KIM'S BEST PRANKS
It was one year ago this week that I lost my dear friend and law partner, Kim Johnson. Kim was an outstanding lawyer and a mentor to me and so many Memphis lawyers. He was also a loving and caring grandfather, father, husband, and man of faith.
But this week, I find myself fondly remembering something else about Kim. He was an incredible prankster.
Kim loved playing elaborate pranks, and his “victims” were always people he loved. Indeed, it was a great compliment to be the victim of a Kim Johnson prank.
I could write a whole book about Kim’s pranks, but I will share my three favorites: The fuel efficient car, the broken garage elevator, and the rejected appellate brief.
First, the car. In the late 1970’s there was a young associate in our law office who bought a new compact car. He was very proud of the car, particularly its fuel efficiency. He bragged to Kim and everyone else in the firm that his car was getting over 25 miles to the gallon which was in those days, really good mileage.
Kim got a little weary of the associate bragging about his new car’s gas mileage, so Kim decided to have some fun. There was a gas station right next to the parking lot where the young lawyer parked his new car. One morning, unbeknownst to the young lawyer, Kim tipped the gas station attendant to top the tank in the associate’s new car. He then proceeded to do this every morning for several days, giving the gas station attendant just a dollar or so each day to keep the tank full.
Kim would then ask the young lawyer, “How’s that new car doing?” The lawyer would respond, “Kim, you won’t believe it! I’ll bet I’m getting 50 miles to the gallon! I never have to go to a gas station.”
Kim then told all the other lawyers in the firm (except the prank victim, of course) what he was up to. At this point, all of us were chipping in just a little bit of money each day to make sure that the tank of the car was always full.
And of course, Kim kept dryly asking the young lawyer about the car. At one point the lawyer responded, “The only time I’ve had to put gas in my car in the past month was when I drove down to Jackson, Mississippi the other day. Otherwise, for city travel, it’s so efficient I never have to stop at a gas station!”
And then Kim switched to phase 2 of his prank. He then tipped the gas station attendant to siphon gas from the lawyer’s car tank every day. This cost a little bit more, but Kim and the rest of us all chipped in to get to the bottom, so to speak, of the tank.
At this point, Kim would ask his associate, “How’s that great car of yours doing?”
The despondent young lawyer replied, “I don’t know what’s happened. I used to get 50, 60, 70 miles to the gallon! Now I’m having to go to the gas station every day because when I’m headed home, the fuel gauge indicates that my tank is empty!”
Feigning innocence Kim responded, “Well how in the world did that happen?”
This went on for several days to the amusement of all of us in the office, until one day the young lawyer’s secretary paid a visit to Kim. She told him, “Mr. Johnson, the joke has to stop! He has called the dealer where he bought the car and has even dictated a letter indicating he is ready to file a lawsuit!”
Kim, joined by several of us, then paid a visit to the associate’s office and said, “Gotcha!”
The second great prank involved a broken elevator in the Commerce Square parking garage. One morning when Kim arrived at work, several secretaries told him how they had been stuck in the parking garage elevator the previous night, and while they pushed the button to alert the building they were stuck, no one came to their aid. They were stuck on the elevator for a considerable period of time, and some began to develop claustrophobia. They told Mr. Johnson that finally his friend Bill Dunlap, of the Harris Shelton law firm (located in the same office building as our firm) had become the hero. He was stuck in the elevator with them, but pried the elevator doors open. It was between floors, but he then hoisted each of the secretaries up through the pried open doors to the floor and their safety.
Kim was a very close friend of Bill Dunlap’s, and decided it was time to have some fun with him. He then elicited the support of Cheryl Estes, a then young associate in the firm. Seated in Kim’s office, Cheryl placed a call to Bill Dunlap, and Kim and other members of the firm sat in to listen to the conversation on a speaker phone. Kim had written out a script for Cheryl, and she performed it beautifully. Using a fake name, she identified herself to Mr. Dunlap as being an agent of the company that leased and maintained the Commerce Square Building. She told Mr. Dunlap that she was calling about the incident with the garage elevator.
