Thursday, September 28, 2006

Scout Grows Up

From James

One of my favorite books of all time is Harper Lee’s "To Kill A Mockingbird." I think about Scout and Atticus Finch probably more than most normal human beings do, but as the saying goes, “Why be normal?” My children are almost old enough to read it and I can’t wait to re-read it and talk to them about it.

Being such a fan, you can probably imagine how excited I was to come across a real-life Scout and Atticus story. In this story, “Scout” grew up to be a federal judge named Phyllis Kravitch.

Since 1979 Judge Kravitch has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. When she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter she was only the third woman in the United States to become a United States Circuit Judge and the first female federal judge in the Southeast. Before that, she practiced law in Savannah, Georgia and was the first female Superior Court Judge in the state.

And she is quite a good storyteller.

Back in 1983, I worked in Atlanta for one of her colleagues on the court, Thomas A. Clark—who, by the way, is one of the greatest human beings I have ever known (see my website for more on "Judge"). A story circulated throughout the courthouse about Judge Kravitch, and for many years, I wondered if it was actually true. I spoke with Judge Kravitch last spring, and she confirmed it. Yup, absolutely true.

Judge Kravitch flew to Atlanta from Savannah to hear oral argument on a panel with two other federal judges. She was standing at the curb at the airport, about to get into a cab, when a man cut in front of her and announced that he was “late for court.” He stole her cab and headed off to the courthouse.

Now, imagine that poor man’s surprise when he stepped up to the podium in the federal court of appeals, said his obligatory “May it please the court,” and saw Judge Kravitch—the victim of his cab robbery—staring down at him.

Great story. But Judge Kravitch has another one I’d like to share with you, too. She was kind enough to include it in my latest book. Last week I mentioned that my first young adult novel was just published—a fantasy legal thriller called "Leapholes" that allows kids to enter into law books, travel through time and meet people like Rosa Parks and Dred Scott. As an Afterword to Leapholes, the American Bar Association asked some famous lawyers to tell kids in their own words what inspired them to become a lawyer. There were many wonderful stories, but here is one of my favorites, compliments of Judge Kravitch:

"As a young girl growing up in Georgia in the 1920s and 30s I never considered a legal career. Rather I envisioned myself pursuing dance and becoming a ballerina. However, when I was eleven years old, my father, a trial attorney,was appointed by the court to represent an African-American man who had beenaccused of murder. The case was highly publicized and – because of thedefendant’s race – made my father very unpopular. As a result I was shunned bysome of my schoolmates, and was the only girl in my scout troop not invited toanother girl’s birthday party. This upset me very much. In his attempt toconsole me, my father explained the importance of our Constitution, andespecially the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees everyone accused of a crime theright to a jury trial and to be represented by an attorney which, he explained,meant regardless of a defendant’s race, wealth or social status. At the time this seemed somewhat abstract, and certainly didn’t make me feel any better about being excluded. He finally said "when you are a little older you will understand that there are more important things in life than birthday parties."

Over the next few years I began to understand what he meant as he taught me more about the Constitution, our judicial system and the role of lawyers in helping others and protecting the rights and liberties of us all. The more I learned the more interested I became.

Although few women were in the legal profession at that time, especially in the South, my father encouraged me to go to law school and practice law. I followed his advice and his example and it is a decision I have never regretted.”

Like I said: Real life Scout and Atticus Finch. Don’t you love a happy ending?

NOTE: Judge Kravitch’s piece is copyright protected: © Copyright Phyllis Kravitch 2006. All rights reserved, printed in "Leapholes," (c) Copyright James Grippando 2006, All rights reserved.


  1. It's wonderful that some people still become lawyers for the right reasons.

    Heartwarming, too, that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of the bestselling books of all time. I've never known a student to balk at reading it...compared to, say "Beowulf."

    This gives me hope, in an otherwise grim era where the highest grossing movie is "Jackass 2."

  2. from Jacqueline

    Oh, this is such an inspirational story - it should be in other books for young people, especially, I have to say, young women. Thank you so much for telling the story here, James. It warms the heart and gives hope - especially given that cringemaking movie statistic quoted by Paul.

  3. What a great story. She is definitely a role model for young people.