] Supreme Court. He made a
trade-out with [President] Eisenhower. Eisenhower appointed him chief justice if
he would not run against Eisenhower, you know. The liberal people think he
was the greatest justice in the world. I think he just ruined us with his socialism.
Well, I am an old fogy and an old conservative. But those that criticize me have
been through bankruptcy, and a lot of them are dead. I have not been through
bankruptcy and ain't quite dead. People told me about my investments. "What
do you want to do that for?" Some of them I put through bankruptcy while I was
still in practice.
S: Well, I know that is true with liberals today. They are talking about, "Oh, now
things are changing for the worse with the shift to conservativism." Yet if you
look at the state we are in, there is not a whole lot to be proud of with where the
liberals have gotten us.
B: With the way the national debt the way it is.
S: Just society in general.
B: Bureaucracy has taken us over. [As] I call it, individual responsibility is
becoming more nonexistent. Everybody thinks: "Oh, we will get a grant from the
federal government. If we do not get it, somebody else will." That is just what
will wreck a country. Everybody is grabbing money where there is none.
Well, there is my historical society here. "Oh, we can get a grant to put a new
roof on this building." I opposed it. I would rather put the roof on there myself
than to go and get money from the government with the government in debt like it
is. "Oh, well, there will always be plenty in Washington." Well, the Roman
Empire did not stand always, and the British Empire shrunk pretty good. We
could shrink. You will get me off on a sermon here in a minute.
S: Let's talk about your law school classes a little bit. How formal would you say
the classes were, as far as your attire, as far as taking attendance, and [those
types of things]?
B: Well, I never went to class without a tie on.
S: Was that typical?
B: Yes. Most of the time we wore a jacket. We called them coats then. The
classes were, I guess you would have to say, kind of formal. There was not any
foolishness. I do not mean to say that if something humorous came along [we
did not laugh]. Oh, yes, [we laughed]. But we did not sidetrack the subject by
some frivolity or triviality. The professors we had were first-class. Now, that is
not say the ones there now are not first-class. I am not saying that. I am sure
You take a professor like Dr. Clifford [W.] Crandall. He taught me more in three
years in the law school than any other professor I ever had anywhere. First, I
loved the old man. He was smart, he was kindly, [and he] smiled quickly. At
3:15 in the afternoon his wife drove up beside the law school and blew the horn
and yelled out it was time for him to go home. [laughter] It did not matter if he
was in the middle of a class. [laughter] He liked to play bridge, which I did not
care much about. But in the classroom, yes, it was [serious]. Our time and
attention was directed at the subject matter at hand.
S: How did the professor--and I know this will vary from professor to
professor--conduct classes? You might mention any that stand out in your mind
as far as using the Socratic method, if they were intimidating, or how much
classroom discussion went on.
B: Well, Dr. Clifford Crandall allowed discussions. He was good at lecture. He
used the Socratic method. Sometimes he would say: "Tomorrow we have this
subject up. Now, I am not going to talk about it. I want you boys to come in
here and teach me tomorrow about it." That was an approach that kind of
appealed to some of these young minds, you know. Of course, it did not always
turn out the way he planned it, but you got the idea of it. He was trying to get us
to initiate some thought instead of him initiating some thought. He used
One I could not learn anything from at all was Judge [Robert S.] Cockrell. He
had been on the Florida Supreme Court. [He was] knowledgeable in the law;
[there was] no question [about that]. Without being disrespectful to him, [he]
was a very homely man. If you opposed the Ku Klux [Klan] and favored Virginia,
you passed. Well, that is not quite true, of course, but we said that about him.
He would give you a question, and [when] you got to the guts of the answer he
would interrupt you with something else. Well, I never did learn from him like
that, and I could not [earn] any [decent] grade from him. And the courses I was
taking from him were not supposed to be difficult courses. [The courses] I took
from Dr. Crandall [were] the most difficult courses in the law school, and I made
the best grades in them and was just looking forward to going to the next class.
S: What did he teach you?
B: He taught me Common Law Pleading, mainly, and Code Pleading. We did not
have Code Pleading in those days. Common Law Pleading was supposed to be
one of the hardest courses in the whole law school. Everybody would grumble
and stumble. You know, I ate that stuff up. It just was my gravy.
S: Did you go and talk with him after class?
B: Seldom. We did not, or at least I did not, get on a one-to-one personal basis
[with the professors]. Now, the classes, except for one class, were not too big.
There could have been some personal contact, and I am sure there were those
students who did. But I never did. I was scared of the place. It was awesome
S: So you just admired him in class. You did not have much of a relationship
outside of class.
B: Very little. You take Judge Cockrell, [for instance]. If you were a good football
player, boy, he could not get through talking to you. Well, not necessarily
football, but any other athletics. I did not go up there to learn how to play
football. I did not go to learn how to play tennis. I went up there with a
hard-driving, pointed purpose of getting through that law school, and I knew I had
a job on my hands. It was not easy.
[There were] one of two other professors that I did not dislike, but I did not
affirmatively go for them. And I did not learn much from them. Little Professor
[James Westbay] Day was teaching Personal Property. He was such a lovable
character, and he liked for you to come up to him after class and talk about
everything. Well, I would not get in line to talk to him. [I was] stubborn. It was
my own fault probably. I took Torts from Dean [Harry Raymond] Trusler and
some other subjects. He was a grand man. Torts was not an easy subject. I
admired him. Did you ever hear anybody describe how he taught his class?
S: I have heard that he talked with his eyes closed.
B: [Yes, with his] eyes closed, walking up and down the aisles, rolling a cigarette in
S: Oh, really?
B: He smoked cigarettes, and he would have a cigarette rolling in both hands
walking up and down the aisles [with] his eyes closed lecturing. [He was]
bald-headed. I do not think he had enough hair on his head to comb it.
S: So he would walk up and down the aisles?
B: Yes, while he was lecturing. When he was asking questions, whether he was
lecturing or not, he would walk out from behind his table and walk up and down
the aisle there in that old courtroom. I do not know how he could tell when he
got to the end of it. He did not open his eyes. He would turn around and come
back. Right in the middle he would maybe stop and say: "Well, right now I ought
to ask a question. Now, Bruton, what would you do in a case like that?" He did
not say Mr. Bruton. Most of them called you mister, but old Dean Trusler did
not. He was all right, though. Well, I learned from him. You have to like a
professor to learn from him.
S: Did each professor teach one particular subject, or did they teach a couple of
B: Most of the professors taught more than one subject. See, the law school at
that time was [small]. Well, there were forty-nine that graduated in my class, so
you can see about how it was in the two years previous. I guess about half or
more than half of the ones who went into their first year of law school graduated.
S: So only half [graduated]?
B: Oh, the Depression was on, honey. There were so many of them who had to go
home. If papa became ill or died, they had to go home and take care of mama,
brothers and sisters, and other things.
S: I was going to ask you why [there was] such a high attrition rate, if it was
because of grades or [other factors].
B: See, that was Depression time. And I am sure there were others that just
became disinterested in the law or just did not think they wanted to be lawyers.
Like some of the girls around come and talk to me here. [They] want to be
lawyers, and I ask them why. "What is it about it that you want?" They do not
know. I did not either, much. But, anyhow, it sounds glamorous to an
eighteen-year-old girl out of high school. "I am going to the University of Florida
to study law." She does not have the least idea what she is going to do.
S: Yes. Many of the students there have never been in a court, [and] they have
never seen a lawyer in action. We have a lot of students my age, so they are
old folks. But they have been around, and they know what they are going after.
They know exactly what they want to practice. I think it is interesting to see
them studying law.
B: Yes. Well, a little business experience in advance of studying law is helpful.
S: I would think so.
