Havana 2019

But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.

Edward Grady Partin.

And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.

Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”1

Jimmy Hoffa, 1975

I stepped off the plane in Havana on 01 March 2019, and instantly realized I had left my yoga mat rolled up and tucked under my seat. I cursed myself for being absent minded while unloading, then cursed myself for cursing myself for caring, then cursed my body for aching so badly. I would really like that mat so I could stretch before having to sit in a car after a long day of sitting in cramped seats on the series of flights from San Diego to Havana. It was too late to go back, because I was already being directed away from the plane by Cuban officials. I tightened the hip belt of my backpack and adjusted the sternum strap to shift pressure away from my trap muscles, and followed the security guard’s finger across the tarmac towards the sign for customs.

I was surprised at how easily I cleared customs. I had imagined more questions about my visa, a new loophole created by the Obama administration that allowed me to spend 30 days in Cuba on what they called an “entrepreneurship visa” or “entrepreneurship ambassador” or something similarly ambiguous. The custom officials ignored my visa and stamped a piece of paper to tuck inside rather than stamping my passport, a habit my Lonely Planet guidebook said was common for all Americans to encourage tourism; despite the embargo, American dollars were still a primary source of money for the Cuban economy, and every day many arrive from Mexico or Canada without incident.

The officials were more interested in the SCUBA fins strapped to the outside flap of my backpack than the visa. One put his hand through the open foot slot, spread his fingers wide open and moved his hand in and out and made a friendly joke to his colleague. My Spanish was rusty, so I wasn’t sure what they said, but I was used to jokes about the size of my feet, and I laughed with them as if I understood. He asked the obligatory questions of how long I planned to stay and where I’d be diving. I tried my best to smilie and be cheerful despite stabs of pain radiating up and down my neck and into my right arm, and a headache that pounded with every heartbeat. I told them I wanted to see Playa de Giron. The one who had spread his fingers said it was beautiful there and wished me buen viaje. I smiled and said gracias, and tried to hide my limp as I walked past customs towards the exit gates where the Lonely Planet said there would be private cars to rent.

My backpack was an old, sun-faded black mountaineering pack that was almost grey. I had to wiggle it into the overhead compartment with creative angling, like trying to force my foot into a too tight boot, but it met most airlines’s definition of a carryon bag. The yoga mat had been my personal item, meant for a laptop or purse or something like that. I usually tucked it under my butt to change the angle of my hips, which makes it hard to forget, but the flight from Fort Lauderdale had been so short that I had tucked the mat under the seat instead. I was so engrossed in what I was reading that I had forgotten it in my haste to extract my backpack, which was stuck tighter than usual because of my fins.

I had strapped a relatively new pair of dark black XXL Force Fins into the flap that was designed for a snowboard or climbing helmet. I usually use that flap to carry a Frisbee when traveling lightly, but I had decided last-minute that I wanted to bring my fins instead. They’re short enough to fit into the overhead compartment, and I can never find rentals that fit. Force Fins were invented in, I think, the mid 1980’s by a guy who’s name I can never recall, and he scored a contract with Navy SEALS and Army Rangers for fast, long-distance, underwater missions. The curved fins are made from a thick polyethylene that snaps back and gives you an extra boost and can be faster than traditional and more cumbersome fins, but they require extra force to kick. Fortunately, most of that force comes from the beefy quad muscles, not the smaller calf muscles. To help reduce foot and calf fatigue, the fins have open toes so that your foot contacts the thick plastic near your ankle, reducing the bending moment about your ankle and therefore needing less force from calf muscles and relying on good form from straight legs and hip flexors; I mostly used my quads, which had served me well for 30 years. The Force Fin patents had expired by the early 2000’s, 17 years after the date of filing per U.S. patent law, but there wasn’t enough demand to motivate manufacturers to invest in injection molds and market copies, so Force Fins was still the sole source. The Frisbee’s patents had expired probably a hundred years before that, and now flying discs were ubiquitous all over the world but still called Frisbees, named for the Frisbee pie company near Yale university whose empty pie plates had inspired the invention, similar to how a cotton ear swabs is a Q-Tips, a tissue is a Kleenex, and, in the 80’s and 90’s, a photocopy was a Zerox.

