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For local lawyer who looks like Papa, the sun also rises in Key West

Published Jul. 11, 2012

At last — an Ernest Hemingway story with a happy ending.

Remember local lawyer Frank Louderback and his intriguing reason for requesting a Friday off during an upcoming federal trial in Tampa?

He had previous plans (and related reservations) for his fourth shot at Key West's rowdy annual Hemingway look-alike contest, alongside dozens of other bearded men hoping to most resemble the author called Papa.

Uh, no, the judge said.

Actually, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday said much more in his elegant if biting order, quoting Hemingway and Dorothy Parker and saying the author himself would have stayed.

"Perhaps a lawyer who evokes Hemingway can resist relaxing frolic in favor of solemn duty," the judge wrote. And: "Best of luck to counsel in next year's contest." In case you were wondering where he stood.

Who could resist a court comeuppance both literary and tart? Not lawyers, who can be as gossipy as ladies under hair dryers. Louderback landed in the Times and on legal blogs, msnNOW and the Huffington Post. Calls came from Miami and Canada. Stories liked to say he tried to win over the judge on "the importance of being Ernest."

Some took a poke at the lawyer for asking to "suspend" a trial, apparently not knowing such requests aren't unheard of (even if the reason was unique), or that some judges don't hold trials on Fridays.

So he would not go. In fun, a few local judges took to calling Louderback, a respected and familiar face in their courtrooms, Mr. Hemingway.

Maybe Merryday was showing off a little literary dexterity. Who says a judge, even a lofty, untouchable federal one, can't try to have a little fun?

Perhaps inspired, another judge last week quoted a different classic, this one in a Palm Beach County case involving a boot camp guard who came home to find her daughter dallying with a young man.

The order invoked a Jim Croce tune that warns: You don't tug on Superman's cape, spit into the wind, pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you don't mess around with Jim.

"And," the judge advised, "you don't let a pistol-packing mother catch you naked in her daughter's closet." (King Kong and that junkyard dog got a mention, too.)

And remember that judge in Orlando who ordered lawyers to settle a nitpicky dispute with a round of "rock, paper, scissors"?

This week came news: Two of the defendants scheduled for trial, including Louderback's client, pleaded guilty.

And the road to Key West is clear.

So what exactly is the appeal of this strange if festive event of beards and beers raised in the name of Hemingway? Brotherhood, the faithful will tell you. Louderback met a man who had come for 28 years. Another showed up who was clearly decades too young to be Hemingway. Turned out his father, a contestant, passed away, and the son came to stand in his place. And it's all for scholarships.

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And our local lawyer will be there.

"All is well in the world," Louderback said.

What might the judge think of all that? Maybe he would again quote that final, cynical line from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, like he did in his order, saying:

"Isn't it pretty to think so?'"


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