B: I managed to get just a little before I got through high school. You were talking
about dignified. We were much more dignified than I see up there now. You
would not think about going with short sleeves, tennis shoes, and shorts. You
would have been expelled from college.
S: That is all they wear now, a T-shirt and shorts.
B: Some of those that are doing that now are good students, too.
S: Oh, yes.
B: And some of those who dressed so nice in law school with me were not very
good students. [laughter]
S: So law school was difficult. It was not a breeze.
B: It was everything else but a breeze for me. Some of my classmates have been
the leaders of Florida at all levels. Take Chester Ferguson. You know who he
is. [Ferguson was a Tampa lawyer and served on the Florida Board of Regents
from 1966-1979; he was chair from 1966-1969. Ed.] [E.] Dixie Beggs from
Pensacola [was another].
S: They were classmates of yours?
B: Yes. Oh, there were a half a dozen or so judges, and some pretty good ones.
Johnny [W.] Donahoo in Jacksonville got to be a quite a prominent lawyer up
there. And [there was] a number of others. This boy that gave a scholarship on
one of those continuing add-to basis [was also my classmate]. I have known
him for fifty or sixty years and cannot think of his name right now.
S: Where does he live?
B: He is from Miami.
S: Oh, James Cypen?
B: No. Henry Yancey. I think he put up $50,000 or $100,000 as a foundation or to
be added to until it accumulated to $1,000,000.
S: This was at the law school?
B: Yes. Well, it was done through the [University of Florida] Foundation, I think,
through Bob [Robert R.] Lindgren's campaign. But it was for the law school, or
the scholarships were. I have known that guy since 1926. He is a good friend
S: Do you want me to get the yearbook? I meant to bring that in.
B: Why don't you bring it in. That might bring on some interesting conversation.
S: OK. You were vice-president of your law class.
B: That was a mistake. I had forgotten that.
S: [laughter] What did that involve?
B: Being vice-president?
B: Putting it [the title] after your name.
S: Well, that is nice.
B: [laughter] Well, I had been in law school there for three years. There were, I
believe, forty-nine in that class [that] graduated. I guess after three years I was
considered one of the seniors, the old men of the class. I had clear forgotten I
was vice-president. That was a mistake.
S: So you took three years to go through law school?
S: Did you attend in the summers?
B: No. I studied, but I did not attend.
S: You stayed up there [in Gainesville]?
B: Some of the time.
S: But you did not attend classes. Do you know if they offered classes?
B: No, they did not. They started to, I think, the last year I was there. That was for
some who had slipped [in] the previous semester, so they could start up regularly
the September following.
S: I think it was during the war that they began alternating. They would have
classes at UF one summer and then classes at Stetson the next.
B: I did not know about that.
S: The students could go to either school. I think that was during the war when
they were short on professors and short on students.
B: You know, I had clear forgotten that I was vice-president of my class. Can you
imagine that? Old [C. Robert] "Charlie" Mathis never missed a meeting anyway.
He was president. He was a lawyer in Panama City. I think he has gone to
S: And he was president?
S: So did the two of you have a campaign together?
B: No. I guess the first- and second-year students thought, well, he had arrived,
and they did not interfere. We were elected, of course, by this class, and this
class had some pretty good people in it.
S: Were you friends?
B: Me and Charlie? Oh, yes.
S: Well, with other classmates. Did you all associate?
B: Yes. We would go to things together. See, in 1931 there were only two women
students there, so our goings and comings were limited. [laughter] There was
one girl in the class--a Jewish girl--and the reason she was at Gainesville was
she could not get in at Tallahassee. That is the only way a woman could get in
at Gainesville. So I never went to a coed school. I do not know how much
trouble it is.
S: So there were two women in the law school?
B: No, I think there was just one, but there was two in the University. One was
S: That was it. Do you remember the name of the woman in law school?
B: It seemed to me like here name was some kind of 'stein. [She was] from St.
Augustine, I remember. [She was named] Weinstein or some such thing as that.
She was a nice old gal.
S: So did you get together with other students and study?
B: Sometimes, particularly in courses that had continuity to them. Sometimes
[there was a] fellow we would pick out that knew his stuff on that subject. The
rest of us underlings who were not doing so good would have a bull session with
him some night. Oh, yes, we did that occasionally. But that was not a going
thing. Only the serious students did that. Well, I guess there were some that
got along all right without being so serious or who left the impression they were
[not] serious. But quite frequently three or four of us would get together on
some particular development of the law that we knew was coming up. We would
get together and rationalize all our notions about it. It was helpful. It was real
helpful. Some had studied more thoroughly than others, and those who had not
studied so thoroughly got more out of the bull session than the others did.
I cannot see that woman's picture in this yearbook. Of course, this is the whole
university and not just the law school.
S: Do you remember being told, either by the dean at that time or by your
professors, that they were going to teach you to think like a lawyer? Was there
any of that type of philosophy?
B: Well, yes.
S: Were you told that you were entering a distinguished profession?
B: Oh, it is an honorable profession. [laughter] Yes, sometimes I thought the
professor that was trying to do it was not the proper one.
S: Who was that?
B: Well, that would be several of them. You can mix them up one time or another.
I never learned anything from Dean Slagle. Now he was not a dean; he was just
a professor. His name was Slagle, [but] we called him "Sloogie." He did not
turn me on. I guess it was my fault. If you did not know what he thought you
should know, he kind of made you feel stupid about it. He taught the U.S.
Constitution, which the Supreme Court since the 1790s has been having trouble
with. He sometimes would say, "You have to learn to think of these things in
light of the philosophy in which they were written." Well, who could follow any of
Ben Franklin's philosophy? He had so many in all directions. I could go along
with Tom Jefferson.
Dr. Crandall could precisely describe in words an idea. When he got through
describing it, you kind of had a picture of it. First, he was highly educated. He
was a Michigan University man, by the way, which did not hurt him any. He
enjoyed teaching. He liked people. He had such an enormous vocabulary.
Where I would use a word and leave kind of a thick appearance, he could use a
word that would slice it just a thin as paper or bring it to a point or whatever.
That helped me. It kept me away from generalities and got me into the
specifics. I remember numbers of times, and this has been sixty-five years ago,
S: I know. I cannot believe how much you remember.
B: Well, I can remember some of those better than that fellow who stopped by our
table at lunch.
S: You remember more about your college days than I do [about mine].
B: Well, you were distracted more with handsome men than I was [with] cute girls.
S: [laughter] So you were taught that law is an honorable profession and that you
were going into something special.
B: Yes, they did [teach that]. It was something that everybody could not do and
everybody could not understand. Dean Trusler used to tell us that if we were
going into this profession just to make money, get into another school. He
S: Was that the name of a course?
B: Professionalism? No.
S: So he just incorporated professionalism.
B: [He incorporated it] when teaching other subjects. Well, he taught a course on
ethics, which nobody would believe now. What he taught us as being unethical
is quite acceptable now, [or] some of it. Well, times have changed. Girls had
just started cutting their hair short then. No girl wore an above-the-knee-length
dress. For heavens sake! That was just next to being punishable by death.
S: So he taught a course called Ethics?
B: That is right.
S: I was going to ask you how you learned legal ethics. Was it in law school and
once you were in practice?
B: Well, you know, normal thinking as to morality--when I say morality I am not
thinking about superficial morality--will get you further in ethics than anything I
know. Well, Dean Trusler was pretty good at that. He was an Oklahoma man,
and he believed in honesty. He would always tell us, "Now, if you get into a
proposition here and you are doing something for a client and you look at it and
there is just something questionable about it, if it is just not quite cricket--he is not
telling you everything and what he is telling you is not true, and if it is true, he is
seeking to get you to do that which you can obviously see that you should not
do--if there is any question about it, do not do it!" Well, of course, that is not the
philosophy nowadays. The philosophy nowadays is to get by with it if you can.