The only quirk about Obama’s entrepreneurship visa was that I had to use private businesses rather than state-owned businesses, so I walked pass the taxis and left the airport grounds to a row of private drivers. It was exactly as the Lonely Planet had described, and a simple process. I chose a 1950’s convertible with the top already down. I don’t know which type of convertible – I’ve never been good at identifying vehicles – but it looked like all convertibles from that time period, like the one President Kennedy had been riding in when he was shot, and was in pristine condition. He proudly said it had been his father’s, and he had maintained it and tried to keep it looking original, but had installed a surprisingly elaborate Bluetooth stereo and speakers. We agreed on a price to a downtown plaza within walking distance of several casa particulares I had circled in my Lonely Planet on one of the flights, and I set my bag in the back and sat in the front. He turned on some Cuban afrofunk I had never heard and we took off smoothly. The driver tapped his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of his radio, just like the Lonely Planet said you’d see all over Havana. I rotated my faded purple LSU baseball cap backwards to keep it from flying away, stretched my arms above my head, then snapped my head back and forth to loosen my neck muscles, reached over to my left ear with my right hand and slowly pulled my right ear close to my shoulder, then mirrored the motion with my left hand. I leaned back and finally began to relax and laugh to myself about how funny life could be.

I asked where I could get public WiFi, but I must have said it poorly because he turned down the radio and asked me to repeat the question. I said I needed a public WiFi card and access. He told me Playa de San Francisco de Asi, near where we were going, and I asked if he’d drop me off there. “Claro que si!” he said, and turned the radio back up. I road the rest of the way silently, admiring the melecon and Spanish forts and holding my hand flat by the rear view mirror. I alternated rotating my wrist to change the angle of my hand like an airplane’s foil, allowing it to fly up and down like Superman following beside us. The airport faded from view in the mirror, and my three sabbatical was beginning; after Cuba, I planned to island-hop for a while before returning to the University of San Diego for summer semester.

I hopped out on the edge of the Plaza, paid and thanked the driver, bought a WiFi card from a private vendor’s kiosk, and walked to where a handful of people were gathered staring at their smart phones around a few benches and a statue: the Lonely Planet said it was a statue of ______. I set down my backpack and clipped it to a bench, pulled out my iPhone 8 and smirked because it was probably already outdated even though I had bought it only a year before, logged in, and put the phone to one ear while I did slow lunges to stretch my hamstrings and open my hips back up.

The first voice mail was from Wendy. My phone was transcribing it, but I had packed reading my glasses in the bottom of my backpack. I glanced around the plaza as I stretched and listened to her voice.

“Hey Jason, it’s Wendy. You’re probably in Cuba by now, but I thought I’d call just in case.”

She paused longer than usual.

“It’s not important.”


I stood upright. Something felt wrong.

“I just wanted to talk with you about my will.”

Another pause. I pressed the phone tighter to my left ear and covered the right with my hand.

“It’s not big deal… You travel so much that I wanted to add Cindi as executor. We can talk about it later.”

There was another pause, and I heard a hint of a sound, as if she had inhaled deeply and began to say, “I…”, and something inside of me exploded, as if a dam had broken and a flood of fear was pouring into my body. For some reason I can’t explain, I suddenly felt that Wendy would commit suicide, and that she was calling me and I could stop her; she wouldn’t, and I had no reason to suspect she would, but that’s what I felt at that moment.

She sighed a subtle sigh, and said in what was obviously a forced cheerful tone, “Tell Cristi I said hello, and have fun in Cuba. Call me when you get back.” She hung up.

Gut instincts can be wrong, so instead of calling her back immediately I kneeled by the bench and dug through my backpack and pulled out my reading glasses and earbuds – or iBuds or whatever they’re called – and rewound her message. I have a 15% hearing loss in each ear but at different frequencies, and the earbuds are in stereo and the software on my phone allows me to adjust frequencies so I can hear clearly, and the noise-canceling features would soften the din of live music wafting from bars circling the plaza. I put them in and listened to her message twice more while reading the transcript. Nothing changed from what I heard the first time. The transcription made a few mistakes translating her southern Louisiana accent, and missed her beginning to say, “I…” because it was as subtle as the b in subtle, but she had definitely began to tell me something and stopped before the first word manifested. I was fixated on wondering what she had wanted to say but had stopped, and wondering what had sparked my feeling that she could kill herself. I’m not prone to worry, but I was worried.

Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin, but she had taught me to call her by her first name when I was a kid in the foster system. She had lost her virginity to the main drug dealer of Glen Oaks High School at a New Years Eve party on 01 January 1971. She realized she was pregnant two weeks later and couldn’t afford the $150 for an abortion, so she accepted his proposal and they dropped out of school, eloped to Woodville, Mississippi, where my grandfather had been born and state laws allowed a 16 year old girl to marry a 17 year old boy. They returned a few days later to Baton Rouge as Mr. and Mrs. Ed Partin and moved into one of my grandfather’s houses near the Achafalaya Basin and a two lane concrete bridge over the Comite River. The new subdivision was plagued with house fires and car explosions, and I was plagued by accidents and hospital visits. She had two small nervous breakdowns and abandoned me twice. The second time, she left me at a daycare center near Glen Oaks and fled to California while my dad was gone for a few weeks in Kingston, Jamaica, buying drugs wholesale. The daycare closed and I was still there, so they called Wendy’s emergency contact, Linda White, her best friend in high school. Linda’s dad was the custodian of Glen Oaks High and knew my parents well, because there were only about 250 students in the then rural school, and my parents had attended since they were freshmen; Wendy was a junior when she dropped out, and my dad was a senior. PawPaw dropped what he was doing and picked me up from the daycare center; social services were negligible back then, especially in rural Louisiana, and they let him take me. Wendy returned on her own, but by then PawPaw had called the police and Judge Pugh of the East Baton Rouge 19th Judicial District had removed me from my parents custody and assigned PawPaw and MawMaw as my legal guardians. Wendy found work and fought the Partin family and then the Whites for seven years, and eventually regained custody of me.2 But, she had been ashamed of being a young single uneducated mother who abandoned her infant son, and when she visited me once a month she taught me to call her by her first name so people would think I was her little brother. Old habits are hard to break, and I still called my mother Wendy.

Despite the smart phone in my left hand, I rotated my wrist and glanced at my wrist watch. It was a 30 or so year old solar powered Sieko dive watch with a thick black corrugated band and modified to be a satellite pager. I adored that watch, and was impressed every time I used it. In three decades, it had never needed a battery. But even the best rubber watch bands can oxidize and crack in harsh conditions, so I change the band before every sabbatical. I had changed it at San Diego’s Just In Time the week before, and the Seiko was still set to Pacific Coast time. I did the math. It was almost 5pm in Saint Francisville, the small town an hour upriver from Baton Rouge where Wendy had retired.

I rotated the dial on my watch to move the hands to Havana time, lowered my hand, and sighed. The feeling that she would commit suicide was still there, but it had dissipated and was being replaced by irritation. She would be incoherent if I called her, at least three bottles of wine into the evening. I raised the phone again and glanced at the time stamp, then cursed myself for forgetting that the stamp would show when I turned on my phone in Havana, not when she left her message. I had checked messages in Houston but not Fort Lauderdale, so she could have left her voice mail any time in the previous eight or so hours.

I quickly analyzed why I would felt that she’d commit suicide.

First of all, I was fatigued. It had been almost 18 hours since I left San Diego, a number I knew well because it was the same amount of time that the 82nd Airborne purported to be able to fly anywhere in the world and drop in by parachute. It’s not a lack of sleep: I’m slightly claustrophobic, and after 18 hours inside an airplane I feel mentally drained from having to resist the urge to jump out into open space. My old wrestling coach had always quoted Vince Lambarti and said that fatigue would make a coward out of anyone, though I would grow to disagree – one of only two things Coach ever said that I found to be untrue for me – because fatigue did not make a coward out of anyone. It could, but that’s a nuance. When I coached, I’d quote Coach and add my nuance, saying to be aware of how fatigue affected you and make choices based on that insight. Fatigue made me grumpy and slow minded and prone to bursts of vivid imagination that bordered on schizophrenia.

