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During a sabbatical from his firm this summer, Jim Muehlberger traveled with his wife and kids to New England, took a trip to Colorado and visited Disneyland. And one more thing. On the last day of his leave, he found a long-lost, 137-year-old lawsuit against two of America’s most notorious outlaws: Frank and Jesse James. Muehlberger, a partner who co-chairs the class action and complex litigation practice in Kansas City, Mo.’s Shook, Hardy & Bacon, decided to use his research skills and love for writing to do a bit of research on Henry Clay McDougal, who filed a lawsuit in 1870 against the James brothers. On Aug. 17, after several days of searching in a vault in Gallatin, Mo., Muehlberger found the lawsuit. “I couldn’t quite believe it,” he said. “I was just going through folder after folder of old, dusty files and the very last one I looked at just before the clerk’s office closed on the last day of my sabbatical, I found it.” The James brothers became the stuff of legend by robbing banks and trains and escaping justice. Now, the story is on the big screen, with Brad Pitt starring as Jesse James in Warner Bros.’ “The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford.” Ford shot and killed Jesse James in 1882. Give back the horse The lawsuit dug up by Muehlberger originated after the two brothers robbed a bank in Gallatin in 1869 and killed its cashier. When they rode out of town on a horse, they ran into a farmer named Daniel Smoote and made him give up his horse at gunpoint. Smoote found a lawyer in 25-year-old McDougal, who filed a lawsuit to recover the stolen horse and saddle. He eventually prevailed � he got the horse and saddle back � but not without consequences. Jesse James vowed to get back at him and once attempted to shoot him. “It’s the only successful civil lawsuit ever filed against Jesse James on behalf of one of his victims,” Muehlberger said. “When he filed it, the lawyer was a second-year lawyer who basically won a lawsuit against Jesse James and lived to tell about it.” McDougal later became law partner of Frank P. Sebree, who later founded Shook, Hardy & Bacon. Now in its 117th year, the firm has more than 500 attorneys in nine offices. The file Muehlberger found included McDougal’s handwritten complaint, a handwritten answer filed by the James brothers’ attorney, Samuel A. Richardson, and a judgment in Smoote’s favor. Muehlberger said it was not previously known which lawyer represented the brothers, nor the tactics he used in the case, such as forcing McDougal to serve the lawsuit in a local newspaper. “It’s interesting, from a lawyer’s point of view, to see this sort of legal maneuvers by people we don’t typically think of as defendants in a lawsuit,” Muehlberger said. The original documents have since been transferred from the Gallatin court clerk’s vault to a bank in Gallatin. Muehlberger, a lawyer for 25 years, said he still hopes to write a story about this piece of American history. “I think the story has relevance today,” he said. “Even though the criminal justice system was never able to bring Jesse James to justice, this second-year lawyer was able to bring justice on behalf of one of Jesse James’ victims.”

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