Roan Holding Scales of Justice With Steady Hand

Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Georgian
August 2nd, 1913


Emotion’s entire gamut is daily run on the screen of faces watching the Frank trial.

A student of facial expression can find anything he seeks by watching the throng of spectators a half hour.

A glance at one man may show a sneer of hate as bitter as gall. His neighbor in the next seat will probably be smiling in amused content as if her were witnessing the antics of his favorite comedian.

Looking to the left he may see fear as vividly depicted on a countenance as trapped felon has ever felt.

And another glance might show a spectator in studious contemplation as rapt as that of a philosopher endeavoring to fathom a new frailty in human character.

Men have been mad, and shown it, during the progress of Atlanta’s most famous criminal case. And men have shown that they were glad to the point of jubilation at the very same instant.

Roan Utterly Impassive.

But throughout the tedious hours and hours of the hearing, one man sits, listening to every word. And he has yet to display the fact that his emotions are any more affected by the dramatic trial in which he is commanding figure than those of a business man going through the daily routine of his prosaic grind.

That quality shows why the man is sitting there. If he were a man to show that his feelings were swayed as the tide of battle turned first for one side and then the other, he would not be qualified for the eminent position he holds.

Judge L. S. Roan is performing the arduous duties of presiding justice in the Frank case, because the people of Fulton County recognized that he is the man of the county’s 250,000 best endowed by nature to perform this task.

His attitude throughout the hearing has shown that the people chose wisely and well.

Think of his position. It is one of supreme importance just at this time, when passion and prejudice are more likely to rule than cool reasoning.

It is his work to uphold the theory that Justice is blind, and that the courts of the land are the blindfold that darkens the vision of the goddess. He must see that the scales are evenly balanced. He must be sure that the sword is sharp.

There are scores, yes hundreds, of people in Atlanta to-day convinced absolutely of Frank’s guilt in the Phagan mystery, and it would take a power of inconceivable magnitude to change their mental attitude.

There are scores and hundreds right here who believe thoroughly and honestly that Frank is innocent of any crime, and is as cruelly a persecuted person as the earth has known since the days of the martyrs. And so firm is this belief that it could not be shaken by dynamite or earthquake.

No Doubt as to Fairness.

Judge Roan’s position and his oath of office call on him to see that both of these cases are firmly convinced of one fact in common, and that is that the case of Leo M. Frank is being fairly, honestly and effectively tried according to the law and evidence.

When he does this, he is removing a tremendous amount of the poison in the case. People are too prone to hint that a man’s money can assure him of safety in any act he may commit. People are too likely to say that law and order becomes as nothing beneath a weight of prejudice.

Every word that Judge Roan speaks is as eagerly listened to as the voice of a diva. His every action is watched as closely as those of the President of the United States are by his secret service protectors.

Therefore, in action as well as in word, the judge must be impartial. Therefore, he can not smile as one side or the other scores a point. He can not evince extraordinary interest if it is apparent that the lawyers are about to tear to shreds the story of a witness. He must make a mental picture of everything in the long-drawn-out battle in order to give his final instructions to the jury, but he must not permit this picture to be reflected on his face.

And he has not.

His rulings have been quick. They are spoken in a low voice, just loud enough for counsel and witness to hear. In rendering a decision, he rarely straightens himself from the reclining attitude he assumes in the office chair.

Heat Hard on Judge.

He sits through the long hours, his right hand waving a huge palm leaf fan, though two electric fans are turned on the bench. He needs all three, for the courtroom is stifling hot, and Judge Roan is no longer young. Occasionally he mops a hairless spot on his high forehead with a handkerchief.

Several times during each day during the duller moments of the trial, he speaks a smiling word to some member of the bar, not connected with the case, who passes the bench or exchanges pleasantries with a court attache.

But his mind is never off the burning issue that he must play so important a part in deciding.