The days are often long in this job. Each day starts with goodbye kisses from my wife and son, as we all venture off to the place where we spend most of our days. For me, it requires traveling a mile down the road to the office.
September was like any day in some ways, but unlike any day on other respects. The balancing of the inbox and outboxes takes up much of the day, as well as a plethora of calls and email. I prefer email these days because it is easy to refresh my memory of promises made and owed.
It is twitter official- Belvin Perry works for John Morgan and Morgan & Morgan, one of the largest personal injury firms in the world. He already has a page on Twitter which members of the Morgan family are promoting. In fact, the photo is so recent, it seems that he still wearing his judicial robe. He was rumored to be in the process of getting a court television show, but that must not have worked out. Read more
Suicide and Depression: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
by John M. Phillips
The news of Robin Williams hit this country hard. Why would he do it? He was someone who, to most Americans, had everything, yet was isolated and depressed enough to feel he didn’t have enough to keep living. And that is the point of this blog. Read more
An Open Letter to 2013
2013 was the best year of my life so far.
You think you have it made in your 20’s, but you honestly aren’t wise enough to truly make the best of the most situations. I was determined to Run with the Bulls before I turned 30 because I somehow thought it was the end of an era for me. Far from it. I also sat 100 feet down at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef because I thought that would mean I had seen it all. Not even close. Those relics of my 20’s don’t hold a candle to the memories of my 30’s. It was just the beginning. As I reach the last full year of my 30’s, I realize just how much I have grown and how much I appreciate this God-given life and being away from the drama and insecurity that insight and wisdom can bring. So call me old if you like, but my 2013 kicked some serious tail. So, I am saving this for prosperity. Read if you like.
In 2013, I got married to my best friend in the paradise of Maui. It was the highlight of an amazing year. I saw my son go from his first steps to climbing, from syllables to sentences and much, much more. He is his own little person now and it has changed me at my core.
Professionally, I saw my office grow in an era where my competition spends well over $10 million a year advertising in Jacksonville, alone, making it hard to survive. We moved into an office that echoed from its emptiness last December and now it is full. My 2011 Today Show appearance was one I was/am so proud of because it was my first national interview. It was accompanied by dozens of others in 2013 with countless hours of coverage on multiple cases, being a prominently featured personality on HLN and having a nightly segment on first coast news for a month. I even got to sit in the HLN chair and comment on the Zimmerman verdict as it was released like one of my mentors as a child- Gerry Spence. It was very cool.
I argued an appeal trying to change the law to protect children victims of violence which was filmed by every local station. We still await the result, but as a former bully victim myself, it was a moment bigger than me. Related to bullying, I was literally referred a case by Dr. Phil (which we ultimately didn’t take). The excitement of that phone call was towards the top of the meter. However, that excitement didn’t touch the level of thrill I got from the first call from Paul Solotaroff from Rolling Stone. Paul did an amazing job with the article about Jordan and I cannot thank him enough for his heartfelt interest in Jordan. I am beyond honored to be one of the voices who get to honor him.
Related to all things media, we had two documentary crews spend time at the office. Both contain some of the world’s greatest storytellers and I have learned so much about my craft as a storyteller from them. I was asked to be apart of a pilot “people’s court” kind of show and have had people reach out with interest in what we are doing, including a former judge who has agreed to come work with us. I received more professional gratitude than ever before and evolved my practice into one surrounded in love.
Awards mean so little in the scheme of things, but it was a good year- an AV peer rating, super lawyer, best of Jax in folio weekly, #1 in void, top lawyer in 904 by Jacksonville Magazine, top lawyer by Ponte Vedra Recorder, top 100 trial lawyer in Florida, American Society of Legal Advocates and many others. The best are those voted anonymously by my peers- they mean so much.
More significantly than that, we Marched on Washington, attended an invitation only Seminar about Race in America, I spoke at Howard University, spoke with leaders on the state and federal level, supported a client in her testimony before the US Senate and spoke before the Florida House of Representatives. I stood up to bullies, even at my own detriment, and we made corporate polices change. Any single one of those would have made for a great year.
