ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Bobby Lee Cook, one of the attorneys for Samuel Alfred Street, is seen as a witness makes his way to the stand during a bond hearing before Judge Don Thompson at the Walker County Courthouse on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 in LaFayette, Ga.

This story was updated on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, at 5 p.m.

Bobby Lee Cook, the legendary attorney from Summerville, Georgia, in Chattooga County, has died. He was 94.

In his storied career as a lawyer, Cook represented moonshiners, money launderers, bootleggers and bank fraud schemers. Some of his high-profile clients included the Rockefellers and Carnegies.

The 1980s television show "Matlock," starring Andy Griffith, was reportedly based on Cook's practice, and his defense of Savannah socialite Jim Williams was the inspiration for John Berendt's true-crime classic "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

Sutton Connelly, Cook's grandson, confirmed Cook's death to the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Friday morning.

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 later was inducted into the American Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame in 2009.

Over six decades, Cook tried thousands of cases — including more than 300 murder trials — in more than 40 states and several countries.

Cook's fame grew in 1975 when he represented on appeal seven men accused of killing Atlanta pathologists Drs. Warren and Rosina Matthews. The main witness in the case — Deborah Kidd — broke down 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 railroad a bad man to prison," Cook famously said, "you can railroad a good man. That's why we should always vigorously fight for the constitutional rights of even those who are most despised in our communities."

Photo Gallery

Bobby Lee Cook

In 1986, Cook defended Tennessee banker C.H. Butcher Jr., who faced 25 counts of fraud. Butcher 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 a 1957 shooting. Jurors deadlocked 10-2 for acquittal. The case was never retried.

As revered as Cook was as an attorney, he was also a vocal leader of the Democratic Party in Northwest Georgia in a county that was once a bastion for Democrats.

In 1996, as surrounding counties were becoming darker and darker red, Chattooga County still supported Bill Clinton over Bob Dole in the presidential election, 47-40 percent. Likewise, Democrats dominated local politics.

When sole commissioner Jason Winters — a former Democratic candidate who was kicked out of the party — defeated Democrat Jimmy Holbrook with about 62 percent of the 8,092 votes cast in 2016, that was seen as the final nail in the coffin as Chattooga County overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump.

Cook was one of the few Democratic leaders in the county to remain in the party.

Cook was awarded with countless awards, including in 2016 the GreenLaw Lifetime Achievement Award for Environmental Excellence for his work to ensure the rights of Georgians to clean air, water, and just representation in environmental matters.

As he got older, Cook slowed down but not by typical standards. He still maintained his practice as part of Cook & Connelly in Summerville and split his time between his homes on Lookout Mountain and on Sea Island.

Blake Elsberry, the sole commissioner in Chattooga County, said in a statement he was saddened by the news of Cook's passing.

"While I did not personally know Mr. Cook, he leaves behind a lasting legacy in Chattooga County and the great state of Georgia," Elsberry wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time."

Cook is survived by his daughters Kristina Cook Graham, the chief judge of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, and Sara Cook Williams, as well as several grandchildren.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT