After the end of my day yesterday (see Post #9), I had occasion to put into practice what I wrote about in the last post: the collegiality attorneys should show to each other.
For years, three generations of my family have been doing battle against the attorneys of the firm now known as Milligan and Coleman. In future posts, I hope to share stories about the partners, some of whom, unfortunately, are no longer with us, as well as some photographs. Some of the stories I think you’ll find hilarious, including the one about the doctor who “lost his anus.”
As our civil litigation work is mostly plaintiffs’ work, we have many opportunities to do battle with the folks at Milligan and Coleman, which is the insurance defense firm in this county, and one of the most preeminent firms of its type in this region, if not in the whole state.
Anyway, at the end of the day, I had a chance to visit with two of the partners in the firm. Tom Garland is the son of a former state senator, business owner and bank chairman who was a great influence on my life growing up. His practice is specialized in defense of governmental entities, particularly in the civil rights division. I had a chance to seek his advice on a matter, a civil rights case in Federal Court in Knoxville, that I am handling and in which he is not involved. His advice, as always, was appreciated and will help me prosecute my case for my client.
Jeff Ward is just a smart, all-around good attorney. I still can’t believe he is an attorney: his oldest brother David, who is now a physician in Asheville, North Carolina was and is a great friend of my younger brother, and little Jeff used to run around behind him. I saw “little Jeff” yesterday with grey in his hair, and can’t believe how old I’ve become!
Jeff and I have been handling a matter against each other for over a year now, which has reached the point where we have filed a lawsuit. It is going to be one of those cases where the clients are at opposite poles and, unless Jeff can pull off one of his patented motions to dismiss or summary judgment motions (more on those in the next post), we will go to trial before a jury of 12, and let the best man win.
But despite that, we were joking around yesterday about the fantastic things we were going to tell the jury and the judge and how we were going to present our case. That’s because the lawsuit, as alluded to in the immediately preceding post, is not a personality clash, but a case to be tried fairly, competently, honestly and objectively.
Thus, I remembered the lesson I forgot earlier in the day: you absolutely cannot take your client’s case to heart, for if you do, you lose your ability to perform well for your client. And, if I had not built my relationships with Tom, Jeff and the rest of the firm, I would not have been able to seek Tom’s advice yesterday, nor would I be able to pick Jeff’s brain, nor would–and this is important–the firm be likely to want to settle cases with me.
My Granddaddy, the first of our three generations of attorneys, had a very wise saying, “Never curse at or talk badly about another attorney, for that attorney may be your judge one day.”
That is a very important point to remember.
I have undertaken the representation of a friend of mine in a matter which, obviously, I cannot discuss here.
Taking on representation of friends and family is fraught with peril, because you tend to become more personally involved in their matter, and therein lies the trouble: the more personally involved you become in a case, the less likely you can handle it well.
This is why many people come up to me and wonder why attorneys seem to, according to them, “get off in a corner and whisper” when they are trying a case against each other. This is also why I try to stay courteous to my opponent (opposing attorney) of the day, even to the point where, if he or she will not speak with me, I may make a little joke in front of their client, such as, “It’s okay to talk to me today, I won’t hit you.” This also leads people to, rather incredibly, tell me, “My previous lawyer was bought off.” In 31 years of practice, I have NEVER heard of this, believe me.
(There was one attorney here in town, the late Jack Burkhard, who would NEVER talk to you the day of trial. He would socialize with you before or after, but treat you as if you were his mortal, personal enemy when you got into a trial. Of course, you know he was the butt of a lot of my father’s jokes! But I digress, so let’s get back to what happened yesterday).
On the other side yesterday was Sandy Phillips from Johnson City, a smart, tough advocate, and a good friend of mine. We have tried matters against each other, and have settled matters against each other, but not too many, for if you knew Sandy, she fights for her clients like a hungry female pit bull on steroids fights to protect her pups.