My body was inflamed, and focusing on that added consternation to my fatigue. My hips hurt after only 20 or 30 minutes of sitting at a right angle, and though I walked around during transfers in Houston and Fort Lauderdale, during each flight my damaged hip labarums had been pressed by the femurs, and they hurt every minute of the flights. As minutes turned to hours, the ball and socket joints had oozed their synovial fluid out of the gaps formed by shredded labrums – healthy ones serve a tough gaskets – leaving me walking with bone-on-bone contact during layovers. If fatigue made me a coward, it would be that I was afraid to turn around and get on another series of flights to reach New Orleans, where I would have to rent a car and drive two hours to Saint Francisville.

I realized I was fingering the scar on the back of my head, an old and mindless habit that I catch myself doing when I’m distracted. Even before my hair began thinning, I could easily find it because of the texture difference. It’s about a finger-width wide and shaped like six-inch backwards letter C; though with the growing bald spot that I kept hidden from the sun with baseball caps, it now looked more like a semi-colon. I don’t know why PawPaw told me it took 82 stitches to close. Most doctors put 1-2 stitches per centimeter, more for scalp wounds that bleed profusely and are prone to reopening, and I could feel the bumps from skin bing pulled tautly by each set of stitches. It’s more likely I had 25-32 stitches.

I lowered my hand and shook my head to clear my mind. The feeling of worry, dread, or anxiety was real; we can’t help how feelings arise, but we can look at our thoughts and make choices. Whatever the feeling was led to a thought that Wendy would commit suicide, but the feeling was probably born from fatigue. The thought probably came from what I had been reading for the previous 18 hours.

I was in Cuba to research my grandfather’s role in President Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963. He was Edward Grady Partin Senior, the Baton Rouge Teamster leader famous in the 1960’s and 70’s for helping the president’s little brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, send international Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa to prison in 1964.3 Bobby released Big Daddy from a Baton Rouge jail cell in 1962 and purged his charges of kidnapping two children of local Teamster Billy Simpson and for vehicular manslaughter in his home state of Mississippi, and in exchange Bobby and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover tasked Big Daddy with infiltrating Hoffa’s inner circle. Big Daddy was the surprise witness who claimed Hoffa tried to bribe a juror, resulting in an 11 year prison sentence based solely on Big Daddy’s word and temporarily making my family a household name nationwide. To get out of prison, Hoffa needed Big Daddy alive so he could recant his testimony; if he died, Hoffa would languish in prison. My family grew up under federal protection, and the Partin family was plagued by beatings, kidnappings, explosions, and shootings from New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello’s henchmen in an effort to intimidate Big Daddy into recanting. The intimidation attempts continued until Hoffa famously vanished from a Detroit parking lot in 1975, and even then a few incidents continued, similar to how Japanese snipers on small islands kept shooting at tourists because they were unaware the war had ended, until Big Daddy finally went to prison in 1980 after a jury found him guilty in 1979 and the judge sentenced him to, coincidentally, 11 years in prison for stealing $450,000 from the local Teamsters safe in 1971. That safe had been found in the Comite River by our house around the time I was born, and the two Teamster witnesses were found beaten and bloody. The survivor refused to testify, but a jury convicted Big Daddy, anyway, because by then Bobby had been killed, Hoffa was no longer around, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover retired and our family had lost it’s federal protection. That’s when Wendy regained custody of me. I had been reading our court reports on the plane rides, looking for clues, and my all of that history was fresh in my mind when I stepped off the plane in Havana.

Judge Pugh, the trial judge who removed me from Partin custody, allegedly committed suicide just before Hoffa disappeared, and Judge Lottingger took over my case. That part was public knowledge. What wasn’t known was that scziphrenia ran in my family, and one of my first cousins had committed suicide and another had tried recently; and in the weeks before my trip an old army buddy had taken his life; veterans have four times the suicide rate of civilians, similar to the rate of people with scizophrenia.

I sighed again. My shoulders were sagging and my posture was twisted from spine muscles tightening more on the right side than the left, a result of a parachute crash through trees in 1992 that herniated my C5/C6 disc, and hundreds of parachute landing falls on my right sight that I ignored back then, but now the accumulated scar tissue, arthritis, bone spurs, and subsequent stenosis sent ripples of pain through my arms and legs after long bouts of sitting; few people realize this until it’s to late, but sitting has about 120% more interdiscal pressure than standing, squeezing out fluids and lowering disc height and aggravating stenosis. In the history of modern medicine, we’ve never documented a case of degenerated discs healing.

