Published 10:00 am Friday, June 7, 2024

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(This fictional column is loosely based on the movie, The Judge, starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downing Jr.).

1969 – A child is born into a successful family in a small town near the Red River in Oklahoma.  His father, Stephen Jackson, is the owner of a mining company and his mother, Ava, is a housewife.  They name him after the Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.

Thomas’s delivery almost kills his mother.  He is a fighter from the second he takes his first breath.

1975 – Thomas is six years old and already getting into trouble.  While intelligent and loving, he becomes very familiar with the principal’s office, fist fights at school, and using language that is not appropriate.  It seems that this stubborn boy is headed down the wrong path.  When an adult would tell him to do something, he would usually do the opposite.

1984 – Thomas has not changed his manner of conduct as he enters high school.  He is angry and skips class from time to time by asking a girl to write an excuse note and signing it “Ava Jackson.”  But, most of all, he has failed to get the approval of the man he looks up to the most; his father.  Thomas’s biggest fear in life is failure.

As he progresses through high school, his grades are perfect with one exception; conduct.  A C+ would be the best he would ever receive.

1985 – Stephen Jackson has had enough.  Throughout the years, he and Thomas have been in constant conflict.  Stephen, who is a very influential man in town, goes to the juvenile court judge and asks that his son be placed in a juvenile detention center for 30 days.  Since the judge receives significant campaign donations from Stephen, he grants that request.

This only places gasoline on the boy’s fiery anger.

1991 – After graduating from college, Thomas is accepted to numerous law schools.  He chooses the one that was furthest away from Oklahoma and his father.

1994 – Thomas finishes first in his class.  It has been years since he spoke to his father.  Yet, his aggressive need to be the best in order to gain his father’s approval still remains.  For Thomas, number two is the same as finishing last place.

January 2017 – Thomas is now the best and most talented criminal defense attorney in Norman, Oklahoma.  He has not visited his home in years.  Suddenly, he receives a call from his brother who tells him that his mother has passed away.  He travels home to pay respects to his mother.  But, he is unwelcome in his father’s home.  He gets a hotel and suffers in silence of the loss of his mother.

February 2017 – As Thomas begins to leave for home to deal with his pending divorce, he receives a phone call from the sheriff, who is a long time friend.  The sheriff tells him that his father is about to be arrested for embezzlement and bank fraud.

He immediately turns around and heads to the home where he is not welcome.  He offers to defend his father for free.  His father refuses and hires an incompetent hometown boy who bumbles his way through the preliminary hearing.

Thomas insists that he must defend his father.  After a fist fight, his father agrees.

June – 2018 – Stephen Jackson testifies in his trial.  While he is respected in the community, his testimony is a disaster.  The talented prosecutor rips into to him like a grizzly bear.  Everyone thinks that a conviction will happen; including Thomas.

Late June – 2018 – The jury returns a verdict.  Count 1 – Embezzlement – Not Guilty; Count 2 – Bank Fraud – Guilty.

Stephen Jackson is sentenced to 10 years in prison and immediately taken into custody.  Thomas just weeps silently at the counsel’s table.

2020 – The prosecutor writes a letter to the governor asking that Stephen be released early because of health conditions.  He has dementia and heart disease.  The request is granted.  Thomas picks his father up at the federal penitentiary and they plan a deer hunting trip the next day.

They are sitting in a large deer stand together at first light.  A large buck steps out around 8:30am.  Thomas takes the shot and the buck falls to the ground.  His father says, “Great shot.  You rarely failed.  I want for you to also know that you are the best lawyer I have ever seen.”

15 seconds later, Stephen Jackson falls over onto Thomas’ shoulder.  He is dead.

In the last minute of his father’s life he acquired the one thing that had eluded him forever; the approval of his father.  It would change Thomas in ways that cannot be explained and gave him the peace that he needed the most.  Father and son were finally reunited.