Forget Shorty, Get Marvin!

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"It did get out of control, and I warned them," Mounts recalls. "I was dealing with police and they should have known better. I was greatly hurt by that."

Although a recent Palm Beach Post article revealed that Mounts' sentences for felons regularly come in under the state's guidelines, he can be as tough a sentencer as any judge in the county -- at least from Price's perspective. "He just slammed one of my clients," Price points out. "I was not at all expecting the twenty years he got. Nor was my client."

That same day a woman convicted of child abuse was accused of contacting her child, in violation of her probation. The state requested treatment. Mounts gave her 90 days instead.

"He didn't explain," Price shrugs.
He rarely does when it comes to sentencing.
"If you say it's terribly hard, then you're puffing," Mounts maintains. "You're saying look at all this responsibility I have to burden. You ought not to think about it much."

So instead of talking about sentencing, he consults a reference book he keeps on a shelf in his office, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, situated among the "Far Side" comic strip books and the autographed Elmore Leonard novels. He pages through Bartlett's looking for his favorite Nietzsche quotation. Some of the pages are marked already, and he stops at them. "Wordsworth," he reads to himself. "Ahh, Hegel," he says. "I love Hegel."

Finally Mounts arrives at the Nietzsche quotation he is looking for. "'Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful,'" he reads aloud. "Every judge," he admonishes, "ought to be thinking about that."

Not including, of course, fictional judges.

Judge Bob Gibbs' wife, Leanne, is a former Weeki Wachee Spring mermaid who believes she has psychic powers that she can channel through a twelve-year-old girl named Wanda Grace, a slave on a Georgia plantation who died in 1855.

Polly Mounts is not her inspiration. "The wife in the book is insane," exclaims Polly, a retired Palm Beach County elementary schoolteacher who worked with gifted children. "And I mean really insane. People ask me how I feel about it. I love it."

And to be sure, Marvin Mounts is merely the inspiration -- not the model -- for Bob Gibbs. But like his wife, the judge is amused by all the attention Leonard's novel has brought. Mounts, after all, is just a judge, one eager to share a few oddball stories about his career as a jurist, but modest, if not reluctant, to discuss his personal background.

A devout Episcopalian, Mounts thought as a grade-school student that he might become a priest. Born in West Palm Beach in 1932, he attended the now-defunct Palm Beach High School, where he played on the football team with Harry Johnston, who would later become a congressman, and a man named Deese -- but that name wouldn't mean much to Mounts until years later, when his former teammate's daughter found herself nailed to an oak tree.

Mounts' father, known as Red, moved to West Palm Beach in the early Twenties after failing to earn a living in the Oklahoma dust bowl. In 1925 he became the assistant agricultural agent for what was then a largely agrarian Palm Beach County. He later ascended to the post of agricultural agent, an appointment he would hold for more than 36 years. His appreciation for natural resources was so respected that the county honored him in the Sixties by naming a West Palm Beach botanical garden after him.

Mounts' mother, Juanita Tillman Mounts, worked as a substitute teacher and served as a member of the West Palm Beach city library board. She helped young Marvin, an eighth grader at the time, to secure a part-time job at the library, where he made 50 cents an hour. "It was there," he remembers fondly, "where I learned a love for books." That love ultimately led him to attend the University of the South, located in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he realized that his passion and temperament were better suited for the study of history than for a career in the church.

But history, like faith, became merely a critical diversion for Mounts, who decided to pursue a career in law instead. As his undergraduate years concluded, the Korean War was also rapidly drawing to an end. The G.I. Bill would soon do likewise, warned a friend of the Mounts family, and if Marvin wanted to go to graduate school, he'd better enlist quickly. Heeding this counsel Mounts joined the Air Force, serving at a California base between 1954 and 1956, where he studied bombing-run photos. When he was discharged, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill's provisions to pay for tuition and enrolled in the University of Florida's law school.

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Michael Freedman