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Harry Lee Coe, III (1932-2000)
h [electronic resource] :
b sinistral au naturel athlete in the judiciary (and then some).
[Tampa, Fla. :
1 online resource (17 p.) :
Title from caption.
Forms part of Morison Buck biographies of Hillsborough County judges.
Coe, Harry Lee
t Morison Buck biographies of Hillsborough County judges.
1 Chips off the Old BenchÂ—One of a Series Harry Lee Coe, III : (1932Â—2000) Sinistral Au Naturel Athlete in the Judiciary (And Then Some) It was just another seasonable hot July day in Tampa. But the local daily newspapers, The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times the morning of July 14, 2000 headlined news which brought a chill to the air: Hillsborough County State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left temple. The life of a well-known, successful, and popular (with most people) figure whose public life spanned three decades was over; But questions remained: Why would a man in seemingly robust health at 68 whose political future appeared secure sacrifice his life? What private demons he internalized create such desp air and desperation that his raison dÂ’etre ceased to exist for this talented but troubled man? In the course of this story about his life and career, some answers to the unexpected public death of th is intensely private person (who was still addressed as Â“Judge CoeÂ” although his judicial service had ende d eight years prior to his death) may emerge. Nevertheless, Harry CoeÂ’s subscription to life, sadly, expired on that fateful day.
2 At 86, funnyman Henny Young man wrote a memoir of his years in show business. Details of an individualÂ’s place and date of birth, in YoungmanÂ’s view, are superfluous and of no interest to anyone inte rested in that personÂ’s history. He did nonetheless disclose that he was born in London in 1905, and that he grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. where he developed a comedy styl e of pattern, which made him a star of the borscht belt and as Brooklyn as Pee Wee Reese and Nathan Â’s Coney Island hot dogs. Youngman died in New York City in 1998. Life, according to perhaps a solid major ity of contemporary biophysicists, begins at birth. The United States Supreme C ourt also thought so when it decided the controversial case of Roe v. Wade. Hence, wh at might be called th e Harry Lee Coe story begins with his birth in, of all places, Brooklyn, on February 13, 1932, the first-born child of Harry Lee Coe, Jr. and Marjorie Frost Coe. The Coe clan originally settled in Le banon, Tennessee, just a few miles east of Nashville. HarryÂ’s sister and only sibling, Florence Coe Futch of Plantation, Florida has some reflections concerning their ancestors: Â“Politics and public service runs th rough the Coe blood. Our grandfather, Harry Lee Coe, Sr. was an attorney in Lebanon before moving the family to Florida. He was the Clerk of th e Circuit, and became the first mayor when Lebanon became a city. Our father, Harry Lee Coe, Jr., was the Recreational Director for our hometown, Lakeland, Florida until he left the job to become a 2d Lt. In the U.S. Army during World War II. He was in the Army Corps of Engineers in Europe. Dad joined the State ComptrollerÂ’s office when the sales tax came in, and he opened the first office in Lakeland. He was prompted to head the Tampa office then continued his rise. Sales tax was put under the State Department of Revenue. He was appointed Executive Director and served from 1976 to 1979 until his retirement at age 70.Â” HarryÂ’s parents outlived th eir only son. Father Harry, Jr. died Oct. 1, 2003. His mother Marjorie survived until Jan. 14, 2004. Remarkably, their marriage endured 72
3 years. FlorenceÂ’s three children adhered to the Coe tradition. Her daughter Lynn, whose life ended prematurely at 39, had an illustrious career as a lawyer in Broward County, last serving as General Counsel for the Sher iffÂ’s Office. Lynn received a glowing posthumous tribute from the Broward County Bar Association. FlorenceÂ’s former husband, M. Daniel Futch, Jr. is a Broward Ci rcuit Judge. For many years, Florence was an elementary school teacher in Polk and Br oward Counties. Her son Harry Lee Futch is an attorney in the legal department of th e Broward County SheriffÂ’s Office; another son, Daniel W. Futch manages the plant of a la rge box company in