They did not teach us that. They taught us decency.
S: And you were taught that. If there was anything questionable ...
B: Do not do it. Investigate it further, anyway. We did not use the term conflict of
interest quite as much in those days as we do now. I can remember not too
long ago things we did that were perfectly permissible [that] now the do-gooders
would yell and scream, "Conflict of interest," with justification, perhaps, [although]
maybe [it was] not in reality. A conflict of interest is harmless if it does not
interfere with the result being accomplished. Just because you mention conflict
it does not mean it is sinful that you are doing it. The accomplishment may not
be affected by the conflict, in which event the conflict was harmless. That is
what the Supreme Court used to say when they tried to justify the error of a lower
judge. They would say, "Yes, he committed an error in trying this case, but it
was a harmless error."
S: I have read that in some of the cases.
B: They did not bear down on ethics as much in those days as they do now. I hate
to say [it, but] it seems to me [that there is] a certain amount of superficiality in
some of our so-called ethics. And I am about the strictest one ethically you
could find. We are more interested in technical interpretation than we are of the
accomplishment of the result without the violation of the law or moral justice.
You got me off on too much philosophy.
S: No, I asked the question. So would you say that is where you learned ethics, in
law school, other than what you had learned growing up, the morals and values
you learned at home?
B: Yes, but it was not a strange subject to me when I got there. I got a lot of that at
home. When I was four years old I was taught to memorize--before I could even
read--the Ten Commandments. When I went to school you did not have to
teach me anything about the Ten Commandments. I knew them. Well, that got
into my system earlier than it did some other people. Whether it accomplished
any more or not I do not know, but I was exposed to it. [laughter] I never had
any problems with that.
S: So what you had learned at home was reinforced in law school.
B: Yes, and made applicable to the situations developed in law. So many times
one's ethical conclusions, maybe unknowingly, are based upon the early
conclusions in their life. For instance, my father taught us kids [to] always know
the difference [between] what belongs to you and what belongs to somebody
else. And you will not have any difficulty deciding who it belongs to if you are
right honest with yourself. But just distinguish what belongs to you and what
does not belong to you. He did not say, "Don't go around stealing." He just
said to recognize what is yours and what is somebody else's. [laughter] Well, I
got that before I ever started school. I began to make a foundation of ethical
thinking, whether it was surface ethics or deep and substantive ethics.
S: Well, that is interesting. We read so much today about the schools and how
they are failing and all of that. I think you are a good example that, "Yes, the
schools can do a lot, but they can only reinforce what is being taught at home in
the area of values and morals and ethics and all that."
B: That is why I object to women working.
S: Yes, I know. Well, the women's movement was helpful in that it gave women
the option, but then when the economy started forcing women to work, that is
where there is a real problem. [There are] women who do not want to work and
who want to stay home with their babies and cannot.
B: Well, you know, my little Quintilla did not have to stay home with any babies. I
did not want her to work. I wanted her on a silk pillow, on a pedestal, where I
kept her all the time, bless her heart. I loved that woman.
S: Yet she was out there working away.
B: [She] slaved herself to death without compensation, but, of course, that was fun
and pleasure. Well, work was fun and pleasure to me. It was a joy to me. I
enjoyed work. I did not hurry to get off the job to go do something that did not
result in any accomplishment. Well, maybe a little physical exercise or
S: Well, it sounds like you got a pretty good legal education because there was
serious business going on there.
B: It may have been a bit narrower that those who read with more rapidity than I did.
Fundamentally, yes, [our education consisted] of the things that were in vogue
at that time. There was not even a tax course at the law school when I was
there. They did not have such a thing. Nobody made enough money to pay the
income tax then.
S: Did all your classes have a practical side to them?
S: So they not only taught you the theory, they [also] taught you [practical aspects].
B: Well, not as much as I think they should [have]. But somehow I believe [they
taught us] more than they do today, although I should not say that. I do not
know what it is today.
S: So you think there was more theory [then] than today? Is that what you were
saying? Or [do you think it was] more practical?
B: Well, of course, I do not know what it is today. I just should not comment about
that. On the other hand, I believe a lot of the practical teaching that was given to
us from 1928 to 1931 in the law school was given to us, but some did not
recognize [it] as being practical. Go back to the ethics. No one had to tell me
in an ethics course what was honest and what was dishonest. That was not
news to me. Now you hear one lawyer ask another one, "Did you learn that in
ethics?" Well, you ought to have learned it from common sense. I guess that is
what ethics is.
S: So a lot of people just did not make the connection.
B: Yes. Well, some of our professors made more applicable what they taught.
Some of it was technical, and you never would get through if you made
application of all of it. We had a good law school, Denise. We had a good
faculty. And except for one or two of the faculty, they wanted the kids to learn it.
They wanted them to pass, too, but they wanted them to learn it. And with the
professor wanting you to go, you would go along with him a little better [than] if
he does not care.
Judge Cockrell was as cold blooded as a snake. He did not give a darn if
anybody passed or did not pass. You know what we accused him of doing?
He was and old man, a homely old soul, and--I am sure--a good man. [He was]
the only man that got defeated for re-election to the [Florida] Supreme Court in
about fifty years. But he was technically informed with criminal law. He had the
kind of grin that [he used] if you answered a question. He had somebody else
ask the questions as a rule, and you could not tell from his expression or what he
said whether you answered it right or did not. Well, I did not learn anything like
S: And he did not tell you?
B: No. Now, other students from that same class sitting right beside me would say
something different, probably, but he was the quarterback on the football team
[and that] is the reason he got his A's. [laughter] Now, that is ugly, but, I
declare, I believe it was so.
S: Well, tell me about your grades.
B: [They were] average. In all the time I went to school, from the beginning until I
graduated, I never made but one failure. I guess I was more than a C [average],
but I was not more than a B. I did not average a B. Now, there are reasons for
that. You know, sometimes a student that does not know as much about a
subject than the other one does gets a better grade than the one who knows the
subject. Well, maybe he was not scared to death or his delivery was better or
something. I had some of that. Some of the fellows who sat by me knew more
about the subject than I did sometimes, but I made a better grade than they did.
Well, I blame that on the professor. Now, reverse it and it is just as bad.
Sometimes I got graded for a better knowledge of the subject than what I had.
Some of those boys I studied with knew more answers than I did and did not get
as good a grade as I sometimes got.
You did not get high grades at the law school then. You did not look across
there [and say] "here was twenty men [who] all made an A in this subject." You
did not do that. There was not any such thing as that. I guess the pedagogical
teachings now are different than they were back then. I do not know why.
S: They are still pretty tight with grades now. We hear students all the time who
say they have made straight A's all through undergraduate school and they get to
law school and are making C's and D's. It kills them.
B: Well, there are two or three reasons for that [and one is] applying themselves. It
takes a law student about a year in law school to quit being scared. Well, it did
me. The University had a fine law school while I was there. Whether I learned
it or not, it was not the law school's [fault] I did not learn it. It was a good law
school. Except for very few exceptions, the professors were, I would say, top
notch. Nobody could get along with Judge Cockrell. Nobody liked him. He
taught two subjects, and I did not like either subject. One of them was divorce
and one of them was criminal law. Those were his two favorites. He thought
he knew it all, and if you did not, [he looked at you funny]. I thought he sneered
at you, but I guess he did not. That was just me being scared.
S: I do not know. Maybe he did sneer. [laughter]
B: Well, more than a majority of his students disliked him. That does not mean he
was not a good professor.
S: When you first moved back to Plant City and started practicing, did you live at
home right away?
B: Yes, I stayed at home I guess about six months. Then I moved up town and
stayed in town. Well, there was a reason for that. I wanted to be municipal
judge. You had to live in town to be municipal judge, so I moved up town and
stayed. [There was] only fourteen blocks difference.