I learned that you can be a friend to clients and there is so much more to being a lawyer when you are. We have cried and laughed, set precedent and made relationships that I can’t wait to take into the next decade. From Twitter to Board Rooms, I have had the chance to meet some amazing people and change the way I look at things around me.
Not without trial, I dealt with the biggest betrayal and defamation of my life in 2013, including making some tough decisions about those who find it easier to be hateful and spread lies. I will never forget that. I saw the worst in people, including some I admired and learned how bad this country has become and how selfish and hurtful so many are. But I found forgiveness for some who betrayed me, including one person some thought I’d never forgive. I smiled a lot. I laughed even more. And I found true love just about every day. The pleasure made it worth all of the pain.
This year, I made some new lifelong friendships and came to love older friends even more. I was blessed to be able to give more to charity than in any prior year. I learned more about myself and the sanctity of life through the losses of others. And yes, in 2013, I saw my teams (Alabama and the Red Sox) win national championships.
I weighed the least and the most I have in one calendar year and I learned how to dress better than I have before at either size. Thanks to Darren Kavinoky for the advice.
I prayed more than ever and promised I’d try every single night to pray for someone else because I know my mother’s prayers got me through some tough times without me even knowing they were there. And I found my own Heaven right here while dancing with a two year old.
I will miss you 2013. You taught me how to be a better man, husband, father, boss and friend. I will use all of it to make 2014 even better. This, I promise.
Jordan Davis’ Parents, John Phillips and T.C. Roberts go to Washington D.C. for MLK 50th Anniversary March
While John, T.C. and the parents of Jordan Davis continue sharing Jordan’s message, I just wanted to update you on this weeks trip to D.C.
I personally was not on the trip, so when I speak with John I will get the full story behind all of these photos. For now I just wanted to share some pictures from the MLK rally with our readers.
Here is John shaking hands with one of America’s great future leaders, 9-year-old Asean Johnson. Asean gave a very powerful and inspiring speech for a speaker of any age/
John was very fortunate and humbeled to meet Martin Luther King Jr.’s son and namesake.
John and T.C. in D.C.
The incredible turnout:
John with Ron Davis (on right) and friends:
John with Unites States Attorney General Eric Holder:
Lucy McBath, Jordan’s mother (white t-shirt in middle) and supporters:
Additionally, John, Ron and Lucy, recently appeared on MSNBC, see more here.
I apologize for the brevity in the descriptions of these pictures. I will be sure to pass on any updates and pictures as I receive them. As always, thanks for reading and have a blessed Sunday!
Gerry Spence, Court TV, Trayvon Martin and Me
In a strange way, I was shaped as a lawyer probably as much by my attention to Court TV, as I was my grandfather and great grandfathers who were “real life” lawyers. The stories of William Kennedy Smith, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Rodney King officers, the Menendez brothers –and more importantly their victims– grabbed some of my attention in high school, but by college, O.J. Simpson’s “gavel-to-gavel” coverage solidified my desire to be a trial lawyer. I watched most of the Simpson trial and those commenting on it- like the ultimate Monday morning legal quarterback, Gerry Spence. As I tell clients, trial law is like being the producer, director and narrator of an elaborate live-action play. Lives are often literally on the line. No wonder it gets such attention and ratings.
I am in a unique position on both sides of the equation. I have not only recently been in Gerry Spence’s shoes, commenting on the trial of George Zimmerman for a national broadcast as the verdict was read, but also represent Jordan Davis’ family, a high profile case that may receive coverage of its own. And in this position, I see the trial of George Zimmerman and the death of Trayvon Martin as a tragedy with no winners. All Trayvon’s mother wanted was for the justice system to let her son’s death be worth a jury vote. And she didn’t want to feel she let her son die in vain. Zimmerman wanted to be judged on his view of the law, whether you like it or not. I submit we would all would want the same as both of these families wanted after such a tragedy.