central Florida. The future judgeÂ’s early schooling was received in public schools in Lakeland, Polk County. The list of his achievements in high school athl etics reads like something out of Tom Swift. His sister his biggest booster, now and forever (other than his son, Harry Lee IV), provides a summary: Â“He lettered in baseball, basketball and football at Lakeland High School. He had the highest point average every year in basketball. He was Center on the team with is childhood friend Lawton Chiles, FloridaÂ’s former governor. Playing in the state ba seball championship, he pitched a shutout. In his senior year in high school he won the Bill Stern Award as the best athlete in the State of Florida. Harry was a quiet and modest person who would never talk about his numerous honors. He said that he didnÂ’t have to because his kid sister bragged enough about him.Â” Recognition beyond Lakeland of his talent as a gifted athlete came when received a combination baseball/basketball scholarship to the University of Florida. His pitching record at University of Flor ida stood for many years, and he was the first pitcher to be inducted into the UF Sports Hall of Fame. He signed a contract w ith the Detroit TigersÂ— the first individual from Lakeland to sign a major league contract; Boog Powell became the second Lakelander to be picked when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. In
4 college he was a member of the LettermanÂ’s Club and Scholarship Fund Raising Committee. Also, AT O fraternity. A popular jock in high school and college, Coe had to put his plans for higher education on hold to answer a call from Uncle Sam during the Korean War era, and became Private First Class, Infantry, in the Ar my of the United States. Stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C., he was fortunate to be issued a baseball uniform and glove instead of an M-1 rifle. A Tampa friend, George A. Levy, owner of a thriving business on West Kennedy Blvd. known as George A. Levy Awards, Inc. relates the story, confirmed by Tampa lawyer W. Crosby Few, that Harry Coe, just a couple of years older than Levy, became a star hurler for the Ft. Jackson ball cl ub. At that time, Levy was stationed at Fort McPherson, Georgia, which had its ow n team. Competition between the two Army baseball nines was keen. Vinegar Bend Mize ll, later of the St. Louis Cardinals, out dueled Harry Coe in what Levy says is the best game he ever saw. He also remembers that Tom McEwen of The Tampa Tribune devoted an entire column to that epic ball game. Harry Coe, George adds, was a hard wo rker at whatever he was doing at the time, giving extra-special attention to his pitching form. Harry had no problem with drugs or alcohol to pore over and studied greyhound-ra cing records and frequented the nearest track as often as he could. Just over six feet tall, about 160 lbs., lean and lithe, Harry Coe had the stoical, steely countenance of a Gregor y PeckÂ—the film star whose connection with Coe will be touched upon later in this story. Harry ha d a keen sense of humor when prompted by circumstances, accompanied by booming laughter. In the late 1980s, Judge Coe and this scribe were exchanging pleasantries while wa lking down the first floor corridor of the
5 courthouse. It was about lunchtime and wh en asked by the former where he was having lunch, this writer replie d that he was heading home for Â“leftovers.Â” For some reason, Harry found that response to be hilariously f unny and he roared with laughter. Harry, his sister Florence says, was Â“a quiet and gentle person with a laugh that could light up a room. He sounded like Hawkeye Pierce.Â” Upon his release from milita ry service, he returned to University of Florida and completed the work leading to a B.S. degree in Physical Education. He pitched in the Detroit Tigers farm system for three year s during the spring and summer seasons during the windup of his schooling at Gainesville. Harry had a reputation for having 20/20 vi sion when it came to handsome women. His initial venture into matr imony with Ida Felicione of Ta mpa took place at Christ the King Catholic Church on July 3, 1959. He met the beauteous Ida at Wolf Bros. In downtown Tampa where she was working parttime while attending University of Tampa on a majorette scholarship and studying to b ecome an elementary school teacher. She achieved fame as a fashion model