In any event, things got hot under the collar, and we ended up in a real yelling, eyeball-to-eyeball, finger-pointing argument with each other pre-trial. It was so bad that I had to step inside Judge Bailey’s office for 15 minutes, have a cup of coffee, and chill.
Well, we had a short hearing, which went about as was–and, frankly, should have been–expected. I apologized to Sandy and her client before the trial, and also after the trial, and she said all was forgiven, and–and this is a direct quote from her–she says she still loves me. I’m glad I didn’t make a permanent enemy of a trusted colleague.
The point in all this is as follows: We are your advocates, but we are not supposed to be your bosom buddies. When we lose our objectivity as attorneys, as I did yesterday, we cannot see either the problems we may have with our case, or the potential ways to resolve the problems, short of a trial in front of a judge who will make a decision that, usually, no one likes. When we lose our objectivity, we don’t do as well for you as we should, and when we lose our cool, we lose your case.
So, next time you have a court date and you see your lawyer and the opposing attorney talking and laughing, they are not getting together to sell you out. Quite the contrary: they are doing their jobs as advocates.
I run my life and my practice using the “Popeye the Sailorman” philosophy. In other words, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam,” no more, no less. Or, to put it another way, “What you see is what you get.”
One of my closest friends in the Bar has exactly the same philosophy, my good friend, Paul Whetstone, of the Hamblen County (Morristown, Tennessee) Bar.
What you get with Paul is the straight, unvarnished truth: no soft-sell and no b.s.
I was reminded of that when we had occasion to talk over coffee during arraignment day yesterday in Greene County Criminal Court. Paul’s attitude about life, morality, and people in general is almost a perfect fit with mine. We were discussing some topics that were “near and dear” to our hearts, and, usually, Paul and I are 100% spot on.
It is very rare that you have any true friends in the practice of law….Paul is, and always will be, one of mine.
We have really been slammed around here the last two weeks, which, I guess, is a good thing, but it’s bad for updating this blog. After almost two weeks, I’m back again, and I want to touch on a subject near and dear to my heart, the Greene County Bar Association.
In Greene County, Tennessee, where this practice is based, we have approximately 85-90 attorneys. While that seems like a lot for a county with a population of just above 60,000, it is noted that one of the four Federal Courthouses in the 40-plus county Eastern District of Tennessee is right here. Thus, we have a lot of attorneys who work for the Federal Government. Also, the District Attorney General for our 4-county state judicial district resides here and, as a result, he and most of his assistants are here. Throw in some judges, and persons who are part-time practitioners, like my friend, Bob Jenkins, who was an active trial lawyer in Mississippi for many years, retired here, and practices part-time, and you have your usual compliment of attorneys.
Despite that, throughout my career, we had neither an active nor a happy bar association here. There were two large schisms in this Bar, and, at the very infrequent social events held by the Bar, neither side would speak to the other. This was not the situation in other bar associations around us, even in medium sized cities such as Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol, where members of the Bar got along very collegially.
Then Curt Collins got elected President of the Bar, and everything started to change.
A bit about Curt. He went to law school in Florida. He is the son of Schery Collins, who was the long-time secretary of Circuit Judge Ben Wexler, whom I mentioned in the earlier post about my father and the armed gunman, and has been the long-time secretary of his successor, Circuit Judge Tom Wright. Curt and the other youngsters (I call them “the Chipmunks”), such as Bar vice-president Elijah Settlemyre of Milligan and Coleman, husband and wife team Joseph and Jessica McAfee, and others, basically said to all of us, “You need to get your heads out of your asses, because we need to be united as a Bar.”
I write this because, today, we had nearly 30 attorneys at a delicious Bar luncheon that the Greene County Bar Association put on at a local restaurant. These were attorneys of all stripes who, if a seer had predicted the future five years ago, would not have predicted that they would all be sitting in the same room and the same meeting, having a great time, swapping war stories and leaning on each other….and getting an hour of CLE to boot (Curt and Elijah arranged that, also). Under Curt’s leadership, we have had annual and semi-annual Bar parties, and other things that make this often stressful profession a helluva lot less stressful.