I took a deep breath and straightened my posture, closed my eyes and rotated my head back and forth, and exhaled slowly. I saw remnants of worry in my mind’s eye, and saw the chain of thoughts that led to thinking Wendy would commit suicide. I didn’t think she would. But, an analysis can be wrong, so I kept my earbuds in and called Wendy while I still had WiFi minutes to spare.

Her mobile phone went to voice mail, probably because she was at home and the cell reception there was spotty, especially if it were raining because her service relied on aging towers. I called her land-line, but there was no answer and no answering machine. I called her mobile back and left a voice mail. I forced my voice to sound cheerful.

“Hey Wendy, it’s Jason. I got your voice mail. I’m in Cuba. I’ll be offline for a month, diving and climbing in a few remote areas, but I’m in Havana for a week and will check messages every day or two.”

I paused, trying to figure out how to convey the situation to her. Most Americans can’t imagine a capital city with only two places to catch public WiFi, especially in 2019. My cell coverage was international, but because of the embargo didn’t work in Cuba. Many countries use WiFi, WhatsAp, and other apps in lieu of calls and text messages, or have local cell services unconnected with the global network.

I chuckled clearly enough for her to hear, and said, “The cell phone reception here is worse than in Saint Francisville, so I have to find good spots.”

On a whim, I told her that I was calling from a plaza named St. Francis, after the patron saint of kindness to animals, and said that I hoped that coincidence made her smile. She had been fostering dogs for about fifteen years, volunteering at the West Feliciana Parish humane society and taking dogs home to nurse them to health, house train them, and groom them for adoption events in Baton Rouge. She had suffered from depression as long as I could recall, but if anything made her smile, it was kindness to animals and her work with the human society. I added a perfunctory “I love you,” and reiterated her that I’d check messages once every day or two. It was enough ambiguity so that she wouldn’t expect a quick reply.

I hung up and sent a WhatsAp to Cristi telling her I had arrived safely and would be offline for a month. I wrote that I had an unusual voice mail from Wendy, and sent Wendy’s phone number, just in case. I didn’t mention the coincidence about the Plaza de San Francisco de Asi; Cristi would react and enthusiastically say that was synchronicity, not a coincidence, like the coincidence of PawPaw exaggerating the number of stitches in my head as 82 and me serving in the 82nd Airborne. I wanted to wait until I was home to tell her so I could see her reaction in person.

I didn’t feel like checking other messages, but I glanced at the names just in case something looked important. I cursed myself for not having done that before calling Wendy back – she may have left a clarifying voice mail. She hadn’t, and I only had two other messagrs that could wait. I had set up autoreply on my work email and phone, and my circle knew I would be offline. Any message would have been last-minute brainstorming about things to do in Havana, and I was too tired and distracted to think about it. Instead, I sighed, checked my posture, and called a few of the casa particulares I had circled in the guide book. In my best but most simple Spanish possible, I asked each one that had availability a few questions. One that said their room had a window looking onto a small courtyard and two doors, one leading to a private bathroom. It was a reasonable price and within walking distance from the plaza. I said that if it were okay, I’d be there after I had dinner, mas o menus a la nueve. They said that was fine, told me what to look for outside their building, and to knock when I arrived.

I packed away my earbuds, phone, and glasses. I rubbed my left tempromandibular joint through my almost all-grey beard and glanced around the plaza. It was happy hour, and small groups of mostly young professional-looking Cubans walked around the square, peering in bars. I scanned the perimeter and listened to the competing types of music. I returned to what looked most promising, a bar with wide open double doors next to a large window that was also open. A couple of small round tables with 2 to 3 chairs each was outside, and a six-person band with a guitar, three brass horns, a stand-up wooden bass, and a congo drum set stood just inside on one half of the open doors. The evening sunlight was fading, so I could see inside clearly enough, and I saw that there was a stand-up bar with high bar stools in addition to about a dozen low-sitting tables with six chairs each and a few booths opposite of the bar that would hold the same number of people. I couldn’t see the entire bar, but it couldn’t have had more than six barstools; the owner seemed to create groups of six. Three tables and one booth had people sitting, approximately a dozen people all together, and no one was at the barstools. I glanced at my watch, and smiled. I could still catch happy hour and begin my sabbatical with a Hemmingway Daiquiri, if only to raise a toast to Papa Hemmingway and say I did it. I grew up reading Hemmingway’s books and about his escapades in Cuba, and if my trip ended after a single Hemmingway Daiquiri I’d be satisfied.