Having no idea that Kim Johnson was behind the call, Bill Dunlap responded, “I’m glad you called! I was on that elevator with several other women. We were stuck for some time, the women were crying, and when no one would respond to our calls for help, I had to pry the elevator doors open to get us out of there!”
Reading from notes provided by Kim, Cheryl calmly stated, “Well that’s why we’re calling you. You did over $50,000 worth of damage to the elevator, and we’re expecting you to pay for it!”
A stunned Dunlap then said, “You’re kidding?!”
“No,” replied Cheryl. “This is very serious. You did extensive damage to our garage elevator, and you are responsible for paying for it.”
Dunlap then vigorously expressed how he felt about the bizarre phone call he was receiving.
Kim passed another note to Cheryl, which she read to Dunlap, saying, “Perhaps you ought to consult with a lawyer.”
“I am a lawyer!” exclaimed a highly agitated Bill Dunlap who then proceeded to hang up the phone. Kim then said, “Let’s go visit him.”
Kim and Cheryl and yours truly then immediately went to Dunlap’s office just a few floors below Kim’s office. We walked straight through the reception area and into Dunlap’s office. Dunlap was red-faced, breathing heavily, and staring out the window.
“What’s wrong, Bill?” Kim asked. Bill proceeded to angrily relate the story of his conversation with someone he thought was with the building’s maintenance department.
Kim then pointed to Cheryl who was standing beside him and asked, “Was it this lady here?” Dunlap, recognizing Cheryl, looked at Kim and said, “Alright! You got me!”
And finally, there was the prank of the rejected appellate brief.
The late, great Frank Crawford had asked an associate of the firm to write a brief in a case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Future Appellate Judge Crawford was disappointed with the work the associate had done, and decided to use the situation as a teaching moment.
“Billy Frank,” as he was known in those days, wrote his own appellate brief for the case, and made copies for every lawyer in the firm. He then attached to the front of each copy a memo that proudly said, “Now this is the way to write an appellate brief!”
Kim decided that Billy Frank was being a little bit too haughty, and it was time to have some fun.
In those days, the Clerk of the Court of Appeals sent out little cards indicating when a brief had been filed. Kim managed to get one of those cards with the official insignia of the Court of Appeals on it. He then had his secretary type the following message on the card “Brief of Appellee Rejected for Poor Quality. Decision of the trial court reversed and case remanded to the trial court for a new trial and sanctions against Mr. Crawford.”
He then had the card sent to Billy Frank, somehow even having it mailed from Jackson so that it had a Jackson, Tennessee postmark.
Kim then told every lawyer in the office (with the exception of Billy Frank, of course) what he had done. He also instructed the firm’s mail clerk to let him know when Billy Frank received the card.
On the morning the card arrived, Kim let everyone know that Billy Frank was about to check his mail as the clerk was delivering it to his office.
Billy Frank was sitting at his desk sipping his morning coffee when the clerk brought him a few letters and the card, purportedly from the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
Kim, and almost every other lawyer in the office, were standing outside of Billy Frank’s office waiting for his reaction.
Suddenly we heard Billy Frank scream to his secretary, “Carol! Get Jewel Redden on the phone!” Jewel Redden was the Clerk of the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
At that point Kim entered Billy Frank’s office accompanied by virtually the entire staff of the firm. “What’s the matter, Billy Frank?” Kim asked.
Visibly shaken, future Judge Crawford said, “Oh nothing! There has just been a mistake made in the Clerk’s Office at the Court of Appeals!”
Billy Frank was holding in his hand the card purportedly from the Court of Appeals. Kim then took the card from him and asked, “What’s this?”
When Billy Frank didn’t respond, Kim read the message aloud and then said, “Was this the brief you were bragging about? I guess we should call our legal malpractice carrier!”
Billy Frank then looked around and asked, “What the hell is everybody doing in my office?” We all laughed uproariously, and Billy Frank knew he had been had.
I miss Kim so much. I even miss being the victim of his wonderful pranks!