Lawyer's talk is cheap, and he's generous with it At 87, 'Honey Tonsils' is smooth as ever

August 09, 1993|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

LEONARDTOWN -- The judge calls the next case, and instantly the St. Mary's County District Court room is filled with The Voice, the baritone drawl that for much of this century has pulsed through the soundtrack of Southern Maryland.

"Good MORRRNING, Your Honor," it bellows.

The state prosecutor and some of the court officers smile. Show time. Paul Jacob Bailey, 87, former state senator, Father of the Slot Machines and one of the oldest practicing lawyers in Maryland, rises gingerly from his seat in the spectator's gallery and shuffles to the defendant's table with his client, a 24-year-old Calvert County man accused of punching a teen-age girl.

The voice that once fought for legalized gambling and for Maryland's first sales tax speaks lately in defense of those accused of drunken driving, assault, battery and theft.

In the old days they called Mr. Bailey "Honey Tonsils" and "Senator Claghorn," after the blustery Dixieland pol on the Fred Allen radio show. When Mr. Bailey retired from the state Senate in 1974, his legislative colleagues said farewell in an official proclamation that recalled how folks packed the gallery when a Bailey speech was expected.

And like thunder on a sultry southern evening, a Bailey speech can often be expected. "Ask me anything you want," he says. "I love to talk."

Perhaps talk is not quite the word. Try mosey, meander. When Mr. Bailey starts a sentence one can never be certain where it will lead. No question is so simple that it cannot be answered with a story.

Standing outside District Court the other day, Mr. Bailey, whose 88th birthday is in October, is asked why he hired a driver a few weeks ago and stopped driving his own car.

"Well, I tell you," he says, "I bought my first car in 1927, a Model-T Ford . . ." And off he goes: his clean driving record, his good fortune in avoiding accidents all these years until some motorist rammed his Buick in the rear last month as he eased into a driveway.

What was the question?

Judge John F. Kelly Sr. had to wonder. Presiding over the battery case against the Calvert man, he stopped Mr. Bailey in midstream as the lawyer peppered the victim with questions the judge apparently considered irrelevant.

"Mr. Bailey, where are we going with all this?"

"I just feel the honorable court ought to know all about this case," says Mr. Bailey, hunched over his notes. A wizened raptor in a dark blue suit.

"It seems to me this case is about whether he punched her in the eye," says the judge.

"Well, there appear to be other factors," he says, stretching the last syllable: fact-OARS. "There usually are. These things don't just happen."

There were other factors, but not enough to exonerate his client, who gets a suspended sentence, probation and a $150 fine.

"We appreciate the honorable court's attention to this case," Mr. Bailey says expansively, closing his file folder and making a graceful exit as befits a Southern gentleman.

Longest-running act

It may be the longest-running act in Maryland, but his colleagues say it's not shtick.

"There's not a phony bone in his body," says assistant state's attorney Joseph A. Mattingly Jr., who opposed Mr. Bailey on the battery case, whose family roots in St. Mary's go about as deep as Mr. Bailey's. Mr. Bailey says his English Catholic ancestors landed in St. Mary's in the 1650s, about 20 years after Maryland's mother county was established. "He's such a gentleman," says Mr. Mattingly. "He can put on a speech, he can make the devil look like a saint."

There was the time he went before a three-judge panel to have his client's sentence reduced. Going into the session, the judges felt there was nothing unfair about the sentence imposed in Circuit Court. But after 20 minutes of Paul Bailey, the panel chopped a couple years off, says Circuit Court Judge James Magruder Rea, who was one of the judges.

"He just has that Southern gentleman talk that he does," says Mr. Rea, on the bench since 1980. "By the time he gets through with you you got to go with it."

Gambling loss

The smooth rhetoric wasn't enough, however, to save the slot machines.

Mr. Bailey, who as a senator introduced the 1947 bill that led to legalized slots in St. Mary's County, lost the battle in the 1960s to save the machines from being outlawed. By then they'd become legal in St. Mary's, Charles, Calvert and Anne Arundel and had turned parts of those counties into little slices of Atlantic City.

To this day, for all his Southern charm, Mr. Bailey has trouble finding kind words for former governor Harry R. Hughes, who as an Eastern Shore state senator opposed the slots. "He's small," says Mr. Bailey. "He's not broad-minded."

Former Gov. William Preston Lane, on the other hand, who backed slots in exchange for Mr. Bailey's support for the first state income tax in 1947, is remembered as "a regular guy . . . drank whiskey, played cards. Great guy."

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