The bar was unnamed, or at least didn’t have a sign with a name on it, but it stood out well enough. I reached in my backpack and pulled out an old-school flip phone a friend had sent me, opened it, and waited for it to connect. I began to send a text using the archaic thee-letter buttons, but cursed my aging eyes and retrieved my glasses. I still wasn’t used to needing them. I was 46 years old and resisted the inevitable need for reading glasses with the gradual onset of age-related macular degeneration. I reluctantly put them on and sent a message to Tim, telling him I had arrived and giving him the bar’s location. He responded almost immediately. I replied “yay! :-)” and packed away the phone and glasses, then unclipped my backpack from the bench and shouldered it but didn’t bother to adjust the straps. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, and concentrated on my gait so that I walked towards the bar without limping, smiling and ready to begin that year’s sabbatical.

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  1. The “minor domestic problem” was a reoccurring point in Hoffa’s defense strategy, and is summarized in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s missive attached to the 1966 supreme court case Hoffa vs. The United States:

    Here, Edward Partin, a jailbird languishing in a Louisiana jail under indictments for such state and federal crimes as embezzlement, kidnapping, and manslaughter (and soon to be charged with perjury and assault), contacted federal authorities and told them he was willing to become, and would be useful as, an informer against Hoffa, who was then about to be tried in the Test Fleet case.

    Big Daddy’s cellmate was Billy Simpson, a 21 year old Teamster who had lost his two children in a custody dispute. He and Big Daddy were in jail for kidnapping Billy’s kids from their mother. Billy and Big Daddy faced life in prison, compounded by a coincidentally timed manslaughter charge from when Big Daddy was driving back from his (our) family’s home in Woodville, Mississippi, and his car hit someone; he fled and they died, and Mississippi found him when he was arrested in Baton Rouge. Bobby Kennedy’s prosecuting henchmen told the jury Big Daddy’s charges were simply a “minor domestic problem,”and for the next 13 years of his life, Hoffa quoted them using “rabbit ears” to emphasize his sarcasm and the obvious incentive Big Daddy would have to help Bobby Kennedy – whom Hoffa called “Booby” for more than twenty years – in exchange for freedom. ↩︎
  2. My custody records, like most of my family history, are easily downloaded by anyone with internet access, even in Cuba or other countries where you’d think information would be hidden, though not all details are obvious. Judge Pugh isn’t named by name. His alleged suicide in 1975 was briefly mentioned in local news, but not harped upon out of discretion. He was the only family court judge in East Baton Rouge Parish, and was replaced by Judge JJ Lottingger. Judge JJ was a 30 year veteran of Louisiana legislative law who served in the Baton Rouge state capital building down the road from Big Daddy’s Teamsters Local #5 headquarters, and he knew my grandfather well. He had spent decades and thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to rid Louisiana of Big Daddy on behalf of three governors, similar to how Bobby Kennedy – and Senator John F. Kennedy before him – had spent fifteen years and millions of taxpayer dollars trying to prosecute Hoffa. Lottingger assumed my case in the summer of 1975, around the time Hoffa vanished on 30 July 1975, and he took a personal interest in Wendy’s well being. He oversaw her effort to meet Judge Pugh’s surprisingly strict requirements against her, and his inexplicable ruling that, on paper, my dad retained custody despite the Whites dictating when and if my parents saw me. Lottingger doesn’t mention Pugh by name, nor does he mention Hoffa, but I believe he knew more than he wrote and was being prudent. Here’s what he had to say about my family in his 26 September 1976 ruling:

    This is a suit by Edward Partin, Jr., plaintiff, seeking a divorce from his wife, Wendy Rothdram Partin, defendant, after having lived separate and apart for more than one year following a judgment of separation from bed and board. Plaintiff also seeks custody of the minor child, Jason Ian Partin, and the defendant reconvened asking that she be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child.