and beau ty contestant, becomi ng Miss Tampa in 195556 and a top finalist in the Miss Florida pageant. At the University of Tampa, she was twice inducted into WhoÂ’s Who in American Universities and Colleges, and after receiving a B.S. in Elementary Education, she taught for years in Hillsborough and Polk counties, with distinction. She could be objectively described as a statuesque, leggy brunette who now plays a major superior game of tennis. She retired from teaching in 2002. Their son, Harry Lee Coe, IV, is a busy, successful attorney in Tampa. Ida filed for dissolution of the marriage in 1973, a nd the couple remained on good terms over the ensuing years except for a dispute regardi ng her entitlement to alimony after the son
6 started school. The issue was litigated and d ecided in favor of Mrs. Coe in the Second District Court of Appeal, 352 So.2d 559. Judge CoeÂ’s marriage in 1976 to Ann Green of Sumter, S.C. produced two sons, Gregorie a nd Charles who, as far as is known, still reside in South Carolina with their mother. That marriage was terminated by divorce in the late 1980s. In the late 1950s, while s till attending law school at St etson University, Harry Coe helped pay his way through that program by pitching baseball for the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League. In one memorable game with Coe on the mound, relying on his curve ball and finesse as a southpaw, he de veloped a bad blister on his pitching hand. Calling time, he informed the umpire that hi s jock strap had broken and he had to get a band-aid from the dressing room. Even with the temporary bandage on his finger, the Tarpons lost to the St. Petersburg Saints, 9-4. Harry went on to his best record in his five seasons of Â“part-timeÂ” baseball by winning 27 games and losing only 3. A local writer took note that Coe eventually became the only Hillsborough County Circuit Judge to have given up a home run to Willie McCovey, Cu rt Flood and Henry Aaron in his career. Harry acquitted himself well at Stets on University Law, winning an American Jurisprudence Award for the highest grad e in Bills & Notes and also Municipal Corporations. After graduating with his pri zed LLB degree, Harry became associated in 1962 with the Lakeland firm of Bentley, Miller, Sinder, Carr, Chiles and Ellsworth. The late George Carr moved on to become a Unite d States District J udge. Lawton Chiles, a boyhood chum now deceased, became a popular U.S. Senator. After two years in Lakeland, Coe took on the challenge of Asst. State Attorney under Paul B. Johnson in Tampa. From 1965 to 1967, he was the resident Hillsborough County Attorney. Midway
7 through the latter year, he took assignment as the first prosecuting attorney for the Hillsborough County Juvenile Court, a positi on created by the decision of the Supreme Court in the Gault case. Some of us remember that Harry sat at the left of the late Judge O. D. Howell, Jr., for many years a Juvenile Court fixture at the C ourthouse Annex. Yet another move was in the offing for Harry Lee Coe. For two years, beginning in January 1969, he was Chief Asst. County Solicitor. Somewhere, perhaps in someoneÂ’s dusty old bookcase, is a collection of fables about lawyers who became judges. You already know one of the most familiar: Â“A judge is just a lawyer who kne w the governor.Â” In the case of Honorable Harry Lee Coe III, the story, if it were true, is that the judgeÂ’s father, Harry Lee, Jr. was sufficiently close to the Republican governor, Hon. Claude Kirk, Jr. in 1970 to facilitate his sonÂ’s appointment to the Hillsborough County Cr iminal Court of Record. Interim appointments to fill openings in the judi ciary were not uncommon during the Kirk administration. Only two years earlier, Ki rk made Robt. T. Mann (now deceased) the beneficiary of such an appointment to the 2nd Dist. Court of Appeal with some sort of understanding that Bob Mann would switch his political party affiliation to Republican (Mann later went back to bei ng a registered democrat). At any rate, the appointment came through in November 1970. So far as is known, Harry, a longtime Democrat, accepted it with no strings attached. In 1971, G overnor Reubin Askew reappointed him. Then when Article V of the Constitution wa s modified in 1973 with abolition of the Crim. Court of Record over which he presid ed for so many years, Coe became by law a Circuit Judge.