So to Curt, Elijah, and all of you “youngsters:” Thanks for teaching this old dog new tricks…..however, that still doesn’t mean I’ll be there on pro bono day!
Oftentimes in this profession, very funny things occur. In this day and age, where it seems like most attorneys I meet suffer from the “tight sphincter” syndrome, everyone is humorless and always too damn serious and on edge. That’s why on this weekend, I wanted to tell you a very funny story about my Granddaddy, John Armstrong, whom you have already met on the pages of this site.
Way back when, either before, during, or just after World War II, Granddaddy was waiting to try a case in our small claims court. Back then, they were called “Magistrate’s Courts,” because, at least in rural counties like Greene County, the elected members of what was then called the “County Court” (now the “County Commission” or the county legislative body) could hold court in their particular precinct, and could try cases involving small civil claims, and even misdemeanors where jail was a possibility. In fact, until the 1990s, judges of the General Sessions Courts, the successors to the Magistrate Courts, did not have to have a law license.
The particular Magistrate Court before which Granddaddy was that day was the one having jurisdiction over the Town of Greeneville itself. It was presided over by a judge whose name has never been disclosed to me. This judge, taking his judicial duties seriously, would sign anything that was put in front of him.
So, Granddaddy, being the joke-player that he was, waited until the Noon recess and came up to the judge. He said, “Judge, I have this order that I’d like you to sign.” The judge said, “Fine, Mr. Armstrong, I’ll sign it,” and he did.
Court resumed in the afternoon. Grandaddy’s case was the first case to be heard. When the judge called the case, my grandfather rose and said, “Your honor, you cannot hear this case today.”
The judge, somewhat perplexed asked, “Why do you say this, Mr. Armstrong?”
Granddaddy then reached into his briefcase, pulled out the document the judge had signed, and said, “Do you remember that order you signed at the break? It was your order resigning from the bench, so since you have resigned from the bench, you can’t try this case.”
Now, back in the day, it was a lot different.
Instead of the judge threatening to report him, finding him in contempt, etc., the judge reached underneath his bench, pulled out a pistol, pointed it at Granddaddy, and said, “You sonofabitch, give me back that order!”
At that point, my grandfather uttered three immortal words which we use in situations today in this office where we have screwed up royally:
“Back she goes!”
A different time and date in this sometimes wacky profession, indeed.
After work tonight, I had occasion to go to eat at the deli at our local Ingle’s Supermarket. I ran into our General Sessions Court Judge, Ken Bailey, who saw me in his court all day today, and will see me come before him tomorrow morning.
I also had an opportunity to “say hey” to my friend and colleague, Ron Woods, who is a partner at another local firm, Milligan and Coleman. Ron said he’d seen the new site and that he liked it. I told Ron that his having said that reminded me that I hadn’t written my post for the evening, yet, and I told him a little bit about tonight’s post, “The Ballad of Big Frank and Shorty Eaton.”
In the history section of this website, you met my late father, Francis X. Santore, Sr., and also saw his picture, taken just about 3-4 years before his passing, while in his late 60s. I told you that my father had actually stared down a gunman in his own office. Every bit of that story is true: I’ll tell it to you now, and at the end of the post, I’ll tell you how I know it’s true.
A year or so after my father and grandfather had ended their partnership, and my father had started this firm, Dad’s first office was on College Street in Greeneville, behind our local courthouse, and in the building now occupied completely by our local misdemeanor probation service. Dad had two rooms at the end of the hall on the second floor of this two-floor building.
One afternoon, Shorty Eaton walked into the office. Shorty was a truck driver against whom Dad had just filed suit for divorce. Dad’s secretary at the time was either out to lunch or out running an errand, so Shorty barged through the secretary’s office, walked into my Dad’s office, pointed a loaded pistol at my Dad, who was sitting behind his desk, and said, “I’ll kill the first sonofabitch who stands between me and my wife.”
