Here’s a story about a barefoot lawyer.
But no, it’s not recent.
This newspaper story about G. Polk Cline appeared in 1897, when he was 46 years old. Mr. Cline was a Kansas lawyer (in the town of Larned) who moved to Larned in 1886, and he’s described in a 2008 Journal of the Kansas Bar Association article:
Had you walked upon the lawyer himself, you well have been startled by his appearance. If you had happened upon him just back from court, you would have seen a somewhat odd apparition. Not a large man but one with a large presence. He had piercing eyes set in a narrow face. On his head would have been his favorite old “plug hat”: what Lincoln called a stovepipe. He would have been wearing a formal, frock coat, but likely without a tie, since he never learned to tie one. If you’d look closely you might also have seen the pearl handled pistol he always kept tucked into his back trousers pocket. And, most odd of all, no shoes would have been on his feet, for he favored the barefoot look.
Here’s the picture that accompanied the article.
It cuts off his feet. However, I managed to find the whole original, and he was wearing shoes. So no wonder they cut his feet out of this picture—it didn’t fit the article.
But here’s the story that appeared in the newspapers:
In the early days ex-Congressman S. R. Peters, of Newton, was judge of the old Ninth judicial district which was composed of about all the counties now in the Seventh congressional district. The first court he presided over in Rush county was held in a little store building, with a row of boxes arranged as a table for the accommodation of the attorneys. Just after the proclamation of the sheriff in opening court a man clad in a hickory shirt and a pair of blue overalls, held up by one suspender, swaggered in and seating himself at the table, settled back in his chair and calmly deposited his two bunion ornamented bare feet upon the table near the judge. Peters looked at him a moment and turning to the clerk said: “Mr. Clerk, enter a fine against this man for contempt of court.”
The man rose to his feet, and, addressing the court, said: If the court please, may I be allowed to enquire wherein I am guilty of contempt of this court?”
“For coming into court barefoot,” replied the judge.
“But,” replied the accused, “I am an attorney, duly admitted to practice, an officer of this court, and claim my right under the constitution to come into court barefoot, if I so desire.”
Peters looked at him a moment and replied: “Very well, sir, the court will not hold you guilty for entering court barefoot, but for having mud between your toes. The fine will stand.”
That is how Colonel Polk Cline, now of Larned, was once fined for contempt of court by Sam Peters.
I’m never sure just how much to take these kinds of stories at face value. I couldn’t find any other newspaper articles that just didn’t repeat this one anecdote. On top of that, G. Polk Cline wrote a book in 1910, named, for some reason “Polk Cline’s Book”. He doesn’t mention bare feet in it at all.
His daughter, Nellie Cline Steenson, also wrote a book. She’s actually fairly famous in Kansas, as the first woman lawyer to practice before the Kansas Supreme Court (as the county attorney general in 1918) and as an early female state legislator). She later moved to Idaho where she was also a state legislator.
Anyways, Nellie Cline’s book, “The Jayhawkers; Stories and Memoirs of the Early Days in Western Kansas” (published in 1967) also doesn’t mention anything about going barefoot, and specifically doesn’t mention her father doing so.
So, all we have is that one newspaper story. It may even be true. My suspicion is that it has a germ of truth (that G. Polk went barefoot a lot, particularly in the early days). But “mud between your toes”? It’s hard to know; the anecdote is just too pat. But it sure would be interesting if true.