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One Lawyer's Showdown With Jesse James

Jesse_james The thought of a showdown with notorious Wild West bank robber Jesse James conjures up images of six-shooters drawn on a dusty main street. But it appears that one brave Missouri lawyer sought recourse from James in a more lawyerly way, by taking him to court -- and won. James elected not to appeal but, outlaw that he was, twice later tried to shoot the lawyer who beat him in court.

A modern-day Missouri lawyer, James P. Muehlberger of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, last month discovered documents detailing the litigation. His discovery and the story it reveals are reported this week in The Kansas City Star [via Bashman]. The timing of his discovery could not be better, given last week's release of the Brad Pitt movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

As Star writer Brian Burnes recounts, Ford may have been a coward, but young lawyer Henry McDougal was anything but. The case stemmed from an 1869 bank robbery in Gallatin, Mo., in which two robbers shot and killed the cashier. As they made their getaway, one robber's horse bolted, forcing the pair to escape on one horse. The horse they left behind was identified as belonging to James.

Outside town, the bank robbers encountered Daniel Smoote and forced him to hand over his horse. The smitten Smoote wanted to sue James, but could find no lawyer willing to take his case, until he met McDougal, then 25 and a lawyer for just a year. McDougal sued for attachment of the horse James left behind. Surprisingly, James retained a lawyer and responded with legal maneuvers of his own, asking the court to quash service of the complaint. After nearly two years of legal gun slinging, James refused to appear for trial and the court entered judgment for McDougal's client.

That was not the end of the case for James. In 1871, he rode into Gallatin with the aim of shooting McDougal, but failed. A decade later, a second attempt to shoot McDougal was also linked to James. None of that hurt McDougal's career -- he went on to become president of the Kansas City and Missouri bar associations and to partner with the lawyer who founded Shook Hardy. Even in the Wild West, it seems, justice prevailed.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 26, 2007 at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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