S: You decided not to run again for the legislature.
B: Yes, [for] various reasons. You never heard of the Townsend Plan did you?
S: I think I have heard of it.
B: In the middle 1930s there was a movement on by a man named Townsend who
was throwing off on Social Security. It seems he tried to be president. He
wanted to pay every adult citizen in he United States, by the federal government,
$200 a month. Well, half the men downtown were not making that much money
then. He wanted to pay every one of them $200 a month. (I believe [they had
to be] over a certain age.) You know, the politician was scared to death if he
was not in favor of the Townsend Plan, and I could not stand up and tell the
public I was for the Townsend Plan. I just could not do it. It did not make sense
to me. Of course, it pays me more than that now.
S: [laughter] OK. So you decided that was not for you.
B: Do you know Alfred McKethan [prominent Florida banker], who has given so
much to the University?
B: He was a classmate of mine. I knew him when I made more in a week than he
made in a year.
S: Was he a law graduate or business.
B: No, he was business. When I gave mine to the law school, he had given a half
million to the College of Business Administration, [as] they called it--I think--then.
He could not stand that. He had to increase his. He was a good guy, though.
[He was from] Brooksville, you know.
S: Did you have friends in other colleges, or did you associate mainly with law
B: Oh, yes. Well, mainly with law students. But, see, when the law school was up
on the [northeast] corner of the campus, you encountered more [students] of the
other colleges than you do where the law school is now.
S: Right. So law and business were right there together, were they not?
B: Well, business was scattered at the time. The business school opened while I
was there under Dean Matherly. (He was from North Carolina, by the way.) It
was scattered at the time. It was small. It was business administration and
journalism at that time. It kept separating and getting bigger. I guess business
is the biggest thing on the campus now, is it not?
S: Well, other than medicine I guess so. [The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
is the largest. Ed] Business has three buildings now: Bryan Hall, Matherly Hall,
and there is another [new] building.
As far as when you were at the University, did you have any dealings with any
other administrators? You mentioned meeting President Murphree. Did you
have contact with him as a student?
B: Yes. And Dr. Tigert, too, who succeeded him. My contact mostly with Dr.
Tigert was [because] he was a Rhodes Scholar. I had never seen one before,
and I wanted to see what he looked liked. He was a big man. I am a little over
six feet, and he was two or three inches taller than I am. He played golf, and I
started playing golf to kind of limber up a little about 1929. It would be at odd
times when nobody else would be playing (maybe I would have another student
with me), and Dr. Tigert was the same way. He liked to play golf.
So sometimes we would meet at the golf course when everybody else was
leaving, at 4:30 or 5:00, and we would go out and play half a round of golf before
dark. That was where I started playing golf. On Labor Day 1941 I quit playing.
I put my clubs in the bag, the bag is setting out there in my boathouse, the clubs
are in it just like they were when I walked off the golf course that day, and they
have not been removed out of that bag since that time. They are leaned up out
there right now.
The thing that interests most people when I tell them that story is that three of the
clubs have wooden shafts. All golf [clubs now] have metal shafts, you know.
They say, "Where in the world did you get a wooden shaft for a golf stick?"
Sears and Roebuck. They are out there setting in my boathouse. And that
leather bag that I got a year before that has got those sticks in there just like they
were, and they have not been moved. Every time I have had to move the
boathouse or anywhere, those sticks stayed right there.
S: Why did you quit playing?
B: Gasoline got short in 1941. If you remember, Labor Day 1941 was about three
months before Pearl Harbor. Gasoline got short, and things got busy. We had
to do things besides play, so I put up my golfing sticks for the duration of the war
and never did go back. I never could play much, but I got a lot of satisfaction. I
never was much of a player. But it has been fifty years since they have been
out of that bag, and they are setting there right now. Several people, when they
go in the boathouse, see them there. They reach over to pull one out and look
at it, and I stop it right there.
S: OK. We went up through where you were a county judge and then where you
became a circuit judge in 1964. So you continued to commute from Plant City to
Tampa every day.
B: Well, I lived closer to the courthouse than some of the other judges did.
S: Governor Farris Bryant appointed you.
B: [He appointed me to] both [positions].
S: OK. What did you think about being a circuit judge? You said it was tougher.
B: Well, there were tougher decisions, and it was tougher work. Our circuit court,
at that time, handled only criminal cases that called for capital punishment. I
tried no criminal cases except where the ultimate punishment could be capital.
That eliminated all misdemeanors and most felonies. The only things that
carried death then were murder in the first degree and rape.
S: So who would try [the lower cases]?
B: We had a court intervening between the county court and the circuit court called
the criminal court of records that tried the felonies less than capital. So my
criminal experience on the bench, at the county [and] state level, was purely
capital, [although] I did not like high capital cases.
S: You did not?
B: No. You are trying a man's soul. If you have any ideas of justice and any
humanitarian attributes of character, that is a tough spot. But I made it through.
I cannot say that I enjoyed it, or not that part of it. I would say that it was a good
experience. And I honestly believe that I never did send the wrong man to
prison. I might have, but I do not believe it. One with less internal
conscientious pressures would not have taken it as seriously. That I say
because you cannot always tell just how serious a man takes his internal
conscientiousness from the outside appearances. But the circuit court was a
great experience. I was glad I quit practicing law and went on the bench then.
It certainly was not for the pay. It cost me thousands of dollars to be a circuit
judge. Well, a county judge too for that matter. But I do not guess I am going
to starve to death.
S: OK. Was it all capital cases?
B: That is the only kind of criminal cases I tried. Now in 1972 that changed.
Misdemeanors went to county court, and everything felony went to the circuit
court. That included other than capital felonies. That was in 1972 that
changed. Well, you see, I retired in 1975, so I did not get much of it.
S: So it was almost all murders and rapes?
B: That is all it was criminally. That was a small part of the business, really,
because most of it was civil cases. When I went on that bench in 1964, there
were eight circuit judges. It seems like there are twenty-four or thirty-four now, I
forget which, in the Hillsborough Circuit.
S: What counties were included in your circuit?
B: Hillsborough only.
S: All of Hillsborough County?
B: Yes. I do not know if the population doubled or not, but right near it.
S: OK. I read in that Tampa Tribune article that you retired when they passed a
S: Yes. The financial disclosure [act].
B: I might not have retired when I did except for that.
S: So was that a new rule?
B: Yes. The Florida Judicial Qualification Commission, which was the body to
which you complained about judges, started off and kept increasing its hold
(which was good) on the conduct of judges. Well, along in the late 1960s or
early 1970s they had a provision requiring that every judge had to file a financial
statement with the Judicial Commission and a copy of your income tax return.
At first it was just a financial statement, then they added an income tax thing.
Now, that was sealed when it was filed. It was not to be opened or read by
anybody until a complaint was filed against you. If a complaint was filed against
you, then it was to be used as part of any complaint that was made against you if
you had not told it straight.
Well, I did not mind that. I did that, and I had my accountant take care of the
income tax return and so forth. It was alright. I had no objection to that. If
there had been any valid complaint filed against me, it would have been all right if
it had been opened. But in 1975 they went one further. Beginning October 1,
1975, the rule was the judge had to file a copy of his income tax return with the
clerk of the circuit court for everybody to look at that wanted to. Do you know
what I told the supreme court? I wrote the supreme court [that] it was a silly
rule, [and] I was not going to abide by it. Here is my resignation, and I quit.
I have not filed it either. If I had filed my income tax return and the average
person would see what I had accumulated over forty-odd years of being a lawyer,
they would say, "Who did you steal that from?" I could not have gotten elected
dog catcher if they had known how much I was worth. I would not do it. I did
not. I have not.
S: Well, why do you think people would have thought that based on income?
B: Do you know anybody that does not have anything that is just a might jealous of
somebody that does?
