26 November 2008
The Front Row
Former partner Amy moved out of No. 3 today. I was in Court all morning, and was spared that part of it and I confess, I busied myself this afternoon so that I didn’t have to watch her furniture and books and so forth taken out a piece at a time. Her stuff has gone to the Courthouse into a temporary office, to be moved again into the Family Court quarters on 1 January. Well, I end all posts and nearly every email “Pippa Passes,” and this is a part of that.
Sometime in the past month, she had gotten the latest picture of the Marion County Bar Association members, which was taken not too many months ago. It was sometime after the primary election, so we knew that this moving day was coming. She had ordered two prints so we’d each have one. This is the latest in a series of bar photos that are meaningful to me.
I was “hooded” on 12 May 1978. That’s a ceremony at the law school where the doctoral doodad is put on you by the faculty. It’s fancy and totally impractical, and unless you become a college faculty member, you put it away, never wear it again and (like me) eventually lose it. Well, let’s see, I graduated law school the next day, Sunday the 13th; drove to Charleston on Monday the 14th; and appeared at the West Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday the 15th to be admitted, take the oath and sign the register. The next day, 16 May 1978, I opened my solo practice, sharing some rooms on the 7th floor of the rather down-market Security Bank Building with my law school buddy Glenn Schumacher, down the hall from my brother Dennis Curry and Charlie Anderson. The following Monday the 21st, the Marion County Bar Association gathered on the Courthouse steps for a photograph. I’d like to say that this was a tradition, but as far as I know, it had only been done once before, since there’s only one prior bar photo that I’ve ever seen, and a couple of prints of it still hang in the Courthouse and in old law offices.
In those offices, and a couple of places in the Courthouse, there is this undated picture taken sometime in the 1960's. We knew that much because there were a couple of 1959 graduates in the picture, Scott Tharp and Alfred Lemley, as well as guys I knew had died before 1971, when I first started frequenting the Courthouse.
The Courthouse is some sort of stone Beaux-arts building, with a porch on the second floor with real thick, real tall Ionic columns holding up the cornices. (I can make the argument that the capitals are too fancy for pure Ionic, but they are still scroll-shaped.) Stone staircases extend down the front of the buidling from each side of the porch, and are framed by magnificent carved stone bannisters. On second thought, let me try to import a picture here. The staircases I’m taking about are on the left, behind the police cruiser.
The Bar Association in the 60's photo is gathered on the north staircase arranged in order of seniority starting with the front row. It’s strange to see Scott and Alfred way in the back, although it’s not at all surprising to see Judge Meredith in the front. Even in the 60's, he had already been Circuit Judge for 20 years. Scott Tharp is now universally acknowledged as the “dean of the Marion County Bar,” and Alfred Lemley has retired to North Carolina. I worked for Alfred and John Amos in law school. Later, whenever I had a case against Alfred, I always kidded him that he had better watch out because he taught me everything I know, and he kidded back that he wasn’t worrying because he hadn’t taught me everything that HE knows. Every man (no women) in the 60's photo is in a black suit, white shirt, narrow black tie, crew cut and is clean shaven. Russell Furbee is there. I forget when he graduated, but he was a well known trial lawyer. There is Earl Goodwin, and this picture is probably the only time I ever saw him without an unlit cigar in his mouth. A real tall guy is Gary Rymer, and Louis Schoolnic is there. Louis was very special to me. When I first started, he was careful to call me “Counselor,” and later, “Kid,” both of which were supportive and respectful. He taught me a lot, and I saw him try his last jury case. Frank Sansalone is there and his then-partner, Ross Maruka. Those guys were also important in my life, top lawyers who taught and mentored automatically. Frank (“Sax”) helped me out a lot the first couple of years by sending lots of research and writing projects my way.
Well, it’s now May of 1978, and the second known picture of the Bar is being taken. Again, we are arrayed by seniority, youngest in the back. There are Schumacher and I on the back row. I’m the tall kid, age 25, with a big head of LONG BUSHY BLACK hair and a bushy BLACK moustache in a black three piece suit. I’m certainly not athletically built, but much more so than in later years. Right below me is my future partner, Susan McLaughlin, the then-only (and first) woman in the Bar, graduated 1977. (More than half of the new lawyers here have been women starting in the mid 90's.) A couple of rows down is a young Pete Higinbotham (graduated 1973, Tulane) and his brother John (73?, Duquesne). Pete is the one who taught me to use an artist’s pad to lay out a complicated brief or argument so you can see it all at once, and I don’t know how many younger lawyers I’ve passed that on to. The old guys are down front, of course, and also the judges. Of course, with Judge J. Harper Meredith, that’s the same thing. He graduated around 1920, and became Circuit Judge in 1945 when Judge Frank Haymond went to the Supreme Court. Also in front is Judge Fred Fox, then not yet 40. (I think he turns 70 this year, and is still on the bench. Judge Fox is the senior circuit judge in West Virginia now.) George Amos is down there, a small and compact man with white hair and a strong stance. He was an OSS agent in China in World War II, and it was very rare that he mentioned anything at all about that. (George is Partner JC’s father.) Fred Steele is there. Fred was a property lawyer genius who died of old age and overwork at a very young calendar age. A comparatively young (55?) and vigorous John Amos is there. I worked for John, and he was a fanatic outdoorsman. He was a naval aviator in WWII, and flew amphibious aircraft off of ships that weren’t aircraft carriers. He described landing a pontoon craft in the open ocean, hoping that it didn’t crash, and then waiting to get picked up by the ship. (John