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Federal judge nixes lawyer's plan to be the next Ernest Hemingway

Published Jun. 28, 2012

TAMPA — A lawyer soon to begin a federal trial in Tampa hoped to get a certain Friday in July off from court.

His request — evoking stocky, high-spirited men in silvery beards besting each other over beers — was not likely one the judge had heard before:

"Undersigned counsel, a perennial contestant in the Ernest Hemingway Look-alike Contest, is scheduled to appear … at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Florida, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, July 20, 2012," wrote St. Petersburg lawyer Frank Louderback, who sports the necessary facial hair and has thrice competed for the title.

In his response, U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday did not lack for literary chops — invoking Dorothy Parker, a highbrow adjective that sent everyone scrambling for dictionaries, and the prose of Papa himself:

"Between a murder-for hire trial and an annual look-alike contest, surely Hemingway, a perfervid admirer of 'grace under pressure' would choose the trial," wrote the judge. (From Merriam-Webster: perfervid: marked by overwrought or exaggerated emotion; excessively fervent.)

The judge pointedly quoted legendary literary wit Parker, who once wrote that Hemingway "works like hell, and through it."

"Perhaps a lawyer who evokes Hemingway can resist relaxing frolic in favor of solemn duty," Merryday wrote. "Or at least, 'Isn't it pretty to think so?' "

Hemingway fans will recognize the last line of The Sun Also Rises, and Jake's cynical response after Brett tells him how they could have been happy together.

"Best of luck to counsel in next year's contest," concluded the judge. "The motion … is DENIED."

Louderback, who represents a man accused of arranging a murder, said he respects the ruling and will abide by it.

Because of reserved rooms and nonrefundable deposits, and an expected cheering section of family and friends, he said he asked "in an abundance of caution, because I needed to know if I was going to be able to go or not." During lengthy trials, judges have been known to not hold court on Fridays.

Three times, Louderback has competed in the Hemingway Days festivities, when about 125 similarly bearded, stocky men of a certain age hit the streets of Key West. Proceeds go to scholarships for Florida Keys kids.

"It'll give me another year to get older, fatter and grayer," Louderback said philosophically. But on that Friday in a few weeks, he'll have his son who flies private planes ready just in case he's out early enough.

Told of the situation, Matt Gineo, a semiretired biomedical engineer from Jensen Beach and last year's official Hemingway doppelganger, opined, "I don't think that's justice. (The judge) should let him go."

Devotees of the event speak of brotherhood, friendship and even good-natured "bribes" of booze, cigars or pineapples that are part of the contest.

"If the judge maybe had a beard and came down for the festival," Gineo said, "he'd maybe have a change of heart."

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