B: Well, it only takes a might for them to vote against you, and I was already
sixty-seven. I should have retired at sixty-five, I guess, but I stayed on until I
was sixty-seven. I could have stayed until I was seventy where I had to retire,
but I wrote the supreme court that I thought the rule was silly, I was not going to
abide by it, and I quit. And that is what happened. Of course, I had to write the
governor and give him my resignation, and I did not resign, I just retired. You
know there is a difference. I am still setting on their records up at the supreme
court as a circuit judge. I did not send in my resignation. I sent in my
retirement. One or two of the judges called me up and laughed about that.
[laughter] Two of the justices.
S: Have they ever called you for some service and want you back for service?
B: Not after that they did not. For a year or two I sat when some judge was on
vacation or ill or something.
S: After that?
B: No. Really I did not refuse to be assigned after that, but I did not file any returns
after that. And they have asked me to serve several times, and I never filled out
any returns. They never asked for them.
S: But you did serve?
B: Yes. You see, I think the rule called for a full-time circuit judge filing a return.
When they called a retiree in to sit, I do not think they held him to that. They did
not me, anyway. For a couple of years I sat. Then it got to where it was
costing me money. They would pay me $100 a day, Social Security would take
$50 of that, and I was in the 70 percent tax bracket, and they did not give me
enough money to pay my taxes on my $100. It cost me about $25 a day to go to
work for them, so I quit.
S: Did you quit because of the financial disclosure requirement? I also read where
judges were required to divest themselves of business ties.
B: Now, they did not ever touch me about the business ties. I was on the bank
board and a few corporate boards, none of which conflicted to what I was doing
on the bench except one. I was on the board of the Hillsborough Bank, and if
the bank got into a suit, there was a chance that it [would] come before me. It
never did, but there was a chance that it would. That is how the rule came
about--not in my situation but a general situation all over the state--that they
would not permit you to sit on the board of corporations. I did until I retired.
S: So they required all judges to [divest]? Judges could not have any directorships
or anything like that?
B: That was what the supreme court [ruled].
S: Is that how it is today?
B: Yes. Now, I think there is some that happens that is not known. For instance,
you are setting as judge in Hillsborough County, and a lawsuit comes up
between Coca Cola and General Electric in Boston. You do not have any stock
in either company, but you sit on a committee down here for General Electric or
whatever it may be. I do not think there is any conflict there, but the Judicial
Administration Commission does not like it. So the judges are scared of it. I do
not blame them. If my living depended on that judge's job, I might have been a
little more cautious about it than I was.
S: Were you the only judge to step down because of that?
B: No. Quite a number over the state of Florida retired that day.
S: You are kidding.
B: No. Now, some of them will not tell you that was the reason. I would have
retired two years [or] three years later anyway. I had to. But I talked to two or
three of them who quit because of that rule. And one or two who stayed on a
year or two longer and filed a return saw the reaction from it, and they quit. One
down on the east coast filed his income tax return, and he had some clients who
were well off when he was in practice. They had always supported him, and
when they saw he was not worth anything they said: "My god! We have been
using that guy for a lawyer before he went on the bench, and he was not worth
anymore than that after practicing law thirty or forty years. He is not a good
enough lawyer for us."
S: Well, see, that is what I wondered. You said somebody would look at that as a
negative. If they would look at a high income as a negative, that could go either
way. Nowadays you expect someone in office to have quite a bit of assets.
B: Well, you know, you get things down to a point in logic, carried to its extreme, is
ridiculous. Like Thomas Jefferson said, "When you get equality, equality ends."
So I say we have to do everything in extremes. We cannot do anything
moderately anymore. I cannot even buy an automobile moderately anymore.
S: Well, I was very interested in your quote in that article where you said, "To be a
judge now, one must never have had a thought, never have had a conviction on
anything, never expressed a conviction on anything, never have been a
successful lawyer, never accumulated any assets or property, and must have
acquired the intelligence of a pimple on a baby's nose."
S: Is that what you said?
B: I remember something [like that]. [laughter] What article was that?
S: That was a 1975 Tampa Tribune [article].
B: That was the day I retired. I have got lots of clippings. I do not know if I have
got that one or not.
S: Well, I thought that was interesting.
B: It is about true. Look what they did to [Robert] Bork. And look what they are
doing to this poor Negro boy [Clarence] Thomas.
S: And they did it to [David] Souter.
S: I was going to ask you about that. What do you think of the questioning of
B: Political interrogation is what it is. I do not approve of the way they treated Bork.
I do not know how he is fixed financially, but if I had been independent
financially in Souter's place and they talked to me like they did to him, I believe I
would have picked up my cards and said, "I'll do my service to my country in
some other division than this." Well, I guess I might not have done that, but that
is what I thought. I think it is ridiculous. So many of those cannot remove the
film of political aggrandizement in it.
S: Well, especially with you having been a judge, they want to know how someone
in going to rule on something before it comes up.
B: I am not going to do it. It is ridiculous.
S: That is what judges are for. They are to decide on things when they are in front
of them. I do not know. I do not understand that. It is like they want to get
someone in there who is going to rule a certain way.
B: Well, although I do not know what liberalism and conservatism is, that is what the
conflict is in those interrogations on that point. Some of the questions and
answers that he [Bork] made himself to Senator [Edward] Kennedy was more
entertainment than it was a confirmation hearing to me. Of course, he is getting
entertained appropriately now.
S: You have been in the public eye quite a bit--featured in newspapers--and I
wondered what you thought of the publicity over the years.
B: Well, do you mean about lawyers or judges?
S: About you personally.
B: The press has been good to me. It has disagreed with me a few times. It did
not disturb me a bit, and their disagreement had nothing to do with my decision.
That is where I hang up with some of my friends in the political world now. They
like to make their views conform to the public media's views. That did not hit me
that way. I had to have my views, and I was not going to change them because
of media influence. I do not like that. For me, personally, from the time I first
ran for the legislature back in 1934, the press started being good to me. Well, I
do not know if it was good to me. They just did right by me, I would say. I do
not know that there was any bias in my favor. But there was not any against
Jimmy Clendenin, editor of the [Tampa] Tribune for so many years, was a
young buck reporter when I was a young buck lawyer. When it came to the
Missouri plan being adopted in Florida for the election of judges, I went for it
strongly. I had a hard time getting him for it but did. Now I wonder if it was right
another twenty years later. But the fact [was] that Jimmy Clendenin was editor
of the Tribune, and a lot of the politicians hated him with a passion. We
disagreed over some of those things, and [did so] publicly in the press. But I
never have felt that the press misused me. Now I could read yesterday's
Tribune and tell the writer where he did misuse his subject, I think. But it did not
used to be that way. Maybe I do not know what I am talking about.
S: Where there any cases that you handled that were big attention-getters?
B: Oh, yes! I have got a file or two left.
S: What were some of the big ones?
B: Well, the Golub divorce case. Do you remember about it? It was before me
right here in Plant City. She was a schoolteacher, and she wanted a divorce.
She had read about where you could get [divorced] yourself without a lawyer.
She read in some classified section where if you wrote the post office box in Fort
Lauderdale and send them $15 they will send you all the papers and you can get
yourself a divorce.
S: Is that the unauthorized practice case?
S: I do remember that.
B: The one that went to the Supreme Court was from Jacksonville. Well, while the
case was pending before me I had to rule. About two or three weeks after I
ruled, the Supreme Court ruled with me. Well, she came in [my court] about two
or three or four times, and every time I would have to put her out because she
did not know what she was doing. She was a nice lady, and I will bet a good
schoolteacher. But she was trying to save a lawyer's fee and did not know what
she was doing. So I would dismiss her case every now and then and give her a
later hearing and let her try to fix it. So [then] she would come in and ask me
questions. Well, you cannot be the lawyer and the judge too in the same case,
and she got awful offended at me.
