Back in the 80s, when I was trying lawsuits for a living– before the appearance of metal detectors in courthouses– there was a hunting preserve up on the Cumberland Plateau called the Chatooga Hunting Lodge. It wasn’t a hunting “preserve” exactly, it was a place where animals exotic to Tennessee– like moose and caribou– were imported from elsewhere and penned up on several hundred acres of land for people to shoot them, sort of like shooting fish in a barrel.
And there was a man from Chicago named Jack (short for Giacomo) Volaro. He would soon become my client. Jack was an affable man in his late 30s and very rich. He told me his wealth came from a “pizza business in Chicago and Miami,” but nothing he ever told me rang true, and from the hints he dropped it was possible to imagine almost any kind of RICO-flavored activities in his toy chest. He was thoroughly Italian, no doubt about that, and he left the deliberate impression that he was “connected.”
Anyway, Jack decided he wanted to go big game hunting and lined up a reservation for himself and three of his other Chicago friends at the Chatooga. They weren’t interested in any particular prey: they were willing to shoot at whatever they could find. And for some reason they all brought hand guns with them– in this case .44 magnums.
And there was another man at the lodge that weekend, a rich coal baron named Phillips from up in eastern Kentucky. He was a fat surly fellow who had flown his private plane down to Crossville to hunt.
Everybody arrived at the lodge one evening and gathered in Jack’s room to prepare for the next day’s excitement. Jack and his three friends were bunked in one room, and Phillips was staying alone in the room across the hall. As is common among such people, there was some whiskey drunk, lots of talk about past hunts and how rich they all were, and comparisons of each other’s weapons.
As the talk progressed Phillips decided he would take a shower before supper, so he repaired to his room across the hall and undressed. The water in his shower was not hot, however, so he left it running and lay face down on his bunk while the water heated up.
Meanwhile, across the hall, the boys were still drinking and talking and comparing guns. At some point, Jack asked one of his pals to let him see his pistol. He brandished it around for a while and then, without warning, he pointed it at the wall and pulled the trigger. He later testified that he thought he was “dry firing” the gun, but as such things go, of course, the gun was loaded, and it went off with a catastrophic roar, deafening everybody in the room and blowing a crater-sized hole in the wall.
The men stood stunned and dazed, but as their hearing gradually returned they heard screams and cursing from across the hall. They ran out in the hall as Phillips stumbled out of his room, completely naked, with blood streaming down his legs. It turned out that while Phillips was lying on his face waiting for the water to warm up, Jack’s .44 slug had traveled through Jack’s wall, across the hall, through Phillips’s wall, and through both cheeks of Phillips’s ass. It was Phillips’s good fortune that he wasn’t lying on his back at that moment.
Well, of course a lawsuit ensued. Phillips sued everybody in sight – Jack, the men in his room, and the lodge. He claimed the shooting caused him permanent injury and pain and suffering. The permanent injury claim was legitimate enough, of course –Phillips said it pained him to sit down– but part of his pain and suffering claim was based on the fact that his friends up in Kentucky had started calling him “Ol’ Shot In The Ass.”
I wound up representing Jack.
Phillips’s lawyer was a man from Cookeville named Arnell Oakes. Arnell was a lawyer from the old school of country lawyering, full of flamboyant histrionics and colorful language. And this was the kind of case Arnell relished– gunplay was involved!– and throughout the trial he used language from the Dirty Harry movies about “the world’s most powerful handgun” and “go ahead and make my day.” But he kept his best for last.
In preparation for the trial, we took depositions from everybody, including Phillips’s doctor, who had the most knowledge about his alleged disability. The doctor practiced in a tiny town right up against the Kentucky/West Virginia border—- at least six hours by car– so I and counsel for the Lodge chartered a little Cessna in Knoxville to fly us up to Pikeville, Kentucky.
There is almost no level ground up in the Kentucky mountains for an airstrip, of course, except places where coal mines have flattened the mountain tops, and we soon found ourselves circling above a layer of asphalt laid down over an exhausted strip mine, with sharp drop-offs into the valleys on all sides. Our pilot flew over the spot more than once before he finally decided it was safe to land. It was disquieting, to say the least.
There was no taxi service up at the strip-mine airport, of course, and no Hertz or Avis, so we had called ahead to a car dealership in Pikeville to come and pick us up. In town, we rented a used sedan from the dealer and headed off into the mountains for the long drive to the doctor’s office on one of the most twisted roads I have ever been on.
In his deposition the doctor confirmed Phillips’s injury, and the extent of his disability, and he volunteered that he’d heard about the “ol’ shot in the ass” cat-calls Phillips got. Phillips, it seems, being a mine owner, was not the most popular man in town.
In due course, the case came on for trial in federal court in Cookeville before the Right Honorable Clure Morton, a former FBI agent who knew all about the .44: “We used them to shoot into the engine blocks of whiskey runners’ cars,” he said.
The trial went according to form. I tried to convince the jury that Phillips wasn’t really hurt as badly as he claimed, and I tried to spread the blame to the man who had brought the loaded gun into the lodge in the first place, and to the lodge for allowing him to do it. (Part of the man’s testimony was, “What’s the use of having a gun if it isn’t loaded?”). We got a pretty good verdict: Oakes’s final settlement demand had been $700,000 and the jury awarded Phillips a relatively modest $25,000 against Jack, the Lodge, and the gun owner. Jack was happy, and I felt like we had made out like bandits.
One reason for the favorable outcome might have been this:
During the course of closing arguments, Oakes again talked about how the .44 was the world’s most powerful handgun and how much damage it could do. Then unexpectedly he reached into his briefcase, ripped out a .44, and began to wave it around in front the jury. Judge Morton dived under his bench and jerked out a .38 special of his own and screamed at Oakes to drop the gun, which Oakes did– right in the middle of the courtroom floor.
There was a moment of stunned silence as people exhaled. Then Morton called all the lawyers back into his chambers and gave Oakes the most stinging lecture I have ever heard from a judge. He held Oakes in contempt, with punishment to be determined later—“I’ve got to think about this,” he said– and asked Oakes if he had anything else to say to the jury. Oakes meekly said that he had said all he needed to say. I guess we could have asked for a mis-trial, but things were looking pretty good for us at that point and I just wanted to get it over with.
As I say, we got a good verdict, and Jack returned to Chicago well satisfied. I’m sure Jack enjoyed the trial more than shooting captive elk and moose with a handgun. He certainly had stories to tell his pals about Oakes and “Ol’ Shot In The-Ass.”.
A few months later, Jack called me and invited me to fly down to the Super Bowl with him. He made a few jokes about bringing his guns, but I told him no. I’d seen about all of that guy I ever wanted to see.
And I never heard anything further about Ol’ Shot In The Ass.