His grades were poor at the University of Florida, he admits, but he muddled through, met the woman he would marry, married her in June 1959 after graduation, and began a job search in his native West Palm Beach. "When I got out of law school," he recollects, "the only job available was working in the [Palm Beach County] prosecutor's office," then known as the solicitor's office. He quickly discovered he had a knack for this calling, especially after winning the case concerning the woman who was strangled and buried underground in a car. In doing so he defeated Sidney Catts, a prominent defense attorney at the time and the son of a former Florida governor.
When the solicitor's office was abolished in 1972, Mounts needed to determine if he would run for the newly created state attorney position or seek a vacant circuit court judgeship. Judges, he thought, could be more autonomous and help people more easily: "I thought maybe I could do a better job than some judges that I didn't think much of."
First there was Marvin Mounts. Then there was Elmore Leonard's Bob Isom Gibbs. Now there's veteran big-screen star Beau Bridges' (Norma Rae, Heart Like a Wheel, The Fabulous Baker Boys) Bob Gibbs. Maximum Bob has morphed from novel into TV show.
"He [Gibbs] is very similar to the judge in the book," comments Amy Colonna Robinson, a location specialist with the Palm Beach County Film Commission. Robinson helped coordinate production for Maximum Bob, which wrapped shooting in downtown Lake Worth, Jupiter, and inside the courthouse in Okeechobee City in November.
"He's a little perverted, very Southern," adds Robinson. "I guess he's pretty mean, but he's got a sense of humor. He doesn't come off being crooked. I guess you could say he's pretty likable. But then some of the things he says you're like, 'Oh man.'"
Before fashioning television's newest fictional judge, screenwriter Alex Gansa consulted with Mounts several times and contends that he will continue to use the judge as a resource -- if the series gets picked up for broadcast, that is. Mounts told Gansa, for example, the story of a thief who packed himself inside a shipping crate addressed to a West Palm Beach bank. The would-be thief, a law student at the University of Miami, was arrested before he could steal any of the treasures in the bank's safe-deposit boxes. The student skipped bond and is probably still at large.
Gansa is no TV newcomer. For two years he helped write for The X-Files, the enormously popular Fox Network show about extraterrestrials, UFOs, government cover-ups, and conspiracy theories. Before that he performed a similar task on a number of other shows, including the Emmy Award-winning Eighties medical drama St. Elsewhere. Maximum Bob, he hopes, will be funny in an offbeat way but also dramatic enough to capture viewers' imaginations for an entire hour.
Past TV judge characters have included the protagonist of the show Judge Roy Bean, a half-hour 1956 series that was turned into a feature-length film starring Paul Newman in 1972, and Judge Harry T. Stone (played by Harry Anderson), the jocular justice on the popular mid-Eighties series Night Court. But probably the best-known TV judge is Judge Joseph Wapner, the moralistic, paternal jurist on the long-running but now canceled People's Court, a syndicated program that paid nominal sums to both parties in small-claims suits. A new version of People's Court, currently in syndication, features former New York City Mayor Ed Koch as the judge.
Maximum Bob Gibbs will be a bit different. He will say all the things a real judge would love to say but can't. "But this guy's got the balls to say them," explains Gansa from his home in Los Angeles. "Gibbs takes it one step too far, and that's what makes it funny."
During the show's recent production period in Palm Beach County, Mounts showed Bridges around his house, including a peek at his orchid collection. One need not have been there to know what Bridges saw. Leonard's Maximum Bob gives a fair rendering of an abbreviated tour of Mounts' property:
She walked past the attached garage to the north end of the house, looking at a scrub growth and a line of Australian pines in the distance. The canal curved off in that direction toward the lake.... Another few steps would take her around the corner to the screened porch and the backyard, the judge's gardens, his orchids hanging in trees.