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The court losses a lively character

Back when I was a rookie courthouse reporter, I was desperately hunting the name of a source who could make or break a story I was working. I put the word out to everyone I could.

One morning as I sat in the front row of a bustling courtroom, a courthouse fixture of a lawyer named Manny Machin strolled over. (That's pronounced "machine," a name a fellow reporter said was right out of Dick Tracy.)

In his pinstriped suit, Machin gave a courtly little bow, leaned forward and whispered, "Shake my hand." So I did. I felt a piece of paper pressed to my palm.

On it was the name I needed.

I can tell this story only because Machin later told it himself. I think he found working around the edges of things that way kind of amusing.

Back in the bad old days at the Hillsborough County courthouse, Machin was a character even in a place packed with them. Aggressive, brash, fast talking, controversial, he once said he practiced law in "the gray area."

He could talk salty with the best of them, and he could make it pretty for a jury. He was scrappy enough to win a cocaine trafficking case by noticing the prosecutor and witnesses said "March" when the incident occurred in May. And afterward, he was Manny Machin enough to mock-innocently hum a few bars of What a Diff'rence a Day Made.

Imagine the Goodfellas-like scene back in the early '90s, when he unfolded the tale of a dirty prosecutor and defense lawyer and a deal in which Machin's client could get a lighter murder sentence.

For 35 grand.

He wore a wire in the parking lot of a Steak 'N Ale to talk about the payoff with that defense lawyer. "You know it's cooked on my end," you could hear the lawyer say on tape. Later, the prosecutor was arrested after the plea deal was done in the courtroom.

Surreal.

But it felt like that a lot in those days.

Not that it was all gritty intrigue. Once I saw Machin at the mall, his perfectly knotted tie traded for a colorful tracksuit. He was with his wife and kids. He looked happy.

He had his friends, but it would be fair to say he was not universally liked, given those who got sideswiped when he repeated other corruption allegations in a deposition.

But he was always there, at the courthouse, working another case.

Then they nailed him. Charged him. Took him to trial. Manny Machin, possum killer.

I'll never forget him telling me in a courthouse hallway, in confidential tones, with those heavy lidded eyes, that they would never find the bodies.

He was kidding.

I think.

Charged with animal cruelty and discharging a gun, he freely admitted he shot the vermin menacing his dog, his son and his neighbors.

"I'm not being prosecuted for what I did, I'm being prosecuted for who I am," he said, and you had to wonder.

He had one charge thrown out, was acquitted by the judge on another. Machin was vindicated. That was him, landing on his feet.

This week came the news that he had died of cancer at the too-young age of 50. He had faded from the headlines awhile back, and the courthouse had changed. But still, it's hard to imagine the place without a character like Manny Machin.

The court losses a lively character 10/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 10, 2008 6:09pm]
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