Now, in that situation, I would have been scared witless, or, at the very least, would have been trying to calm the gunman down, by saying such soothing words to him as, “Now, now, we don’t have to do this, let’s talk this over,” etc. Not my brash, in-your-face father, though.
The first words out of my Dad’s mouth were, “You crazy sonofabitch, put that f******g gun down!” The next words out of his mouth were, “You stay right here, you crazy b*******d; I’m gonna call the law.”
Defying all convention, Dad walked down the hall to the office of one of his fellow attorneys, Ben Wexler. Ben had gone through law school with my father, was later appointed Circuit Judge and had a distinguished career on the bench, and had flown over 30 successful missions as a waist-gunner on a B-17 over Germany in World War II. Ben was not in that day, but his wife, Mary Lou, the sister of another fellow attorney, Tom Hull, who later went on to become Circuit Judge, legal counsel to Governor Lamar Alexander, and Federal District Judge for this District, was there, as she was Ben’s secretary.
My dad said, “Mary Lou, call Willie (Wilson, then Sheriff of Greene County): there’s a crazy b******d in my office with a gun who says he’s going to shoot me.” Mrs. Wexler got Sheriff Wilson on the line, and Dad told the same thing to Sheriff Wilson, who said he would be down in minutes.
If you think what I have written before is crazy, read the rest of this story. Instead of staying in Ben’s office, Dad walked back down to his office, saw that Shorty was there, AND SAT DOWN BEHIND HIS DESK, SAYING TO SHORTY, “NOW YOU JUST WAIT HERE UNTIL THE SHERIFF COMES, YOU CRAZY $^#^%$#%$#^%#.” Sheriff Wilson came a few minutes later and took Mr. Eaton away without incident.
Fast forward to my first year in practice with Dad. We were in the last few months of our old lease on the top floor of the Capital Bank building, prior to our moving to our present location. An older guy walked in with a much younger wife and said that he wanted to see him and ask for his advice. They greeted each other like long-lost friends. Dad said, “Frank, remember me telling you about Shorty Eaton? This is him.”
I was flabbergasted, and I had to ask Shorty if the story were true, so I said, “Mr. Eaton, my father tells me that you pulled a loaded gun on him years ago….” Before I could finish my sentence, he laughed and said, “Yes, son, that’s true.”
I certainly hope that Mr. Eaton is happy, and, since I met him only that one time, if he’s driving that big rig in the sky (he was a trucker by profession), I hope he’s letting Dad hitch a ride from time to time!
I’ve had a busy first two days of this week, being in our Child Support Court for the first half of Monday, and making a short appearance for a CDL driver in Carter County General Sessions Court in Elizabethton, Tennessee, earlier today. I wanted to write this Sunday, but I wanted to be careful of what I wrote.
I was so excited with the new website Sunday that I “Googled” up “Santore and Santore,” and thought it would bring up this site.
Instead, it brought up my past, a past that I want to forget, but that, in a way, I’m glad I won’t be able to forget.
You see, the first two articles after I “Googled” “Santore and Santore” were something like, “local attorney arrested” (2005) and “local attorney suspended from the practice of law” (2010).
That, indeed, reminded me of the Scarlet Letter I carry on my bosom, the mote I seek to remove from my eye every day.
While I have never taken any unprescribed medication, abused any prescribed medication, nor been addicted to alcohol or any substance I am a “rageaholic,” a manic-depressive.
This manic-depression has led me to some unfortunate choices in my professional career, viz….
–The time I punched a fellow attorney in the mouth in 1993: That was my first brush with our Board of Professional Responsibility
–The time another attorney and I got in a public cuss fight at our respective clients’ joint property: we both filed complaints against each other, but he passed before mine could be heard, and I was given an informal admonition.
–That incident in 2005 which, if you have “Googled” up this website, you’ve probably come across. I got madder than I should have been but, to this day, I never laid a finger on the County Mayor (I helped defeat him for re-election and he snuck away in the night like the coward he is to Knoxville, never to be seen again). Fortunately, no BPR action for me that time.
