This story was updated at 5 p.m. on Friday, February 19, 2021
Bobby Lee Cook, the legendary lawyer from Summerville, Georgia, in Chattooga County, has died. He was 94 years old.
In his lawyer career, Cook represented moon cutters, money launderers, pirates and bank fraudsters. His high profile clients included the Rockefellers and Carnegies.
The 1980s television show “Matlock” with Andy Griffith was reportedly based on Cook’s practice, and his defense of Savannah celebrity Jim Williams was the inspiration for John Berendt’s classic “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
Sutton Connelly, Cook’s grandson, confirmed Cook’s death Friday morning to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Cook was born in Lyerly in 1927 and studied law at Vanderbilt University. He was the first recipient of the Georgia Bar Tradition of Excellence Award and was later inducted into the American Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame in 2009.
Over six decades, Cook attempted thousands of cases – including more than 300 murder trials – in more than 40 states and multiple countries.
Cook’s fame grew in 1975 when he represented seven men on appeal who were accused of being the Atlanta pathologist Dr. Warren and Rosina Matthews. The lead witness on the case – Deborah Kidd – collapsed on the stand and confessed to Cook and the federal judge that she had made up her entire story and that she and the police had framed the seven defendants.
“If you can put a bad man in jail,” Cook famously said, “you can promote a good man. That is why we should always vigorously fight for the constitutional rights of those who are most despised in our communities.”
Bobby Lee Cook
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In 1986, Cook defended Tennessee banker CH Butcher Jr., who was exposed to 25 fraud cases. Metzger was acquitted on all counts. Two years later, Cook represented former Auburn University All-American football star, Bobby Hoppe, who was charged with murder in 1957. The jury was stuck 10: 2 on acquittal. The case was never repeated.
Revered as a lawyer, Cook was also a Democratic Party leader in northwest Georgia in a county that was once a bastion for Democrats.
In 1996, as the surrounding counties continued to darken, Chattooga County still backed Bill Clinton in the presidential election, ahead of Bob Dole, 47-40 percent. Democrats also dominated local politics.
When sole commissioner Jason Winters – a former Democratic candidate who was expelled from the party – defeated Democrat Jimmy Holbrook with roughly 62 percent of the 8,092 votes cast in 2016, it was seen as the final nail in the coffin for Chattooga County Donald Trump had voted with an overwhelming majority.
Cook was one of the few Democratic leaders in the county to remain in the party.
Cook has received numerous awards, including the 2016 GreenLaw Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Environmental Achievement for his work to ensure Georgians’ right to clean air, clean water, and fair representation on environmental issues.
As he got older, Cook slowed down, but not by typical standards. He continued his practice as part of Cook & Connelly in Summerville, dividing his time between his homes on Lookout Mountain and Sea Island.
Blake Elsberry, the sole commissioner in Chattooga County, said in a statement that he was saddened to hear the news of Cook’s death.
“Although I did not know Mr. Cook personally, he leaves a lasting legacy in Chattooga County and the great state of Georgia,” wrote Elsberry. “Our thoughts and prayers go to his family at this difficult time.”
Cook is survived by his daughters Kristina Cook Graham, chief judge of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, and Sara Cook Williams, and several grandchildren.