8 Judge Coe ran the court over which he pr esided with firm determination to do what he felt was right and just. Consequen tly, he was universally liked by criminal defense lawyersÂ—Judge L. A. Grayson, who served for long years before his death, a decade before Coe went on the bench, referred to lawyers seeking an edge as Â“the fair advantage boys.Â” Coe was a darling; so to speak, of law enforcement officers with cases before him who admired his t ough stance against repeat offende rs and parole violators. Contrary to the tag Â“Hanging HarryÂ” seized upon and played up by the press, he was considered to be fair, particularly de aling with young persons having no significant criminal history. He believed in the familiar doctrine of Â“a second chance.Â” Richard A. Hirsch, prominent Tampa lawyer and former Asst. United States Attorney in Tampa, first met Harry Coe in 1969. When E. J. Salcines became County Solicitor, Coe was named Chief Assistant, and Hirsch was a Division Chief for Judge Walter Burnside and later Judge Carl C. Du rrance, and Harry was HirschÂ’s immediate supervisor. According to Hirsch, Harry Co e was an extremely competent, though softspoken administrator, who was before his time in the use of mechanical equipment, word processors and the like. With reference to his experience with Judge Coe, he relates: Â“After leaving the C ounty SolicitorÂ’s Office and as a young lawyer in private practice, I on occasion would represent defendants in criminal cases before Judge Coe. Inevitably, at arraignment, Harry would make a big production and greet me with the great enthusiasm so the general impression to my clients would be that their lawyer had a good and personal relationship with the judge. However, I can say unequivocally that despite the warm greeting my clients were treated with the same Â“sentencing philosophyÂ” that Harry was known for during his years on the bench. In situations involving violen t crime, he was a stiff sentencer. However, in property related matters and on occasion in drug cases, he could give defendants, especially young persons, a second opportunity but if you violated your probation you needed to walk into the courtroom with your toothbrush in hand.Â”
9 Howard L. Garrett, longtime Tampa atto rney, reports that he had known Harry Lee Coe ever since he came to Tampa, principally from the tennis community. Acknowledging that Harry was an outstanding tennis player, as would all those who knew him, Garrett talks about his observations of Coe as judge: Â“When he went on the bench, he felt his way along rather slowly, in my opinion. Somehow he managed to gene rate a reputation of being tough; I really am unsure whether he cultivated this as a means of controlling his docket, and defendants and lawyers who appeared before him. Many times he would refuse to ratify or go along with a Â“plea bargainÂ” which had been negotiated and which would, of course, scare the dickens out of the defendant. However, in just one such case I tried to get a plea bargain for a years probation, two years probati on or three years probation, I canÂ’t remember which, in front of him which he flatly refused. In this posture I was compelled to plead Â“open,Â” which I did and to my very pleasant surprise and the exquisite joy of my client, he didnÂ’t administer any probation at all but dismissed the case In my opinion, he was extremely forgiving of those who broke probati on. I once ventured the observation that he would violate probation for exce ssive flatulence. In later years we all learned that he was addicted to dog racing, and again in my unscientific opinion he didnÂ’t have a clos e friend that he could b ear his soul to, and as a consequence he seemed doomed to keep repeating his shortcomings.Â” Now retired and living in Lutz, Honor able Don Evans, who served with distinction on the Circuit bench, knew Harry Coe as a judge, fello w little league coach, golfer, one of the founders of DA CCO, as State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit and as a prosecutor in the celebrated Ch ristopher Wilson case over which Judge Evans presided; more of the Wilson case lies ahead in this chronicle. From his unique vantage point, Judge Evans speaks candidly about Harry Coe: Â“The first day he served on the bench, I was one of the two public defenders assigned to his felony divi sion. Many times I took great issue with his rulings as to evidence and rules, but I neve r challenged his motivation for his rulings. He did wh at he thought was fair. Period. He had an extremely dry sense of humor. He and I coached our sonsÂ’ Little League teams. At the season-ending banquet (Pizza Hut), he announced that his faith in God had gr own as a result of the season just completed. He explained that with a ll the flying bats, line drives that
