Hudson Alexander’s Around the Block

HUDSON ALEXANDER | Updated Apr 7, 2014

I picked up a newspaper the other day and noticed where authorities in Michigan are chasing new leads, searching for the remains of former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa. Reading that story took me back to a time when my uncle, former Franklin attorney Dave Alexander, was caught up right in the middle of the famous jury-tampering trial that landed Hoffa in prison.

In January 1964, Uncle Dave left his Franklin law office and traveled to Chattanooga, where he represented one of Hoffa’s co-defendants in U.S. District Court. Altogether, there were five co-defendants charged, along with Hoffa. The trial, which drew national media attention, was hailed as the most significant Tennessee court case since the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925.

Prosecuting the case were two well-known lawyers, John Jay Hooker Sr. and James Neal, along with several others. At times, the trial became heated and almost got out of control. There were several angry and emotional outbursts in the courtroom, mostly from Hoffa’s personal defense team. His lawyers vehemently denied charges that the union boss had tried to bribe a Nashville jury in 1962 — and they lashed out at government officials, accusing them using an arsenal of under-handed tactics, including illegal surveillance.

Uncle Dave once told me that Hoffa’s lawyers were probably right. He said he felt like the FBI had watched every move he made, once he’d arrived in Chattanooga. He also told me he tried hard to distance his client from the Hoffa gang. While Hoffa and the others stayed at one of the most lavish hotels in town, Uncle Dave booked his client into more modest quarters — but, ironically, into the same quarters where members of the jury happened to be staying. Every morning, Uncle Dave made sure his client was in the hotel lobby, highly visible and surrounded by his family, so the jurors could see him in a different light — secluded from the others.

The trial dragged on for almost eight long weeks. But in the end, Uncle Dave’s strategy paid big dividends: his client, a man named Nicholas Tweel of West Virginia, was the only one acquitted. The rest of them went to prison. Hoffa remained there until 1971, when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence to time served.

Another high-profile case where Uncle Dave played a key role was with the tragic train derailment and chemical tanker explosion at Waverly, Tenn., back in 1978. For days, this event grabbed headlines across the country. There were 15 people killed in that accident. Uncle Dave was hired to represent their families. He really played hardball with the corporate lawyers sent down to represent the interests of the railroad and the chemical company. In the end, he negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement for the families — a rare feat for those days.

And then there’s this case, one of the funniest I ever recall. Back in the late 1950s, Uncle Dave was hired to represent a local man who had been charged with a very serious offense of rape. In court, as prosecutors finished laying out their case against this man, things weren’t looking too good. But then it was Uncle Dave’s turn to present his case. He called his client to the stand, but there was one major problem: his client had a serious speech defect. He would stutter and he would stammer and he would ramble, on and on- and nobody in the courtroom could understand a word he was saying. Well … nobody except for Uncle Dave. He convinced the court that he could understand the man quite well, the result of the extensive time spent with the man while preparing the case for trial. For some unknown reason, perhaps because they knew of no alternative, the court went along with Uncle Dave’s line of thinking. So … Uncle Dave would ask a question, wait for the client to ramble along for a few minutes, and then proceed to tell the court what his client had said. In effect, that old sly fox, Uncle Dave, was asking the questions — and then answering them, too! Needless to say, his client in this case was found not guilty.

For almost 50 years, Uncle Dave tried cases in the courts of Williamson County. He once told a newspaper reporter that he’d tried well over 100 murder cases, alone. Some of the local lawyers who practiced with Uncle Dave’s law firms, over the years, included Ned Eggleston, Jim Campbell, Eddie Sanders, my father, T.H. (Huddy) Alexander Jr., Jim Petersen, Mark Hartzog, Don Harris and Ed Silva.

After suffering a series of strokes, Uncle Dave died March 19, 1995. He was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.