–The time when my former secretary had been run over by a harriden who was drag racing with her son down a narrow curvy road. We were trying to serve her with a copy of a complaint when she lied to my process server and avoided service of process after I had traced her to Biloxi, MIssissippi. I called her cell phone and threatened to do her bodily harm…that was the time that our District Attorney General’s office investigated me through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for terroristic threats.
(To show you, however, that Karma works, the State of Ohio caught up with this woman, imprisoned her for welfare fraud, then extradited her to Tennessee, where she pled guilty to a crime pertaining to the drag race that killed my secretary, Carol)
–And, of course, the incident that put me on the shelf for 45 days in 2010, which you have also “Googled” up: the infamous time during Thanksgiving Week, 2008, where I threw a cup of coffee across a courtroom before court started, ripped a stair railing off the interior wall of our local courthouse, came back to my office, and destroyed everything in sight, including my left hand.
That, my friends, was a breakdown. It’s my Scarlet Letter. It’s the mote that I try to pull from my eye every single day. My condition reminds me (a) how precious life is and (b) how humble I must be every single day.
Having been the only attorney, east of Knoxville, in the whole State of Tennessee to have been (a) sued, (b) arrested, (c) convicted, (d) thrown in jail, (e) committed to a mental institution and (f) suspended from the practice of law, I certainly sympathize and empathize with EVERYTHING each and every one of you go through, because, unlike most of my sisters and brothers in this profession, I have experienced the lows that you have experienced….I have been there, believe me.
So, on our “Philosophy” page, where I close by saying you can puncture my “balloon” any time, I just want you to remember that this practice and this writer are not ego driven.
Besides….you probably would like your attorney to have a bit of a temper, wouldn’t you?!
This is the weekend and I am promising myself that, for the rest of the year, I am not going to do any work on weekends, unless I have to. It is just a good way to make certain that your attorney is stress-free!
One thing I am going to do this weekend, which will take about an hour or less this afternoon, is set up the office for the next quarter (i.e., until June 30). Here’s what I mean:
Because I don’t have the ability to do six things at one time, I find that I have to keep myself super organized, especially since my able secretary, Rosalie, is independently-contracted to me, and only works part-time. So, I make a master list of things to do for each quarter, something my father and I started from the day we first practiced together.
First, we go through every active file in our filing cabinet. I still do things the old-fashioned way and have paper copies of everything in a paper file that I have: if it needs to be organized further (the file) for trial or deposition or hearing, I’ll do that at the time. With each and every file, we will list the major items that have to be done within that file for the ensuing 3 months and set up a master list of things to do each quarter, and check them off as we do them. Each file is also color coded with 4 different colored labels so that, in each week of the quarter, we can go through the different colored files (blue labels one week, green the next, and so on), to ascertain whether there are other things not on the master list that have come up that we need to do, in addition to the day-to-day things that obviously crop up. As new files are opened, they are added to the master list.
We also update what we call our statute of limitations list each quarter. As we go through each file quarterly, we list deadline dates for filing lawsuits, appeals, motions, etc. These lists, obviously, have to be met 100% of the time, without error. We check off each deadline made and the action taken, e.g. “Joe Jones, file suit by statute of limitations date on 5/1/16, suit filed 4/15/16.”
There are four (4) different statute of limitations lists that we have. The first is a general list, for all our files. Lists 2 and 3 are for (a) our cases, civil and criminal, that we have in Federal Court, and (b) our cases that we have before the new Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Court. The reason for the special lists here is that each of these Court’s, unlike most of our state courts, set specific deadlines via rule, statute, and order….woe be to the attorney who fails to meet these deadlines, and you want to be particularly on top of things in those cases.
Finally, we have a special statute of limitations “list” for all our state criminal cases. While not technically a statute of limitations list, we have developed, in the course of our practice, standard things that we do in each of our criminal cases. We list whether these things have been done or not in these cases, whether we were retained (our client pays us) or appointed (the government pays us). Most importantly, we also list whether our client is out on bond, or whether the client is in jail, and if the client is in jail, the list reminds us to go see him or her, because the jail is just across the street from our office.