10 barely missed hitting some oblivious ch ild in the face, kids who collided at full speed, etc, without anyone getting injured, the only explanation had to be the divine intervention of God. He was a perfectionist as a golfer. Whenever he had an approach shot to a green, he insisted on walking up to the green to find out exactly where the pin was located. It drove the rest of the foursome crazyÂ—to the point that they almost quit the game. During the 1993 Christopher Wilson trial, transferred to West Palm Beach (said to be the most celebrated cas e in Tampa history, by the national media) there were so many Â“explosio ns,Â” such as him objecting to his fellow prosecutorÂ’s question, resultin g in the poor guy quitting his job in the middle of the trial, that just a bout everyone expected an acquittal. However, after Harry made one of the best closing arguments I have ever witnessed, both defendants were convicted on all charges. And it was PCAÂ’d on appeal. Harry had a reputation of being tough as a judge, and there were occasions when that reputation was accurate. However, he often would give a defendant one last chance on probati on, that other judges probably would not have given, if he felt that the defe ndant sincerely want ed to change his criminal behavior. When, approximately 30 years ago he became aware that Tampa didnÂ’t have a drug tr eatment program, he provided the leadership for creation of DACCO, a highly regarded program that serves as a statewide model, even today. So, there were many wonderful attri buted of Harry Lee Coe that most citizens, and even the courthouse cr owd, didnÂ’t know about. He made a highly valuable contribution to his co mmunity and to the criminal justice system of Hillsborough County.Â” In April 1974, ace The Tampa Tribune Staff Writer, Philip Morgan, reported that Judge Coe was seriously pondering entry in the next election as a candidate for TampaÂ’s mayor. That rumor was put to rest in early June when the judge issued a statement ruling out any such idea. The following year, Coe had the experience, unique to a trial judge, of being invited not once but twice to serve in the capac ity as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of Florida. In the highly publicized case of Spinkellink v. State, 313 So.2d 666, he sat with Justices Overton, McCain, Boyd, Adkins and Ervin (Ret.). SpinkellinkÂ’s conviction of murder and the death penalty, diss ented, in an opinion leng thier than that of the majority one. Spinkellink was not executed until May 25, 1979. An irrelevant
11 footnote: Justice Ervin and th e writerÂ’s late father were members of the MenÂ’s Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee for most of the sixties. The second case: Tuz v. Chadbourne, 310 So.2d 8, was a wrongful death action out of Escambia County. Judge Coe wrote the major ity opinion finding no conflict with the landmark case of Youngblood v. Taylor, 89 S o.2d 503, decided twenty years earlier, which established the doctrine of estoppel, by judgment in Florida. The same panel, which heard Spinkellink, participated. Justice Ervin was again heard to dissent. Over the years, Harry Lee Coe was a st rong supporter of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tampa. Glenn Permuy, now Senior Vice President of Boys & Girls Clubs of America in Atlanta, writes at length about his affection and respect for Harry Coe, of which the following is an extract: Â“Harry Lee Coe III was President of the Board of Directors when I was named Interim Executor Director (Boys & Girls Clubs) in December 1976. Judge Coe was determined to turn the organization around and an infusion of money was needed. Even though he was restricted in his role as a judge from directly asking for money, he opened the three biggest doors to make this possible. In sh ort, HarryÂ’s leadership turned a $175,000 deficit into an $8000 surplus (contributions from the County Commission, Jim Walter Corp. and a loan from Conn Foundation). In addition to being a feared Circuit C ourt judge, the Harry Lee Coe I knew was a phenomenal athlete, a tough but compassionate individual, an inspirational leader, a champion for ki ds, a man of his word, and a person I am honored to have called my friend.Â” For 22 years Harry performed grueling duty, confronting five days a week a dreary procession of poor souls accused of fel onies; most of them felt right at home in a criminal courtroom. He never drew oppositio n from would-be judge s in every election for more than two decades, truly a remarkab le circumstance especi ally in politically charged Hillsborough County.
