Growing up on our farm near Eagleville, Missouri, I never had a fleeting thought of becoming an attorney. I did not have any relatives who were lawyers, and, in fact, we did not even know any lawyers. My summers were spent picking up hay, building fence, and playing baseball. Those experiences seemed light-years away when I found myself in the Daviess County Courthouse making my first appearance as an attorney. I was the newly elected Prosecuting Attorney of Livingston County and was in Gallatin to obtain a trial setting on a case wherein the defendant had requested a change of venue.
It was a Law Day (a monthly, prescheduled date when a judge hears motions and other matters that require relatively short hearings). I was awaiting my turn when a gentleman in uniform seated himself beside me. It was Tom Houghton, Daviess County Sheriff. I had met him previously only briefly. We sat in silence as six impeccably dressed attorneys made their arguments on what was clearly a high-dollar, important case. They were from large law firms in St. Louis and Kansas City.
I had noticed several Mercedes Benz and BMWs parked outside when I arrived. I am certain their individual suits cost more than my car. Their briefcases were undoubtedly more expensive than my suit. I must admit a sense of inferiority crept in as I wondered what a farm kid from Eagleville was doing in a business where he would have to compete with lawyers like these.
As the attorneys’ assistants placed voluminous documents in personalized leather briefcases and started to exit, Sheriff Houghton leaned over to me and said, “They would make one heck of a hay crew, wouldn’t they?” I grinned and replied, “I doubt if any of them own a hay hook.” It was as if Sheriff Houghton had read my thoughts. He rose to leave and said, “Remember something, young man. You are just as good as they are. They don’t even know how to load a wagon.” His confidence in me restored my confidence in myself. It was fortuitous, as many of my subsequent trials were against those “high-dollar” lawyers.
Through the years, I have told many young people about Sheriff Houghton’s statements. I hope my comments to them instilled that same self-confidence.
PERSONAL NOTE: Tom Houghton passed away last November due to complications from COVID-19. He and I shared many a laugh over his comments. Presumably, he understood the importance of his words or he would not have spoken them. It was a defining moment for me and his timing was perfect. Unfortunately, I never told him what a positive impact he had on my career. Remember, speak now or forever hold your peace.