    The Trial Court had previously, by ex parte order, awarded the temporary care, custody and control of the minor to Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. Following trial on the merits, plaintiff was awarded a divorce as well as the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child, with the temporary physical custody of the minor child to remain with Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. The defendant has appealed this judgment as it regards the custody of the child.

    This couple was married when plaintiff was 17 and the defendant was 16 years of age. Nine months following the marriage, they gave birth to young Jason. While we are not concerned with the facts surrounding the separation and divorce, it was apparently one of incompatibility as defendant testified that at the age of 17 she found herself married to a man who did not love her and so she left. Her testimony was as follows:

    “As I say I was emotionally upset. I was receiving little support from Edward. I was scared, very confused. I didn’t know exactly which way to turn. I felt I had no one to listen and help with the situation at hand.”

    Several weeks later she returned and lived with her husband again. She found that the situation hadn’t changed, and felt she had to get away again. She heard of a man who wanted someone to share expenses on a trip to California, so she quit her job and with her last wages left with him. She testified that she had no sexual relations with this man, and plaintiff does not accuse her of such. Following this trip she returned to Baton Rouge still emotionally upset. Her husband was suing her for separation and told her he was going to take custody of Jason. She went to live with her aunt and uncle, got a full time job with Kelly Girls paying $512.00 per month.

    In February, 1975, the defendant’s mother was injured in an accident and she moved in with her to care for her. In September, 1975, following the recuperation of the mother she returned to live with her aunt and uncle.

    During these above periods of time, the minor child lived with Mr. and Mrs. White. The Whites came to regard Jason as their own and, although the separation judgment awarded custody to the plaintiff with reasonable visitation privileges to the defendant, the Whites decided the defendant-mother could only see the child two days a month and that she could never keep the child over night. The reason the defendant did not contest custody at the separation trial was because at the time she felt unable emotionally and financially to care for her son.

    [Judge Lottinger wrote a paragraph of legal jargon here, citing the “double burden” placed on Wendy by the deceased Judge Pugh to go above and beyond what was typically necessary to regain custody.]

    We note that the petition for separation was grounded on habitual intemperance, as well as abandonment of the husband and the minor child. There are no other grounds listed for the separation nor for custody. The petition for the separation and custody of the minor child was not contested by the defendant, and a default judgment was granted. Defendant testified in the instant proceedings that the reason she did not contest custody in the separation proceeding was that she was not financially or emotionally capable of caring for the minor, and that knowing the Whites were going to be caring for him, she knew he would be in good hands.

    Though the petition for separation had as one of its allegations “habitual intemperance”, the plaintiff in the instant proceeding testified that he had never accused his wife of drinking, nor had he ever seen her drink.

    [Judge Lottinger goes on to cite a few precent cases, verdicts from previous judges in higher courts used to justify his opinions, a detail that’s less important in Louisiana’s version of the Napoleonic code, but still useful to show one’s logic and suggest unbiased decisions.]

    The welfare of the child is the main issue that the Court is concerned with. This issue is more important than any wishes or wants the parents may have. Fulco v. Fulco, 259 La. 1122, 254 So.2d 603 (1971), rehearing denied (1971). As a general rule, and in particular where children of young age are involved, preference is given to the mother in custody cases. This preference is very simply explained, the mother is normally better able to care for the child and look after the education, rearing, and training necessary. Estes v. Estes, 261 La. 20, 258 So.2d 857 (1972), rehearing denied (1972).

    No argument is made that the mother is not now morally or emotionally fit to care for the child, or that the house in which she lives is not a proper place to rear a child. In fact, the Trial Judge admitted that it was a fine home.

    The Trial Judge has not favored us with written reasons for judgment, however, we must conclude from various statements by the Trial Judge that appear in the record that he could find no fault with the defendant, nor was there anything wrong with the house in which she lived. It thus becomes apparent to this Court that the Trial Judge applied the “double burden” rule to the defendant. We have already ruled that the “double burden” rule does not apply in this situation, and thus, under the established jurisprudential rules, we can see no reason why the defendant-mother should not be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child with reasonable visitation privileges granted to the father.

