Outside Gwinnett County, Gene Reeves is known for a bizarre and bloody moment in March of 1978.
Reeves, a lawyer, and his client, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who was facing an obscenity charge in Lawrenceville, were walking to the downtown courthouse when gunshots rang out. Hit with the .44 magnum, Flynt went down, paralyzed. Reeves tried to help him and also was shot.
From that moment on, Reeves, who spent 26 days in the hospital, was tied to the pornographer.
But this week, when his obituary went out, announcing his July 31 death at the age of 85, there was no mention of Flynt.
The Auburn resident was remembered for more. Survived by a devoted wife of 37 years, he was a Korean War veteran, twice the president of the Gwinnett Bar Association, a judge, a longtime trial lawyer and a Sunday school teacher.
“He drew up the first contract between the Airport Authority and Gwinnett County when it built its first air field,” the obituary said of Reeves who retired in 2011. “He was Gwinnett County’s first ever law enforcement officer to be trained by the FBI in Quantico, Virginia while employed as an investigator with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department.”
Warren Davis, a Gwinnett County Superior Court judge, recalled the man as a friend.
“Gene Reeves was such an amazing man, tough as nails but with a soft heart and insightful mind,” he wrote in a comment to Reeves’ online obituary. “He was a true ‘Lion of the Bar,’ while always being the consummate gentleman.”
In the long, fond post, Davis made no mention of Reeves’ 1978 episode and its impact on the man’s life.
Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said the shooting, though it nearly killed him, didn’t define Reeves to those involved in the local justice system. Reeves was always active in the courts, the D.A. said. At one time, he represented almost everyone charged with murder in the county.
“I think to the lawyers in Gwinnett County the Larry Flynt case was just a footnote in Gene’s career,” Porter said Tuesday.
Reeves himself apparently had a complex view of the ordeal.
“Of course it had a tremendous effect — all at once, I was an international news thing,” he told Atlanta magazine in 2013. “As far as career-wise, it probably helped me, because at least people knew who I was. A lot of people figured, ‘Well, Flynt hired him — I’ll hire him, you know.’”
Theories about who was behind the shooting kept the case in the public eye. Some believed the federal government had tried to assassinate Flynt, though most have come to accept that white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin was the shooter.
He claimed an interracial photo in Hustler drove him to it. He was never prosecuted in Gwinnett, due largely to his death sentence for a case in Missouri, and that Reeves didn’t press the district attorney’s office for charges, Porter said.
“I think he wanted to put it all behind and be done with it,” the D.A. said. “He knew Franklin was looking down the barrel of the death penalty.”
Franklin, convicted of killing eight people in attacks around the country, was put to death in 2013 for a murder at a Missouri synagogue.
In spite of the notoriety the case brought Reeves, it hurt him politically, he said. When he ran for judge, “all anybody had to do to beat me was mention that I was Larry Flynt’s lawyer,” he told Atlanta magazine. He ended up with an appointment as a magistrate in 1994, when most people his age were retiring.
“I got my five minutes of fame,” he said of the shooting’s aftermath. “If I had it to do over, I’d pass.”