So one day she got the press into it. She got the [Tampa] Tribune reporter over
here, and she said, "I want to know what is the matter with my papers." I said:
"Well, now, I cannot practice law lady. If I give you legal advice about how to fix
your divorce papers, I am practicing law. That would be illegal for me because I
do not even have a license to practice law." She said, "What are you doing
being a judge?" I said, "There is a difference in being admitted to the bar and a
license to practice law." (A license to practice law is a pure occupational
license. They do not even ask you to show them anything to get a license to
practice law--or any other profession for that matter.) I said: "Lady, I will tell you
what is the matter with you. You do not know the difference between a
judgment in divorce and a wheelbarrow."
Well, that hit the press. Now, was that not something important in relation to the
legal question? Some smart aleck judge popping off at the mouth ought to have
kept his mouth shut. Anyway, that thing got all over. I got piles of letters.
They were from Oregon [and] some from Hawaii--just dozens of them. All of
them [were] hate letters. Some woman or some man who got into a divorce and
got trouble hated all judges for that reason, so they fired on me. One of the
rulings I made, the Tribune made a front-page headline on it that long.
They called it do-it-yourself divorce [back then]. [Judge Bruton shows Stobbie
his collection of newspaper clippings. Ed.] God, look at the newspaper
clippings. [There are] just dozens and dozens of them.
S: Is that all from that [Golub case]?
B: Yes, this is all on that case. There she is. [Bruton finds a picture of Ms. Golub.
Ed.] She was a nice lady.
S: When was that. When was the date on these [clippings], 1973?
S: [Headline:] "Does the Judge Know Justice?"
B: Yes. [laughter] There are just page after page, clipping after clipping from all
over. Not just the Tribune but the other papers over the state. Here is one in
here from the Gainesville Sun. There is just loads of it.
S: Did she ever get her case through?
S: Did she get a lawyer?
B: No. She got it through. She happened to get it right, but some lawyer helped
her. I am sure she did not do it herself. So the Tribune gets smart, as it
frequently does, and went down and asked a lot of other judges what they would
do in that situation. That was an improper thing to ask them in the first place
with a pending case before another judge in the same district, and there was
some of your judges from Tampa who made answers as to what it was.
S: And did the judges answer?
B: Most of them said the same thing I did only in a little different words. Here is an
editorial. The Tribune ran this editorial on April 11 about the wheelbarrow
S: That is great! What a good quote. Look at that!
B: Honey, I have got hundreds of these things.
S: "Florida Supreme Court rules that the firm that was selling the kit was engaged in
B: They sustained what I did in the Golub case, although they ruled in another case.
You can just imagine what that did to that poor schoolteacher when she saw
that headline come out. One time the news reporter said, "If I do not mention
your name, is it alright for me to say this?"
B: There are letters. You would be surprised from where. Everywhere! Here is
one from Lansing, Michigan. Here is one from Portland, Oregon. "I just want to
say that I think you was unmannerly if you deny a woman a divorce because she
had approached the court without a lawyer." Here is one. What town is that
S: Mineral Ridge, Ohio. So all over the country you made news.
B: Oh, yes!
S: How did you feel receiving these, amused?
B: Yes, amused. Here is a whole bunch more.
S: A judge has to have a strong constitution, does he not?
B: Well, some do. I cannot tell where that is from. They did not put a return
[address] on it.
S: WA, I guess, is Washington. It says, "Postal Service, WA." So maybe [it is
B: Here is one from Lakeland [Florida]. Here is one from Alvin, Texas. I never
heard of that place. Boseman, Montana. Tallahassee. That is from a judge,
by the way: May Walker. You do not remember him. Here is one from San
S: Golly, did you make the news with that!
B: Here is one from Billings, Montana.
The one [case], I guess, that got the greatest publicity was when the National
Baseball League and the American Baseball League got into a wrangle over
moving the Milwaukee Braves to Seattle. Out there the Braves were called [the]
Pilots. Milwaukee wanted the Braves back, and Seattle wanted to keep them
there until they paid their debts. They owed about two or three million dollars
worth of debts around Seattle.
To sue the league at that time, you had to serve, with a summons, certain
officials. You never could get all of those officials in one state where you could
serve them. If you served one in Georgia, that was all right for Georgia, [but] it
was not all right for the one in San Francisco who never got served. And you
could not serve him personally in San Francisco. It was a different state, and
the only other way was advertising. At that time, advertising did not work.
The National Baseball League and the American League has a joint meeting of
owners at least once a year and sometimes more often to do their various things
like admit a new team or exclude a team. They met in Tampa. All of the
officials were in Tampa at one time--just the right place to file the suit and get the
sheriff to serve papers on every one of them at one time in one court. The
Milwaukee people were there; the Seattle people were there. There must have
been twenty-five lawyers there from everywhere. I mean, top-drawer lawyers.
There was lots of money involved in that case.
So they filled the suit and called for a emergency hearing because this meeting
was going to be over, and these people were going to leave if they did not get the
papers served on them. Well, I always go to work earlier than other judges.
The rest of them came in 8:30 or 9:00. I usually came in about 7:30 or 8:00. I
was in my chambers studying, and one of the maids on the floor came in and
said: "There is a whole bunch of lawyers out here wanting to see you. They said
it was an emergency." The case had not been filed yet; it was ready to be filed.
In case of an emergency, the rules at that time said you could take [the case] to
any judge that was available. Otherwise, it would have to be filed, and the
judge, by anonymous assignment, is given the case so you do not know what
case is coming before you.
Well, the clerk's office did not open until 8:30, and they were in my office about
7:30. A bunch of them were tuned up to leave the airport at 10:00. The Fowler
and White firm and some other firm came running into the courthouse hunting a
judge--they did not care which one--and I got caught.
So I enjoined them from moving the Pilots from Seattle to Milwaukee. Of
course, the injunction would prevail until some higher court overruled it. I signed
the injunction, and they stood at the airport for the plane heading for Seattle and
Milwaukee. The sheriff stood at the airplane to serve them as they went on.
That meant they had better not go, or else they had better abide by the order.
And they served them all.
So that enjoined the baseball team being shifted back from Seattle to Milwaukee
without paying their three or four million dollar debts out there. They were trying
to slip out, so the story was, without paying it.
S: So you had to make that ruling?
S: Did you know anything about what was going on?
B: I did not know beans about it. I had never heard of the case. Why, I did not
know there were two baseball leagues. [laughter] Anyhow, it looked like
something had to be done or there was no telling what would happen, and it
involved every state in the Union. I do not know how many baseball teams there
are, but their owners have millions of dollars invested, you know. It was a
tremendously important thing, so I said: "Well, it looks to me like they had not
ought to let them leave if they have not paid their bills. I believe in paying your
bills, so I am going to issue the injunction." And I did.
Well, the Associated Press and the United Press, [Tampa and St. Petersburg
television stations] WTVT [and] WFLA, [and a lot of other] TV stations and news
people [were there]. You could not get into the courthouse for the news people.
I had already signed it, and everybody was gone, so I did not have anything to
worry about. They asked my secretary where the people were, and she said
they were all sitting at the airport at those planes trying to catch them. So here
went the news crowd out there. You would have thought it was a holiday parade
with the news [crews] going out there. [There was] all kinds of equipment.
They did not have equipment then like they have now. They rode a big wagon
with a lot of stuff on it, [and] now they carry it in a camera recorder.
Well, they went out there, and it got spread all over every sports page and a lot of
the other pages through the whole country and Canada. At that time the
Vietnam war was going on. Stars and Stripes is the newspaper of the army; it is
the army's own newspaper. Well, of course, all the boys overseas and all over
the world get that paper. They are all interested in sports--and particularly those
back home. It got into the Stars and Stripes newspaper, and the boys in
Vietnam got it. I bet I got 150 letters from Vietnam, some of them for it, some of
them against it, and some saying I'll bet you're having fun. Some of the boys I
knew, and they knew me.
