In the 23 years since 1963 LSU Law graduate Anthony Graphia retired as a family court judge, he’s had plenty of time to reminisce and reflect on his more than 50-year legal career. Now, Graphia has drawn on his experiences as an attorney, prosecutor and judge to pen “The Eagle & The Hawk,” a fiction novel that’s based in Baton Rouge in the 1970s.
“The stories are based on cases I handled or knew of,” says Graphia, a Baton Rouge native. “When I sat down to write, I thought it was easiest to write an autobiographical fiction book.”
The novel follows Chris Ribes as he returns to Baton Rouge after serving in a U.S. special forces unit in Vietnam called “Tiger Track” that conducted “off the books” operations in its battle against Viet Cong guerrillas. Back in Baton Rouge, Ribes finds “a city under siege by violent criminals” and is drawn into “a dark enterprise formed by the Mayor, Chief of Police, District Attorney, and State Police Commander” by an undercover agent, according to a book synopsis.
The retired judge was encouraged to write the novel by his daughter, Toni Graphia, who was also by inspired by her father’s career to create compelling works of fiction. Toni Graphia is executive producer of the “Outlander” TV series, and previously based her 1997 CBS drama series, “Orleans,” on her father’s life as a New Orleans judge.
Graphia spent several years as an assistant district attorney, prosecuting major crimes and presenting cases to grand juries, before serving 18 years on the bench at the East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court. He continues to serve as judge pro tempore when appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court and is chairman of the Louisiana State Board of Tax Appeals.
Though the cases he ruled on at the family court could be highly emotional, Graphia appreciated that the work provided him the opportunity to attempt to help many people improve their lives. When asked what he considers to be the most valuable lesson he learned over his 56 years of practice, Graphia pauses.
“Understanding people,” he says. “Understanding they have problems. Understanding I don’t have all the solutions. You have to be a little patient with people, with lawyers, with litigants.”
Graphia recalls judges who granted him patience when he was a young attorney in the courtroom. Later, when he presided in cases in which a lawyer would sometimes flounder, he would try to help them as much as he could on procedural grounds. When he retired, Graphia says, he even had lawyers who personally thanked him for not embarrassing them in the courtroom.
As for advice to current LSU Law students, Graphia says: “Realize that when you get out of law school, you don’t know everything. Continue to learn. Keep up with seminars and judicial opinions. Respect your other lawyers. Don’t lie. Don’t take unfair advantages. Memorize your ethics code and use it.”
“The Eagle and The Hawk” is currently on shelves at Cottonwood Books in Baton Rouge and Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, and it’s also available on Amazon Kindle.
“On a sunny, humid, and very warm mid-June Sunday morning Chris walked into Anselmo’s, a popular coffee shop near West Chimes Street, which bordered the LSU campus on its north side. He had a craving for an iced tea and a chocolate covered roll. The coffee shop was very crowded as usual on Sunday mornings with students, professors, and other assorted types. He scanned the interior search for a table as it felt too warm to sit comfortably outside in the blazing sun. Those unprotected tables on the sidewalk were only used in the spring and fall unless the customer was so stoned that he did not mind the extreme heat.
A large, rough-looking guy Chris had never seen before waved him over to an empty seat his table for two. Almost the same build and weight as Chris, the guy blended in with the crowd. He was dressed in a green T-shirt with a large golden eagle on its front, faded denim jeans, and scuffed-up black cowboy boots. The T-shirt was partially covered by a brown unbuttoned suede vest. He wore a black leather belt with a round buckled decorated with a bucking horse. Chris pegged him for a graduate student in veterinary medicine. Chris sat, thanked the stranger, and began a conversation, quickly learning that the man sitting across from him was not a student or professor or an employee of LSU but an experienced undercover state trooper, assigned to a special crime suppression division. It was his task to combat armed robberies in the area of the LSU campus.
Recently, the culprits had become more audacious, daring anyone to walk near the campus edge even in the daylight. The LSU administration demanded that the local police become proactive against the problem and, in response, they decided to place officers in the targeted area to observe any suspicious activity and attempt to prevent crimes. State police agreed to aid the efforts of local police by supplying experienced undercover officers who would not be known to the local bandits. All arrest reports went directly to the district attorney’s office, which filed all charges assigned at random to judges in the district court’s criminal divisions.”