To that end, I want to thank John Guy in particular. With all of the pressure, with all of the cameras and reporters, with all of the politics and racial strife, John Guy gave a touching and impassioned argument on behalf of a child who lost his life. I envision a generation of black and white kids touched by his passion, desiring not just to be another lawyer, but wanting to make a difference. It is precious and rare in our profession. I told him so.
An original civil rights pioneer, Abraham Lincoln, often said “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” We, as a country, were founded on freedom- freedom to do, say and act how we wish. It was a system of ideals – a literal Constitution- that stemmed from oppression and longing for expression. But that very freedom was tucked inside Pandora’s Box. Because my free expression and your free expression (or desire to avoid my expression) may contrast. Our grandfathers may not have valued each others’ rights, but that doesn’t mean that we have to hold on to that. We cannot hold on to that. Pandora’s box of freedom is open and making everyone upset, some people crazy and dividing this nation further. As KRS-One rapped, “Self destruction, you’re headed for self destruction.” We have taken it too far and for granted and we are faltering.
Even though some hold sacred the (extended) Constitutional Right to the violent ‘defense of self’ “guaranteed” by the Second Amendment, other Amendments have had to be drafted to provide rights to women and minorities- to force peace and equality. Some now use those very Second Amendment guarantees to define freedom in America. I think Lincoln would define that as “faltering.” We cannot impinge or insult one another and use the Second Amendment to bail ourselves out of trouble. We cannot be violent mice waiting for our tail to be stepped on to teach the great elephant a lesson.
What if -and this is just a hypothetical- George Zimmerman is as much of a “wanted man” as his own family and legal counsel claim. And what if -and this is still just a hypothetical- someone he considers menacing (a black child with candy, soft drink and a possible bad attitude) comes at him in his car or in a store- fist in the air, angry with him. Can he shoot and claim self defense again? And again? And again? Where is the line of defense of self and reason? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world where the Stand Your Ground killer is not only legal, but he (or she) is festering among us. ‘Dexter’ could run four more seasons if they dare approach the laws of lethal force and Stand Your Ground in Florida alone.
Freedom is not black and white, it is not pro-gun and anti-gun, it is not to insult, rage or take life in our own hands unreasonably. That freedom will perish if we do not find a way to learn from these events- kind of like those kids listening to John Guy, kind of like me 15 years ago- inspired education. Let’s learn from this and heal and set the bar of whether or not to take a life higher.
UPDATE: Ex-Police Officer Accused in the Killing of a Texas Prosecutor, District Attorney and his Wife
In a previous post, In the Line of Fire: How Dangerous is the Legal Profession, we reported a story in which a Texas District Attorney, his wife and a prosecutor were all murdered. At the time of the killings, the leading suspects ranged from the Mexican Cartel to the the Aryan Brotherhood. However, the wife of an ex-cop has come forward implicating her husband as the killer. The alleged killers name is Eric L. Williams. But William’s wife, Kim Williams, did not just turn her husband in, it turns out that she helped her husband plan the murders. According to the Associated Press, “Kim Williams, was arrested Wednesday and charged with capital murder for her alleged role in the killings”
Eric L. Williams was an officer with at least 10 different agencies from 1987 to 2010. That included a stint as a deputy with the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Department. He is being held on a $3 million bail while Kim Williams is being held on a $10 million bail.
UPDATE: We originally posted this list of the worst of the worst lawyer commercials in April 2013. But today, the list has certainly been topped. Remember Sweet Brown? The “Ain’t nobody got Time for that” lady? Well we have just discovered that she was hired to act in a lawyer commercial. Attorney Brian Loncar has hired Sweet Brown to act in his latest marketing ploy… Ain’t nobody got time for that.