Well, that got in all the papers all over. My secretary usually took the clippings,
and she came in two or three days after that and said, "Judge, do you want me to
get all these clippings?" I said, "Well, why don't you." She said, "They will have
to get me a wagon to haul it in." [laughter]
Well, for that case I got spread out. They filed a suit, and the people in Seattle
that had the money coming to them filed some suits to back up what I had done
down here because the sheriff here had no authority over anybody in Seattle.
So there was kind of a transfer in there. There were a lot of lawsuits up there,
and it spread. Finally it got in to Milwaukee. I never did know what the final
judge's order was, but the thing was settled where they got the Milwaukee
Braves back to Milwaukee. You know where they are now, do you not?
B: Atlanta Braves. [laughter]
S: So at that time they wanted to go from Milwaukee to Seattle?
B: They wanted to leave Seattle and go back to Milwaukee. I did not let them do it
as long as I had a hold of it. There was a lot of litigation other than what was
before me. And I never did have to sign a final judgment in it. I never did sign
a final judgment.
But to talk about the press, the sports writers had a lot to say about it. Some
sports writer in some god-forsaken, way-off place (I do not know where it was
now; it seems to me like it was in Canada) wrote an editorial about the judge
down there making such a stir over such a little thing. [laughter] He criticized
me a little. He said, "Well, at least if they had sold tickets for admission they
could have paid off the national debt." [laughter]
Well, some of those things I laugh about now I did not then. I had been on the
bench quite a while then, but I never had handled a baseball lawsuit. I did not
know anything about it. But those high-powered lawyers, my goodness. I
never saw so many big-wig lawyers in one lump in my life. That is the biggest
publicity that I ever got into.
S: That case?
B: Yes. I do not think I got hurt from it, but I would have just as soon not faced it at
all. But in that Golub case, those people were bitter in those letters. I did not
let you read any of them. Oh, they are nasty. Oh, yes, they called me what I
was. The women were more bitter than the men, but I believe there were more
men that wrote than women.
S: Well, probably the women saw it as you saying that to her only as a woman, not
because she was ...
B: She was unlearned. I did not want to say she was ignorant. Of course, that
was not in court. That was in my private office, but the newspaper boys were
standing around. I would not have said that in court. Now, some of the
newspapers tried to say I did, but I did not. The Tribune reporter was standing
at the end of my desk in chambers, and he said: "[The judge made these
remarks] in chambers. She was in wanting to grumble at the judge, and he told
her he had another case to try and said, 'You do not know a judgment from a
wheelbarrow, and you had better get yourself a lawyer."'
She got tired of me telling her she ought to get herself a lawyer. I was out of the
state about a month after that. I was away, anyhow. You had to give five days
notice of a hearing, and she had exactly five days from the time I was gone to the
time I got back. But she set the case before the first judge she could get an
opening from in Tampa, and it was Oliver Maxwell. She went in with her papers
to him, and he said: "Well, if you carried these papers to Judge Bruton, he would
have signed the divorce for you, too. He is out of the state now, so I will sign it
for you." He said she had everything in order.
Of course, she had a form, and [she] wanted me to fill it out for her. Well, that
would have been impeachment grounds against me, handling a case for
somebody before me. I was sorry for the girl, and I did not say anything bad
about her. I said she was a nice girl, and I think she was a nice schoolteacher.
I did not blame her for trying to save a lawyer's fee. It was the wrong thing to do.
Of course, most of the newspapers that opposed it wrote editorials saying it was
lawyers protecting one another so they could get their fees. Well, I do not know
whether any of those people appearing before me got fees or not. I expect they
did, but I do not know if they did or not or how much. It was not my business.
S: They do not see it from the [angle of] the lawyer protecting the client. Of course
B: The men would say: "I wish you had been my judge [when I got a divorce]. That
woman would not have run over me like she did." [laughter] They were from
everywhere. Did you notice?
B: They were from Hawaii.
S: You really made the national news with that.
B: Oh, yes, for two months or so. There is something every now and then about
the Golub divorce case. That baseball case went on for six months or more.
Every now and then I would get a call--I could tell it was long distance, [and] I
had one or two of them traced--from some baseball individual wanting to fuss
with me a little bit about the case. I always had an easy answer. "You will have
to talk to the judge in Seattle now." [laughter] I did not particularly like that.
You know, public officials generally like favorable publicity, and I do not know that
neutral publicity does them much good. Well, I was not looking for publicity. I
did not need any.
S: You chaired a lot of ABA and Florida Bar committees. One of them was the
World Peace Through Law [Committee].
B: Yes, that was [with] Charles Rhine [former president, American Bar Association]
of Washington, a very prominent lawyer then and very close friend of then Pope
Pius XII. They were working to try to start a world government, which I opposed.
I was on the committee with him for about two or three years. He is dead now,
I think. There was a regional meeting in the United States--it was a world
organization--in North Carolina, and I went to it representing the Florida Bar as a
member of the American Bar Committee or some such arrangement as that.
Anyway, I was not liberal enough for them. Somehow or another I fell through
the cracks about a year or two after that. He went on with his organization. It
got to be quite an organization. They still meet, I think. They meet in various
places. They met in Athens, Greece. They met in Malta and, I believe, Manila
once. (I am not sure about that one.) They had some good ideas, but I could
not see one world government.
S: So the World Peace Through Law [Committee] was an individual organization?
B: No, the Bar Association would not take a position one way or the other. Charlie
Rhine had just been or was going to be president of the American Bar, and this
was his pet baby. He wanted a committee formed on world peace through law,
which has a sweet, good, honest, tender-sounding name to it. But underneath it
all was [a foundation] not exactly based on what you would call the principles of
the U.S. Constitution, to me. So I could not go along with it. Now, we were
good friends, but about two years after that I got lost in the rush and was not on
any of the committees anymore, and I did not make any of those international
meetings. I guess I could not speak the language.
But it was an interesting thing, especially in dealing with the people they had
assigned to me. Each member of the committee had assigned to him a country
to work with their foreign service department in connection with World Peace
Through Law. The idea was good: Quit having wars. Guess which country I
was assigned to?
S: Which one?
B: Yugoslavia. It was an interesting thing, too. I learned a lot I did not know about
Yugoslavia. It was a fascinating thing to do. For about two or three years I
really got some education on Eastern Europe: Croatia, Slovenia--all part of [Josip
Broz] Tito's Yugoslavia. [It was] a fascinating thing. I did lots of studying on it
[and some] heavy reading, too. Some of those people, communists though they
were, had a meeting at the Yugoslavian embassy here in Washington. They
had all the American tribe up there, and do you know those Yugoslavs spoke
better English than we did? And did you know they knew more American history
than we did?
S: I believe it.
B: Those guys are educated. Of course, most of them were brought up in Catholic
schools, I guess. Well, Tito still let them have churches even though Stalin
would not. You see, Tito was not a Soviet Communist; he was a Yugoslavian
Communist of his own kind. In 1948 or 1949 he pulled away from Joseph Stalin,
you [will] remember. No, you do not remember. You are not that old. That
was a fascinating assignment.
S: So you must be interested in current affairs over there.
B: Yes, I read it a little more than I would ordinarily. Do not worry. When I was on
that committee, Yugoslavia covered me with information pamphlets. They sent
me the statutes on the operation of the government of Yugoslavia. That was the
most fascinating reading you ever saw. I do not see how in the world they ever
S: Have you ever spoken to Kermit Hall [professor of history and law] at the law
S: He was just appointed by the State Department to participate in Yugoslavia's
constitutional revision. He just went over there a month or two ago.