12 Only Harry knew what prompted him to gi ve up the prestige a nd security of his judgeship. But he did that in 1992 when, as a Democrat, he challenged the incumbent, widely respected Republican, Bill James. The results were amazingly close: James polled 148,678 votes (48.75 %) to CoeÂ’s 150,270 (50.27%). Thomas Dixon (1864-1946), now largely fo rgotten lawyer, clergyman and author, grew up in North Carolina right after the Ci vil War. His milita ntly Southern novel, The Clansman, published in 1905 became the l iterary basis for the epic film, the Â“Birth of a Nation,Â” in 1915. While Dixon was still a youngste r, he was asked what he planned to be when he grew up. He replied, Â“IÂ’m going to be a Gawddam PussecuterÂ” (prosecuting attorney), something he had no doubt heard in the town square. Harry was 60 when elected to that powerful job, but he had considerable experience as an assistant Â“pussecuter.Â” Dudley Dickson, now retired in Lutz, was investigator and forensic specialist for State Attorney Coe. He was the source of several stories about his former bossÂ—e.g. the not-infrequent occasions when Coe was stopped on the street by former felons who thanked him for turning around their lives and the compassion he showed, contrary to his reputation as Â“Hanging Harry;Â” About Harry Â’s fondness for parades and walking great distances reacting to the crowds emulati ng his old friend, Â“Walkin LawtonÂ” Chiles. Dickson lauded Harry Coe as Â“always a winner in both politics and sports.Â” Long after his baseball togs were put in mothballs, Harry took up tennis. His natural athleticism made him a winner in a relatively short time. Larry Dickson, a cousin of the aforenamed Dudley, pl ayed tennis with Harry for over 35 years. Those two were doubles champions at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in 1986 and 1991. Larry
13 DicksonÂ’s brother (Cal) now deceased held ma ny championships in Tampa and was also a dedicated teacher to countless young players over many years. According to Larry, Cal was HarryÂ’s mentor at Davis Is landÂ’s Tennis Club. Gene Vash was tennis professional at Davis Islands for 30 years. He and Coe teamed to win the City Doubles title in the 60s. GeneÂ’s son, Dale Vash, also plays te nnis but is better known as an upstanding lawyer with one of TampaÂ’s la rgest firms. Tennis is a game taken seriously by people of all ages in this area, incl uding Ida Coe and son, Harry Lee IV. Sandy Freedman, former Mayor of Tampa, a leading player as a j unior, played doubles w ith Harry many times, remembering particularly his sliced service which would force the receiver to go way off the court. SandyÂ’s father, Joe Warshaw, was an outstanding player even unto old age. Â“My dad and Harry were old friends. Harry wa s always quiet, a gentleman in every way. My family has fond memories of him,Â” Sandy relates. Lou Monteleone, premier oral surgeon in Tampa, joined with Harry to win four Palma Ceia G & CC doubles titles. He reports an example of how much Harry hated to lose: Â“I remember that on one occasion when he was playing a singles practice match with Bill Rheinhardt and things were not going HarryÂ’s way. It was match point against him with Bill up 75, 5-1. Harry walked to the gate, locked it as he left with Bill inside a vertical 15-foot high prison enclosure. This was before cell phones and Bill pleaded for Harry to open the gate, but Harry never looked back, nor did her ever mention this to anyone. Bill told me what happened some weeks la ter. P.S. Bill Rheinhardt was city champion in the late 60s, and is still one of the best seniors around.Â” Andy Garcia, former Tampan who moved to Miami in the 1970s and opened a citrus processing plant there seemed always to jo in with Harry for TampaÂ’s businessmanÂ’s doubles matches every year. The Coe/Garcia ta ndem was always assured of a #1 seed in those tournaments. There are two old scra pbooks reposing in the closet at the current Davis Islands Tennis complex, which are filled with news clippings about the wins and
