Ellen's Gams

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Write a story where the law plays an important role.... view prompt



Ellen’s Gams

They’re just bad kids. They need to go away, for a long time.

Judge Ellen Morphonious

There are many stories about Dade County Circuit Court Judge Ellen Morphonios. A few false, others exaggerated, some she told herself in her autobiography, Maximum Morphonios: The Life and Times of America's Toughest Judge. But the one most often repeated in the Justice Building, most in character, one that always brought a smile to those hearing it, was the incident known as Ellen's Gams.

But before we get to the incident I will introduce you to Lady Ellen.

She was from North Carolina, a star athlete in high school, a part-time model, a beauty contest winner, and a member of Mensa. She was admitted to the University of Miami Law School without an undergraduate degree. State Attorney Richard Gerstein hired her only weeks after she graduated. “She's feisty aggressive and a damn good lawyer,” he said. Turned out, that was an understatement.

I first heard of her in 1969, on the radio. She hosted a nightly talk show on WIOD. It was there she got the nickname Lady Ellen and created a fan base that would elect her to the bench. She talked of cases she was prosecuting, public affairs in general and (her favorite topic) sex crimes against women and children. Heated discussion followed her offhand remark one night. “A woman should be able to walk naked through Liberty City at 2 o'clock in the morning and never be touched.”

Several callers, often males (but not always) objected. “She's asking for it,” they said.

Ellen's answer got her deeper in hot water. “If she's asking for it, you'll know it. She has a tongue and a mind of her own and if she wants it she'll say so.”

Most of those objecting to that remark were women. “A woman sends out signals. It's a man's job to read them.”

 “No,” Ellen said, “it's a woman's job to make her desires known. A "No" means no and "Yes" means yes. A man shouldn't have to guess and a woman shouldn't have to hope he guesses right.” The exchange went on for most of that summer. When mentioned in the Justice Building cafeteria several remarked, “Just Ellen being Ellen.”

Gerstein quickly assigned her to major crimes. I first saw her in action at an arraignment where she was prosecutor. Arraignments are short routine procedures rarely lastly more than three minutes. Not this one. The charge was strong-armed robbery. The defendant had forcibly taken cash from a prostitute whose services he had recently purchased. The public defender asked for no bond since the entire incident was “essentially a private matter.”

Ellen objected. “A woman assaulted and robbed is not a private matter. This is a serious crime which we will prosecute to the fullest and this defendant knows that. He is therefore a flight risk. The State requests a fifty-thousand-dollar bond.”

“Absurd,” said, the public defender. “The defendant has lived here all his life, has ties to the community, and this case is a classic example of overcharging. Something often done by this prosecutor.”

“It is not overcharging,” objected Ellen. “Every element necessary for the commission of the crime is in the police report. A high bond is fully justified.”

“That argument completely ignores the victim's behavior, a mitigating factor.”

“Yes, it does; because it isn't.”

The debate went on for more than half an hour before the Judge set bond at ten thousand dollars.

Over the years, I saw her in action several times. She was vigorous, relentless, knowledgeable, unyielding, and unapologetic. She famously prosecuted Jim Morrison of The Doors for indecent exposure. But only because (as she admitted once) one of the groupies that night was a fifteen-year old girl. “No man exposes himself to minors in my County.”

She remarked on the radio after she had gotten a conviction and sentence of 40 years for a child molester, “These scumbags deserve everything that happens to them. I hope this monster becomes somebody's bitch in prison and dies of AIDS. That way we know he'll never get out.”

She easily won election and was assigned - of course- to the Criminal Division. That's where she acquired the nicknames, “Maximum Morphonios,” and “The Time Machine,” and other names that should not be seen in print. But when she did put a defendant on probation, she was as involved as any social worker. I had several her cases. If it was necessary to get an arrest warrant for probation violation she always remembered the defendant. “I had hopes for this guy,” she would say. And holding her purple pen above the warrant would ask me, “You really need to do this?”

I had several probation revocation hearings before her and she was often a better defense attorney than the PD. She certainly gave me no slack. “Did you try this? Have you thought of this? Is there anything else we can do?” But once convinced—Maximum Morphonios. And heaven help any probationer who came before her a second time. “I advise the State now, in open court, I will accept no plea in this case unless it is to the maximum sentence.” And she meant it, as several young prosecutors learned when she refused to accept a carefully worked out plea to less than the max.

Now that you know a little about Lady Ellen, here's the story of Ellen's Gams.

Most action in Criminal Court is in the morning. Courtrooms are crowded, dockets long, defendants restless, clerks over worked. Pleas are taken, sentences imposed, cases dismissed in minutes. But afternoons are much different. Often only a few lawyers, court personnel, jailers and one or two defendants are present. The calendar is mostly motions, scheduling issues, other legal matters only lawyers care about. Arguments drone on, legalese hangs thick in the warming air. Jackets are shed, ties loosened, blouses shaken. File folders become fans. Voices rise. The courtroom becomes a modern coliseum, where gladiators battle over life, liberty, career, and glory.

On a certain hot and steamy August afternoon a sentencing was on Ellen's calendar. The defendant had been convicted of raping a maid in a seedy downtown hotel. Like most residents of the Iron Bar Arms across the street he knew Ellen’s reputation and what that meant. He was sullen sitting in the jury box waiting for his case to be called. When it was he refused to rise and had to be escorted by jail officers to stand before the bench. Ellen reviewed his file, looked up, and asked, “You have anything to say before I pass sentence?”

“Not to you, bitch. Just do your thing, cunt so I can get the hell away from you.”

She paused for a moment and then said, “Come around here, Son,” motioning to the side of her large desk, “I want to show you something.” The two jail officers, surprised and reluctant, steered him to the steps leading up to her desk. Standing there nothing was between him and the Judge. Ellen moved her chair closer and faced him. She stuck out both legs, pulled her robe and skirt up over her knees, enough to expose the derringer tucked into her garter. The defendant watched wondering how far up the dress would go. Or what that gun for. As he stared Ellen said. "Take a good look Son, cause you ain't gonna see another pair for 25 years.” Then turning to the officers, “Get him out'a my courtroom!”

August 05, 2022 18:54

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Gregg Voss
23:08 Aug 17, 2022

I liked Ellen's character, although I wasn't fond of the last name. She's tough, no doubt, and I could "see" her on her the bench, which says the description was very well done. The one thing I didn't buy was the $50,000 bond being reduced to $10,000, especially when two sentences later, she is described as, "vigorous, relentless, knowledgeable, unyielding, and unapologetic." I'm a fan of the Doors so I dug the Jim Morrison reference. One thing I did not dig was the use of the C-word, which I perceive as one of the most despicable words in ...


Tod Moran
12:09 Sep 15, 2022

Well, I would remind you she was a real person and the events actually happened. As for the language that was the word used. And if often was; both in court and elsewhere. If you are interested her is Harry Reasoner on 60 minutes, starta about 20 minutes in. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hz0gqugq6I


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