Fred Poisson, Jr. recounts in early 1976 a successful defense of Mr. M to show cause why he ought not to be imprisoned for willfully failing to pay child support.
Show cause cases for nonpayment of child support always bothered me from the start. I was either representing a sorry rascal who refused to work, or I was representing a good fellow fallen on hard times. One day a particularly strict judge was hearing the show cause cases – that will show cause why your sorry self ought not to be put in jail for not paying your child support, which clients generally referred to as “nonsupport” which while a malapropism was probably more accurate.
Since getting ready for trial I learned that Mr. M was in pulpwood, often referred to as “pup wood.” The pulpwood truck would hold three chords of five-foot sticks of pine 6 inches in diameter. At that time everything was done with a chainsaw and brute strength. Payment for a helper was generally “by the cut” and was it much. If the owner did not pick you up, you did not work. If the truck broke down, it rained too much, the loader wouldn’t work, the saw broke, there was no wood to be cut – a lot of reasons existing as to why a pulpwood cutter might not earn enough to pay child support even though he was willing to work.
Further conversation with my client Mr. M revealed that work had indeed been slow and on top of that he had a case of hemorrhoids which he referred to as the piles. He said that made it powerful uncomfortable to bend and lift weight. While the story evoked sympathy, I did not feel that this was strong enough to get a not guilty verdict in front of this judge. I asked that he continue the case until his next session of court and to my surprise he agreed. By this stage of my career I’d learned that getting a continuance is was a good thing and the best way to go about doing it.
The next Saturday I went with a friend to cut a load of pulpwood. We started early in the morning and cut, trimmed and loaded three chords of pulpwood from a bed three feet off the ground to a level of 10 feet above the ground, all by hand. You had to be able to throw the pulpwood way over your head. I was 25 years old, in great shape, did not have hemorrhoids, but that was hard work.
The next week in front of that strict judge I put on the defense and my client explained the pulpwood business and his physical ailments. Before passing judgment, the judge asked if I had anything to say before he ruled on the case and I told him I did. I started to ask him if he ever had hemorrhoids but I didn’t. I simply asked him “Judge, have you ever cut a load of pulpwood?” Fortunately he had not and I was able to hold up my hands which still had traces of pitch on them and explain him exactly how hard it was to do such work – and it was hard to believe that Mr. M who was 55 years old and physically impaired and whose only occupation was pulpwood could be found in contempt of the court and put in jail for not being able to earn in the pulpwood business a living sufficient to support his children. It was one of the rare not guilty verdicts in nonsupport court.