14 losses in various matches beginning in the mid to late sixties. For example, on June 1, 1968, Coe & Garcia got into the finals of the Florida State Closed MenÂ’s championships. There is even a column by Tom McEwen, then Sports Editor of the Tampa Times about the eye-catching attire of comely Laura Lou Kunnen of Clearwater (she had confederate battle flags stitched on the seat of her tennis shorts). That story went back to early 1959. This ancient reporter will be pardoned for noting that sometime in late 1960s, he and another southpaw, Hank Angulo, who still live s on Davis Islands, competed against Coe & Garcia in a doubles match and somehow t ook the second set from the #1 seeds, who, of course, mopped up the 3rd set to win going away. Anyway, it will always be something for the losers to mildly boast about. P.J. OÂ’Rourke, the humor writer, takes a playful backhand jab at the game of tennis in the following piece of his work Modern Manners published in 1989 and reprinted with permission of Atlantic Monthly Press: Tennis has been discovered by people who are supposed to be bowling. The world is severely in need of re lief from tennis. Do what you can by organizing games to be played on horseback. This will ruin almost any all-weather court and eliminate furthe r tennis playing. Or you can insist on playing some more polite variatio n, like armchair tennis. Armchair tennis is played by two opponents seated on either side of the court in comfortable armchairs. Each player has a huge pitcher of drinks and a hundred cans of tennis balls. Neither is permitted to rise from his seat to turn a shot. The player who has to go to the bathroom first loses. After the verdict of guilty in the Chri stopher Wilson case allu ded to by Judge Don Evans earlier in this story, one of the news services releas ed a photo of State Attorney Coe embracing the victim of the crime and hi s mother. Shortly afterward, Judge Coe received a cherished letter from Gregory Peck (Inset).
15 Harry CoeÂ’s obsession with gambling in greyhound racing became such a dominate force in his life th at in his waning years it is undi sputed that he caged money from his subordinate associates to support his pathological problem. Experts call it a Â“hidden addictionÂ” because there are few si gns or symptoms until it is too late. The National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, D.C., which maintains a 24-hour toll-free helpline for those needing help or information, reports there is a strong link between suicide and pathol ogical gambling. Las VegasÂ’ suicide rate is one of the highest in the world. It is absolutely clear that problem gambling is nothing to laugh about. There is a funny story, nevertheless, that Harry would have enjoyed, the writer believes. One night in Las Vegas, one crap shooter got so excited that his upper plate popped out and fell onto the table. The pit boss, who was running the game, after only a momentÂ’s hesitation, took out his own plate, threw it down and said, Â“youÂ’re faded.Â” One has to believe the Harry Lee Coe III, so dreaded public exposure and the shame and humiliation, which was sure to follow, that he was driven to take his own life with his own weapon and end the torment. It is fitting to close this lengthy account with a quotation from his son, Harry Lee IV, of his professional credo inte nded as a tribute to his dad: Â“In the courtroom I still try and emulate his (fatherÂ’s) decorum and demeanor. First, be serious, dedi cated and committed to your cause. Second, be a man of your word; donÂ’t say something you wonÂ’t or canÂ’t do. Third, the unspoken word often speaks loudest. My father, while light-hearted, friendly, and sometime s even playful in his courtroom, could cast a steely-eyed, spine-chil ling stare so quickly across his courtroom, without saying a word, a nd everyone, lawyers litigants, and bailiffs knew exactly what he meantÂ—Â“Business.Â” Lastly, respect and understand the system, and what it is trying to accomplishÂ—Justice and Fairness. If there is ever any Â“gre y areaÂ” (and there often is!) use those tenets as guideposts; try to maintain the integrity of the overall process,
16 even in the absence of an express di rective. Make the system work, and always strive to be one who is an honest, dedicated friend of the Court.Â” Morison Buck AFTERWORD: We have a criminal justice system, which is superior to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who donÂ’t know anything and canÂ’t read. Mark Twain 375 North Carolwood Drive Los Angeles, California 90077 September 8, 1993 Mr. Harry Lee Coe 3rd Hillsborough County State Attorney West Palm Beach, Florida Dear Mr. Coe, Congratulations on the verdict in the Christopher Wilson case. Years ago I defended a black man in a rape case, and lost. It was on the screen, in To Kill a Mockingbird When I saw this photo in the N.Y. Times, I could not help identifying with you, and thinking that in this case, you have played the role of Atticus Finch in real life, taken on the challenge, and won an impor tant victory for all of us. Yours sincerely, Gregory Peck