Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life of Gladys Towles Root

Prostitutes and 'Perverts'

When Root began practicing law, many attorneys shied away from anything directly linked to sex and that included the defense of accused prostitutes. Thus, many suspected of hooking or hustling showed up in Roots office.

Root apparently hit upon a novel and sly way of building up sympathy for a young woman suspected of prostitution but an alert jurist caught the lawyers subterfuge. Contrary to general practice, the defendant was allowed to hold her infant during a day in the trial because, Root explained to the judge, the accused simply had no one to leave [the child] with.

Every now and then, the baby would cry and all eyes in the jury box automatically focused on the distressed infant and the loving mother who was rocking, cooing, and comforting the child. When the baby burst into tears for the third time, the aggravated judge bellowed, Mrs. Root, Ill have to ask you to refrain from pinching that baby again!

Gladys Towles Root also became known for taking the cases of accused perverts or sex deviates. Sometimes these phrases were used to describe exhibitionists or peeping toms. Often, these were euphemisms for homosexuals, cross-dressers, and even husbands and wives who had somehow been caught in a sex act other than the missionary. Speaking of cases in which husbands were arrested for unnatural sex acts with their own wives, Root bragged that she had defended dozens of such cases and, Fortunately, I saved them all.

Root felt strongly that what consenting adults do in private should not be the governments business. When it came to same-sex coupling, she did not believe that it was healthy and normal.

These people need help, Root maintained. Contrary to what some think, cure of the deviate is highly possible. Less than two percent are born that way.

At the time Root practiced law, an arrest for homosexual behavior could deprive a person of the ability to make a living as well as a loss of freedom. Roots legal talents saved many lives from ruin.

A man described as a moral offender was quoted praising Root in Defender of the Damned. The man felt a comfort with Root that he rarely enjoyed when discussing his problem (whatever it was, the book does not specify). Being a social outcast, my feelings have been acutely developed to the point of sensitiveness where I am aware of hostility bristling toward me from a prejudiced person, he said. In the presence of Mrs. Root I can sense an inherent sympathy, tenderness, and understanding of my problem. There is also a spiritual quality coming from her. I can discuss my weaknesses with her unashamedly. She calls my abnormal behavior a sickness and speaks of a cure.

Another reason that I want her in my corner is that shes a damned fine lawyer.

The combative Root locked horns with a judge who strongly believed in castration as the solution to any deviation from the most common sexual behavior. She was defending a 19-year-old man accused of consensual homosexual relations with younger teenagers. Root lost the case and the judge gave the fellow a choice between prison or castration. Root was outraged. She objected so vehemently that the jurist fined her for contempt of court. However, she obtained a writ forbidding the judge from making future proposals of castration to criminal defendants.

Once Root was defending a man who had been arrested no less than 30 times for the same offense: wearing womens clothing in public. At one point, she turned to the judge and asked a simple, obvious question: Your Honor, can you tell me whats wrong with a man wearing womens clothes if he so chooses?

The judge could not.



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