I do these tasks on paper, rather than on the computer, for which you may be wondering “Why?” Well, it’s just my memnonic, my way of remembering the things to do. If this information were committed to my hard drive, I would probably never look at it. It’s the same as when I was broadcasting a lot of Division I football and basketball: while other play-by-play people were computerizing their spotting charts (the lists of players, stats, and interesting factoids), I was–and still do–hand-write these, because I feel I can more easily commit these to memory if I write it on paper, like in the 16th Century!
I am not wanting a pat on the back from any of you reading this, but I did want to share with you that we do take what we do seriously, and try to stay on top of things all the time, but, of course, we’re imperfect.
On Monday, I shall celebrate my 31st anniversary in the practice of this noble profession. There are many times that the profession has been frustrating to me, but, generally, it is a rewarding, noble profession.
It is exciting, particularly, to learn new things about the law. Unlike a physician, who deals with the human body that has not changed in thousands of years, the law changes every second of every day. This, in and of itself, keeps you on your toes and invigorated.
Another thing that changes every day–and that, until recently, I was very reluctant to change–is the manner in which the profession is publicized and marketed. Both my father and I were of the “old school,” even eschewing advertising in the telephone directory to the point of limiting our business listings to one or two lines–not even a block advertisement.
As many good, young attorneys have moved into the practice in this area, however, I have learned from them, and we have changed with the times. As a result, you have this website.
Two years ago, when we started display advertising in our DEX Media Yellow Pages, our lovely representative, about whom I shall speak more at the end of this post, really sold me on the benefits of this marketing tool that others had been using for years…and it has paid dividends many times over. Thus, when we sat down with DEX and discovered that it had a website design team, I wanted to make certain that, when it was rolled out, it was the best. I believe you will find this site to be the best on the Net.
The team with whom I have worked at DEX Media since the first of the year, and before, are to be congratulated. First, to my present account representative, Jasmine Hyter, who, I pray, will excuse me some months when I am behind in getting those payments to DEX(!!). Jasmine, I thank you, and I hope that our relationship will be as mutually beneficial as mine and Marianne’s was.
Next, to the #1 website designer/coordinator/major domo/jack-of-all-trades in the world: Grant Halsey, if everyone in every profession performed their work as you perform your work, sir, we would all live in a perfect world. The website design that you see is Grant’s handiwork, and it is tremendous. I appreciate your consideration and patience over the past three months.
But, most of all, to the woman who started it all, my girl, Marianne Gormley, who is no longer with DEX, but who has worked with me for the past three or four years and has, literally, brought me from my 1980s ways of thinking into the new milleneum. Marianne, it is your craftsmanship and attention to detail that has made this operation more successful, and has set the stage for greater and greater progress to come. If you had told me four years ago that I would be editing my own blog and had the ability to edit my own website, I would have thrown a straightjacket on you, Marianne. And to see this project through to the finish after you left DEX for another psotion a couple of months ago…anyone who employs you now or in the future ought to be very proud to have you on their team.
So, onward and upward we go…and grow. If I’m around another 31 years, I’ll be 86, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll have learned something about the law then! Again, thanks to all of you for what you have done for me and for this firm.
Welcome to my blog. This will not be a space for me to vent my personal feelings about particular cases I handle; rather, it will be a space to share experiences, good or bad, about this great profession and, hopefully, to allow you to realize that attorneys, like other people, are mere mortals, no better nor worse than any other person in this country of ours, the greatest country in the history of the Earth.
I do love the law: good or bad, our system of jurisprudence is designed to settle disputes in an orderly fashion and to protect the God-given rights granted to us as persons, and, as American citizens and residents, by the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Just remember: without your lawyer standing for the rule of law, the very freedoms you enjoy would be taken away from you.