B: Does he teach constitutional law?
S: No, he is an historian.
B: Oh, yes, I remember.
S: [U.S. Supreme Court] Justice [William H.] Rehnquist appointed him to the
Federal Judicial Center, and they do all the history of the federal judiciary. He is
the expert on legal history. I am sure he would enjoy talking with you about that.
B: Well, it was in 1958 that we had that big meeting in North Carolina. I did not go
to the one in Central America the next year. My news on it now is twenty years
old. [Actually], it is over twenty years old, [more like] thirty years old. But it was
S: Kermit Hall is also editor-in-chief of the [forthcoming] Oxford Companion to the
Supreme Court. That is going to be out soon. He is the one who is
B: [Does he] have time to teach?
S: Yes, he teaches, too. I am amazed at some of these professors and what they
do. They are writing books and teaching and traveling.
B: Some of them are serious about it, are they not?
B: And a lot of that could not be done for anticipated compensation, could it?
S: I do not think so. Or for tenure.
B: Well, there ought to be some benefits to good work.
B: Well, I enjoyed all of that. I would never have done that and would never have
gotten mixed up in it, although I disagreed with it and was on the opposite end of
the then-prevailing majority of that committee. Nevertheless, I learned a lot,
[and] I matured more. [It was] one of the benefits of having been to some
degree active in the American Bar Association.
Now, what you and I have been talking about for the last twenty minutes, people
in this town do not know it ever existed and do not know I ever did it. People in
this town do not know I was ever on the national board of the American
Judicature Society. They do not know I was ever in the House of Delegates.
Well, it may have been in the local paper, but they saw that [and said], "Oh, that
is the old bar association," and they turned the page. What is this about a
prophet is not without honor in what?
S: In his own hometown.
B: Of course, I am the only man who is a resident of Plant City now, and the only
one who has been for nearly forty years, who is in Who's Who in America. And
you ought to hear some of my friends talk. "What the hell are you doing in
there? What have you done?" Well, really nothing, but I am in there. This
year [makes] forty continuous, consecutive years. I guess this will be the last
S: Well, you should be in there. And if they do not know why, then let them read
B: You have not said anything about the American Judicature Society.
S: No, [I have said nothing about] the American Judicature Society [or] the Selden
Society of London.
B: Yes, that is an interesting thing, too. That [the Selden Society] is an old
organization [that goes back] something like 450 years with its annual book on
English legal history. [The Selden Society was founded in 1887 by Frederic W.
Maitland and was named for English jurist John Selden, 1584-1654. Ed.] It
publishes one book a year on ancient records and the history of the courts from
the early days of the monarchy. I like the Selden Society. It is a real bunch of
intellectuals. I was out of pocket there. I just had to listen.
S: Did you have annual meetings?
S: Where did you meet?
B: Well, we met in this country one time, [but] usually [they meet] in London. There
is more of their membership outside of England than is inside of England, but it is
a British organization. Those interested in the history of law all over the world,
whatever kind of law they are working under, [knows it is all somehow related to
British law]. It is kind of hard to completely eliminate the effect of the United
Kingdom and its influence on the law of your own country. You can even find
some things in Joe Stalin's communism that has a few British principles in it.
They were not liberal in those days, incidentally.
The Selden Society is not large. I doubt if it has more than a few
thousand--maybe five thousand--members in the world. They publish this book
every year. I have one of their books that carries some cases tried in [the]
twelfth or thirteenth century. [It has] a report of those cases. It is very
fascinating. Of course, I could not read most of it because half of it was in Latin.
I studied a lot of Latin, but I cannot read it.
S: Do you just read legal history as a hobby?
B: No. Well, I guess so. The fact that it was legal history had some degree of
fascination to me. I was not an intensive student, obviously. I was not a
scholar by any means. Now, most of the people in the Selden Society are. In
fact, their ideas are so thick you cannot stir them. But it broadened my outlook
on life; [it] broadened my perception. There is some satisfaction in having some
understanding of why the world is like it is, how it got this way, and why we let it
stay this way. I am sorry I have passed that age where I will not be flapping in it
S: What about the American Judicature Society?
B: Do you know what it is?
S: [I know] a little bit.
B: It is a national organization formed in 1913. It is non-partisan [and] just about
non-everything except for the improvement of the judiciary. When I got to
making noises around the American Bar--I made some floor speeches that
probably needed decoding for inaccuracies as well as opinions--several
members of the house were members of the American Judicature Society. It is
a little bit on the exclusive side, too, and it is not a huge society as far as the
membership concerned, but it is an influential thing. I was the only one in
Florida at the time who seemed to be particularly interested in it. I stayed on
their board at least two years. I do not know how much longer. [We] always
met in Chicago. In fact, the headquarters were Chicago.
I suspect there is more accurate judicial information in the office of the American
Judicature Society than there is in any other place in the country because it
covers more than one court. (I would say the Supreme Court in Washington has
the most itself, but that is not the only court in this country.) [It covers] judicial
selection and judicial rules for the court. The American Judicature Society has
been a great influence on the improvement in the selection of judges. It has
changed tradition at times. It is a very fascinating thing.
S: What was your involvement?
B: At that time, the Missouri Plan, which does not mean a thing to you, was the plan
of selecting [appellate] judges we use in Florida now. [The Missouri Plan is also
called the merit retention system. Ed.] Missouri started first. [They have] a
nominating commission that nominates three [candidates] to the appointing
authority [the governor]. Thereafter, [one of the nominees is appointed and] not
voted on through adversarial politics. [At the end of the appointed judge's first
term, and after any subsequent term he or she might serve, approval to remain
on the bench must be] voted on. We [as citizens] either keep you [on the
bench], or we do not keep you. We finally got that.
I wanted that [system] in Florida. I got the American Judicature Society to hold
its annual meeting in Orlando in the 1950s. I got the movement started there. I
wanted the [Tampa] Tribune to help me all it could. Jimmy Clendenin was editor
of the Tampa Tribune. I spent about two years convincing him, and finally won
him over. They came out in the editorials in support of it. So did the Florida
Times-Union. I do not think the Miami Herald ever did.
S: So you were behind that.
B: Well, I would not say I was behind the movement, but I was the spark that set the
movement going. Some others who had political and other desires got
interested in it, so I started a little campaign in Florida to get some members from
Florida. It cost money, and if you are a two-bit side-door lawyer, you are not
interested in it, and if you are a real busy, top-level lawyer, you are too busy. I
found that out. So I finally got some just ordinary lawyers. I guess I got
fifty--maybe more, maybe a hundred--lawyers in Florida into membership along
in the 1950s. They complimented me by putting me on their board, which was
[interesting]. I was just as out of place there as I was with the resolution
committee of the American Bar.
There were about twenty-five men who had spent a good deal of their lifetimes
without hope of reward (and most of them [were] much older than I was) trying to
improve the judicial situation in this country. That was a serious thing to me. I
got a lot from it. And, I think as a result, the same system we are using, [the
one] that we stole from Missouri, is in about fifteen or sixteen states now. But
Florida was the third or fourth [state] in the United States to do it.
S: Why did you feel that was so important for Florida?
B: I disliked a judge having to get up and brag on himself in a campaign for politics.
I thought if a man was good enough to be a judge, he ought not have to get up
and beg people to contribute money to him or to help him get elected. After I got
on the bench, I found out how important that was. See, I never did take any
contributions. I would not take any. But everybody who could be a good judge
could not afford that. It caught fire slowly--very slowly. I was not the only mind
that was meddling with it in Florida. There were others, too, from different
organizations and from different positions. But the American Judicature Society
is the nationally influential organization that works on such things. It was a great
deal of satisfaction to me.
Now, you take my friends in public, even the lawyers here in this area, do not
know I did that. I suspect John Germany, my good friend, would claim a good