is in seriously declining health now.) His partner, Hayes Webb is there. Hayes gave me a job at their firm after my first year of law school because I already knew how to do complete land title searches in the Courthouse record room, and that opened a lot of doors for me. Russell Furbee, who was in the 60's picture, was the senior partner at that firm, and I used to “staff” cases with him over coffee real early in the mornings during law school when I worked there. He’s not in the 1978 picture, though, because he died the week before it was taken. His was the first bar memorial service that I ever attended. Carter D. Jones is on the front row in the 1978. He was a leading lawyer in the 1930's, and people remember that he drove a Cord, which was an ultimate luxury car, the first front-wheel-drive in America. That was equivalent then to driving, say, a Maserati today. Carter is in a purple striped shirt and bright tie, which was rather daring for 1978, but I’m certain that no one would have said a word to him. Alfred Putnam (“Putt-putt”) is there. He was in the Security Bank, and I always marveled that his cigarette ash didn’t set the bushel of paper on top of his desk on fire. Harry Cronin is near the front. (WVU, 1949). He practiced as “Cronin & Cronin,” having come to work with his father, who died after Harry had been a lawyer about 6 months. Harry used the firm name until he died. Harry was a meticulous dresser, and always wore light and bright colors. He was a trim and distinguished guy, and could pull it off. Harry was perpetually happy, and when he died, his bar memorial service was nearly an Irish wake. George May is near the front. George was a big, tall one-armed man with a booming voice who practiced a lot before the FTC and ICC. Woodrow Potesta (WVU, 1948, and he taught me at Fairmont State) is there. He had a huge tax practice. He went from having LITERALLY 10 cents after he paid for his books and tuition for the first semester of law school to making millions and endowing a faculty chair at the law school. Woody also taught me a lot. I remember him giving me his opinion about lawyers who bought accounts receivable and then chased down the money. I remember that his description of those lawyers was quite obscene. I look at the 1978 picture today, and I see about 60 lawyers, and I have stories about just about every one of them.
I remember a bit of the banter as we gathered for the 1978 – guys down front offering to fetch glasses of milk for those of us on the back row, that sort of thing. It was all great fun, and it was dizzying actually to be a Marion County lawyer, something that I had wanted to be since high school.
The next bar picture was taken in March of 1985. Schumacher and I have moved down a couple of rows, since there were a few newer lawyers who had come to the bar after 1978. Judge Meredith died a few months before that photo, and Judge Rodney Merrifield had taken his Division. Brother David Born had come to the bar, and was not yet on the bench. This photo was on the south staircase on a sunny day. I’m not smiling, since it was a very difficult time for me. In fact, right after the photo was taken, Dave and I went across the street for coffee and to give me a chance to read him in on some ongoing problems that were about to blow.
In 1992, it was back to the north staircase, on a cloudy day. I was with my then-partner, and we were about halfway down the steps. By then, I’d gone to a LOT of bar memorials, and every time I would look at the older bar photos, I’d have some mixed nostalgia and sadness.
Flash forward to November 1997. I don’t recall why we did a picture in the fall/winter. Presumably due to the weather, this was taken in the Division I Courtroom. This is nicer than the Courtroom in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a balcony overlooking a huge space with widely separated counsel tables, an imposing bench, and an impossibly large jury box. I’m off on the right side of the picture, 1/3 of the way back in the crowd, in a dark suit, with long, slicked back hair, and I seem to be channeling the movie Wall Street look. Right beside me is Judge Born, and we are bantering as usual. Something very important to me is that on the back row is Leah J. Heimbach. I’ve know Leah since she was 18 (and I 25). She was a paramedic, then nurse, then went into steadily more responsible healthcare administration jobs. I would like to think that exposure to me had a little bit to do with her going to law school. When she graduated, she came to practice with us for a couple of years, and was a good, solid trial lawyer. The siren call of healthcare lured her back as a university medical center’s general counsel, and now she and her best friend (an RN/Master’s labor specialist) run a very successful and growing healthcare/legal/management consulting firm. It absolutely meant the world to me that Leah was a part of “my” Bar. The attorney general must have been visiting Fairmont, and he’s in the picture, too.
I can’t find my print of the next photo, which was taken around 2002. This was another rough patch, and I just don’t know what I did with it. I do recall that I was in the third row, beside Pete Higinbotham again, and once again the front row of the photo from 5 years before had been altered by death and the back rows augmented by new people coming to the bar.
And then came May 2008, and the photo Amy left behind today. It was a perfect sunny day. As usual, we were arranged by seniority, on the northern staircase, just like in the photo from 45 years before. The “kids” were in the back, and the old guys up front. The guys in front offer the lawyers in back glasses of milk, and the ones in back warned those in front that the front row is really dangerous, because sometimes the guys of front don’t live until the next picture. What a difference in how I look from the 1978 picture. Oh, I’m still standing right beside Pete Higinbotham, and we still do the khakis and dark jacket thing. Now, though, the black bushy hair has become a grey short crew cut and the moustache, while bushy, is a pretty dull grey. Partner Amy is there in the middle (but next time, she’ll be a judge and in front), and former partner Susan with her partner Gina Carpenter, and yet other dozens of lawyers and again I have stories about almost all of them.
I don’t know how to feel about this newest photo. It doesn’t feel right. I’m on the front row.