As that first semester dragged on, with all its pitfalls, my life became nightmarish as I dwelt on that one, single, solitary, exam per course. I couldn’t imagine anything harsher. This was indeed a cruel, unusual and unjust punishment to inflict on students. I hadn’t studied constitutional law yet but could not see how this academic procedure was permitted. How tragic!
By the time the Thanksgiving holidays rolled around, the talk about the exams became tumultuous. I cringed at the thought of taking those dreaded exams. We went home for Thanksgiving but cut the holiday short and came back to Baton Rouge early to start reviewing. We formed a study group composed of Bob McBride of Lafayette, Earl Veron, my son Gilbert’s godfather who became both a state and a federal district judge, and Larry Roach, better known as Bully Roach, both of Lake Charles (both deceased) and myself.
We compared notes which we took during class. It is amazing how four of us, all attending the same classes, listening to the same professors, could come up with different notes. Therefore, we argued about whose notes were correct. Not one of us would yield, so therefore, we were all correct (or all wrong). So, we argued over just about everything. All four of us were smokers, so we smoked furiously. The ashtrays were full of Lucky Strike™, Camel™ and come what may cigarette butts and ashes and the air was foggy with their smoke. It was a haze, and you could have cut it with a knife.
Bully Roach was the most vociferous one, and he took it out, with no pity, on Earl, who tried to reason with him, all to no avail. Bully was an undisputed member of the proletarian class, i.e., the working class
In fact, his papa, Tubby Roach had been the bargaining agent for the local worker’s union in Lake Charles prior to his death, and Bully had been rocked in the union cradle of laborers. Bully had been a plumber before going to law school and was still a card carrying member of that union in Lake Charles. Bully was married to Dorothy Cormier, the sister of the labor union plaintiff lawyer, Nathan Cormier, who changed his family name to Cormie, in Lake Charles. Bully represented the height of liberalism.
Earl, on the other hand, although having been raised poor in Smoke Bend, Ascension Parish, was still about as anti-labor union as you could find. He had risen from a humble butcher to a fancy meat market owner in Lake Charles, and had sweetened the pot by marrying Verdie Hyde, the only child of millionaire John Hyde in Lake Charles. Earl stood for the pinnacle of conservatism.
It is obvious to the reader that the philosophies of these two mixed about as oil and water do. Bully took a perverse pleasure in criticizing Earl, calling him old money bags. Later on, Bully would pay for that when he had to appear and humble himself in Earl’s court in Lake Charles and address him as ‘Your Honor’ and have to abide by Earl’s rulings. But that is subject matter for another day. Bob and I were rather amused by this exchange of barbs between the two.
We spent the greater part of the Thanksgiving holiday reviewing, arguing, agreeing and disagreeing, mostly disagreeing, comparing notes, going to the dictionary, etc. It was just a couple or three weeks before the Christmas holidays. Back then, unlike now, the semester did not end before Christmas. The students had to come back to class after New Years and very shortly thereafter, the final exams commenced. Result: My Christmas holidays were ruined. I simply could not enjoy them with what was hanging over my head. Now, the semester ends before the Christmas holidays and the students can enjoy the holiday season, the final exams having been taken and completed before the holidays begin.
Right after Christmas, before New Years, I headed back to Baton Rouge for another round of studying with the group. As soon as school started, we completed our semester assignments, and were given a couple days before the exams began to do our final preparation. There was a law lounge upstairs, where the students would go to take a break and smoke. It was usually dominated by upper classmen who poked fun at us freshmen and told us terrifying tales about those exams, and that we had less than a 50-50 chance of passing and remaining in law school after the first year. Because of this kind of talk, we generally stayed out of the law lounge. During the days just preceding the final exams, that kind of talk was worse than ever.
Every once in a while, I nevertheless went into the lounge to see what was going on, always preparing myself mentally for the depressing comments. There was a female law student, one of the very few (there were only two or three in the entire Law School - a sharp contrast to the present time when the sexes attending are about equal), who had flunked out, being forced to stay out a semester, and then being re-admitted, the reason being she was a junior, which kept her from failing permanently. She was from New Orleans and her father was very rich. Instead of hanging around during that missed semester, she took a vacation to Spain; quite philosophical, wouldn’t you say?
Well, it came to pass that she engaged me in a conversation one day which could hardly be termed complimentary towards me on her part. This is how it went. In her New Orleans accent, she said “Aucoin, there is only one student in this entire Law School who speaks English worse than you and that is Donald Soileau from Mamou”- - -hardly an expression of praise. That stayed with me. Later on, it turned out she married another law student who later got elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court. She, of course, by the hardest, graduated from law school. I get a Christmas card from her and her husband every year. I see them from time to time, and when I do, she no longer comments on my inferior linguistically English speaking ability.
As the time for the exams approached, our study group reviewed the courses thoroughly, gave up eating and sleeping and entered another dimension. We lost weight, became wide eyed, drank oceans of coffee and in a trance, concentrated only on the law, that jealous mistress. Bully even quit picking on and insulting Earl. We became zombies. It was time to begin and separate the men from the boys.
We learned our first exam would be in criminal law, a course taught by Dr. Dale Bennett, who I believe was from Alabama. Accordingly, we prepared for that exam, memorized the elements of murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, and all of the other crimes, both felonies and misdemeanors. Often, when I took a rare break, my mind went blank and I couldn’t remember the elements even of the simplest misdemeanors.
That day finally came. The Criminal Law Exam began at 8 a.m. sharp and ended at high noon. We came armed with Blue Books to write the exam in longhand. Some of the students typed their exam if they desired. I chose to handwrite mine. The exam consisted of hypothetical cases, and we had to analyze them, pick out the principles of criminal law involved and write a narration of the benefit of our analysis of the hypothetical facts presented, take the various principles of criminal law involved that we found and apply them to the facts as we understood them to be.
Quite frankly, I was both surprised and pleased to find the exam was far from being as difficult as I anticipated, and although it was somewhat problematical, I completed it in about three and a quarter hours, went over my paper, made a few corrections and turned it in about 30 minutes before noon. I then made the mistake of wandering in the law lounge and was met by a senior, an intellectual, intelligent, big-mouthed Italian-American from New Orleans named Roy Liuzza who was already a CPA, on the Law Review, a potential member of the Order of the Coif (an honor bestowed upon a select few members of the intelligentsia, an elite group of people).
In my next column I will tell you what Roy Liuzza, that obnoxious harbinger of bad news for freshmen, had to say to me.
I invite the readers of this column to listen to my radio program on KVPI 92.5 F.F. or 10.50 A.M. at 12:30 noon every other Wednesday.