    In consideration of our above opinion, there is no need to discuss the specification of error as to the ex parte granting of custody to the Whites.
    Therefore, for the above and foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Trial Court is reversed, and IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the defendant-appellant, Wendy Rothdram Partin, be and she is hereby granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor, Jason Ian Partin, and IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that this matter be and it is hereby remanded to the Trial Court for the purpose of fixing specific visitation privileges on behalf of plaintiff-appellee Edward Partin, Jr. All costs of the appeal are to be paid by plaintiff-appellee.

    My dad appealed and the Whites began fighting for custody, so I languished in the foster system for a few more years, bouncing from one house to another until Big Daddy was sentenced to prison and I began living with Wendy in 1979. Lottingger never learned that PawPaw gave Wendy her job at Kelly’s Girls, a national chain dedicated to finding low-skilled work for young women so they could return to school or work around their children’s school, doing things like delivering phone books or short-term secretarial work. PawPaw had the contract for Baton Rouge, and gave girls from Glen Oaks High School the work. If Lottingger had known that, he may have ruled differently. Like most judges, even as high up as Chief Justice Earl Warren, Lottingger made decisions based on the information given to him; and, like most family court judges, he was discrete in what he said about Wendy’s situation. He said that I was born nine months after my parents wedding, subtly telling posterity that Wendy was pregnant when she impulsively married my dad. Gestation is close to ten months, not nine. The myth of nine months was probably born from ignorance and propagated by shotgun weddings – a man marrying a woman after seeing the business end of his future father-in-law’s shotgun – but Wendy insisted that my dad proposed in an effort to do the right thing, and that his proposal was his one redeeming act as a human being. Though she didn’t drink to the point of getting drunk back then, she’d joke over the next 45 years that she began drinking because she was born WAR – Wendy Anne Rothdram – but marrying my dad WARPed her, and that things would have turned out differently for her if she had had $150 for an abortion. I can’t argue the later point. Lottingger probably didn’t know how close my case came to never being, but I don’t know if that would have changed his ruling.

    As for discretion of any judge ruling on my custody and for Wendy’s consternation during the trial, consider that my dad was Ed Partin Jr, and that Ed Partin Sr was a known kidnapper for disputed custody rulings, and that both were extremely big and rugged men; and, after Judge Pugh removed me from my dad’s custody, he allegedly committed suicide. It’s no wonder Wendy had a nervous breakdown and left; what’s impressive is that she returned and fought the Partins to get me back, and that PawPaw stayed and never backed down from either of them. ↩︎
  3. From the New York Times, 13 March 1990:

    Baton Rouge, LA: Edward Grady Partin, a teamsters’ union leader whose testimony helped convict James R. Hoffa, the former president of the union, died Sunday at a nursing home here. Mr. Partin, who was 66 years old, suffered from heart disease and diabetes.

    He helped Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy convict Mr. Hoffa of jury tampering in 1964. Mr. Partin, a close associate of Mr. Hoffa’s, testified that the teamster president had offered him $20,000 to fix the jury at Mr. Hoffa’s trial in 1962 on charges of taking kickbacks from a trucking company. That trial ended in a hung jury.

    Mr. Hoffa went to prison after the jury-tampering conviction. James Neal, a prosecutor in the jury-tampering trial in Chattanooga, Tenn., said that when Mr. Partin walked into the courtroom Mr. Hoffa said, ”My God, it’s Partin.”

    The Federal Government later spent 11 years prosecuting Mr. Partin on antitrust and extortion charges in connection with labor troubles in the Baton Rouge area in the late 1960’s. He was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice by hiding witnesses and arranging for perjured testimony in March 1979. An earlier trial in Butte, Mont., ended without a verdict.

    Mr. Partin went to prison in 1980, and was released to a halfway house in 1986. While in prison he pleaded no contest to charges of conspiracy, racketeering and embezzling $450,000 in union money. At one time union members voted to continue paying Mr. Partin’s salary while he was in prison. He was removed from office in 1981.

    Survivors include his mother, two brothers, a sister, five daughters, two sons, two brothers and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. ↩︎