In a previous post, we discussed how dangerous the legal profession can be. In the post, In the Line of Fire: How Dangerous is the Legal Profession, we broke down recent events in which attorneys were faced with danger, injured or killed in result of their legal careers.
Tuesday morning, tragic news struck the legal community. A Texas prosecutor, district attorney Mike McLelland, and his wife, Cynthia McLelland (both pictured on left) were murdered in their homes Tuesday morning. This comes only a few months after McLelland made a public statement in which he vowed to hunt down the person who murdered his former boss, assistant DA Mark Hasse. While investigators have kept quiet on who the suspects could be, there are a few unverified reports that the Arian Brotherhood, a white supremacy group, is behind the slayings. Other reports are guessing that the Mexican drug cartel is behind the murders. The office that McLelland worked for prosecuted criminals with ties to the Arian Brotherhood as well as the Mexican drug cartel. McLelland said in a previous interview that racist gangs could be working with the Mexican cartel. McLelland said he could not comment on whether, “low-level Mexican cartels have had involvement with the Aryan Brotherhood in Texas regarding methamphetamine trafficking,” or if it was “possible the Aryan Brotherhood is either acting as hitmen or paying prosecutors back.” However, recent reports are denying any involvement by the Arian Brotherhood.
Additionally, the DA office that McLelland worked at has publicly advised prosecutors to begin carry handguns “within the letter of the law.”
Whatever the case may be, this is a tragic story. Whether it was a racist gang or the Mexican drug cartel, two innocent people are dead. A man who was fighting for the safety or his community, and our country’s borders, and his wife, are now gone. Please keep the McLelland family in your thoughts as this investigation unfolds.
Above my desk is a framed newspaper, “The Wayne County News,” dated August 30, 1934. In it, my great grandfather, Arthur George Busby ,was announced as the “first Wayne County man ever to serve as a Circuit Judge.” He carried every county in the District. He served proudly as he had his legal career before he was elected. He was fair and saw past color or wealth even in an age and place where that was uncommon. He died on the Bench serving the people of Mississippi on September 11, 1948, at age 57. I never knew him. My mother spoke very highly of him. My son bears his name.
I wish I had chronicled every story my mother ever told, written a book which made Harper Lee’s character from To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, seem like the mere fictional character he was. I wish I could get to know him and talk law with him. Yet, he shaped me without one word between us. He shaped me though my mother’s lore and the stories I was able to read and hear. And he is not the only one. Read more
Court is in Recess- Bennett Joins Dad at Work and My Life as a Dad/Lawyer
I work hard and around the clock. There was a time when “work life” would end at a particular hour of the day and I’d try to be at every event I could. Once I failed at being “just another lawyer” at “just another mill,” churning out billable hours or injury settlements like McDonald’s does hamburgers, and started my own firm, my clock became less divided into work-life and home-life. It just became my life. And my family’s life. And I love it more than ever.
I am the son of a middle class family from Alabama and Mississippi. I was taught to be color-blind, but never really had the opportunity to learn about the anthropology of race relations and the evolution of those with a different skin color than mine. We were just programmed with the basics.
When black history month came around each year, we’d learn more about the famous leaders of a different skin color, but it was almost always was presented as “education by affirmative action,” breeding some degree of discrimination in and of itself- that these lessons were different. It’d be better if we had been told these stories all year long, not piece-meal and out of context. As such, much of it didn’t stick. I knew what Rosa Parks did, but not who Emmett Till was. I knew who Martin Luther King, Jr., was, but not why he had to be the voice he was.
For instance, it was relatively new to me that after slavery was abolished, until approximately World War Two, the south essentially found a backdoor to slavery by arresting former slaves and forcing free labor from them as prisoners from 1865 to 1945. This not only helped create the reputation of the African American as a criminal (despite the completely discriminatory nature in both types and lengths of punishment so as to make sure the unpaid labor force was in tact), but also slowly caused some degree of acquiescence within this community that this was the next stage in their oppression. I literally, at 38 years-old, learned that this week. Read more