Welcome back to Lawyers & Liquor, where I normally talk profanely about legal shit in what is meant to be an amusing manner. Today, Monday July 9th, though, I need a minute to decompress from a busy couple weeks. So we’re going to introduce the monthly Legal News Retrospective, where I’ll talk about the three most interesting stories I could find from the month before.
Yeah, it’s a cop-out. Fuck you. I’m tired.
So without further ado, let’s look at June’s true tales of legal interest, including the world’s worst tenant, a Texas style adultery, and the death of a living legal legend.
Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia, Or Rent to A Lawyer.
Oregon Attorney Kevin Preston is a goddamn evil genius. Back in 2015, Preston rented a four bedroom house in Calckamas, Oregon. The landlord, Angela Bell and her husband, way back in those bygone days of three years ago, presented Preston with a standard form lease which the lawyer, unwilling to accept boilerplate, flatly rejected. Preston then drew up a counteroffer lease…but decided in doing so to be the sneakiest motherfucker to ever wander the face of the earth. In an area where the rent for a four bedroom, 2.5 bath house in a nice area would go for over 50% more than what he’s paying today, Preston secured himself a rent of $1,550 a month… into perpetuity.
That’s right, Preston snuck a clause into the rental agreement that essentially stated he could live in the house for an amount of $1,550 per month for as long as he wants to. Among the other sweetheart terms that Preston gave himself was a clause that made sure he didn’t have to pay any security deposit, and a clause indicating that anyone looking to buy the property would have to do so while still beholden to the terms of the lease that he slid past the landlord. Ms. Bell, of course, has contested this, stating that Preston rushed her through the signing of the lease agreement and that she didn’t understand what she was signing at the time she did so…s omething Preston, as an attorney since 2000, probably knew would happen because seriously you assholes never read anything before signing it, why don’t you ever read important documents before them?
While every lawyer in the world is having a nice chuckle at this, and we can all agree that Preston wins the “Oh my god, what an absolute madman” award, and while I personally have no great love for landlords or people who don’t read the goddamn legal documents they’re signing in general, there are a few other issues present in this one. Among them is a question of whether or not Preston may have abused a prior position of trust, as he had helped the Bells, back before Mr. Bell found out for whom his namesake tolled, form an LLC and had acted as their attorney. There are also genuine questions raised in the complaint Ms. Bell has filed with the court as to whether Preston should be held to a higher standard as an attorney when dealing personally with the public as a result of his legal knowledge.
But those are questions for the court, not me, to decide. All I can say is…I’m not even mad. That’s too damn impressive. You may be an absolute tool, Kevin Preston, but I have to admit you have some style.
The Lawyer, The Mistress, and the Lawsuit.
On the other end of the spectrum from Nightmare Tenant, Esquire is Texas Attorney Walter Umphrey. Walter Umphrey was a well-respected attorney in the Texas Plaintiff’s lawyer bar. He was so respected that the congenial and dedicated attorney, who actually looks a lot like Matlock, I shit you now, was one of the attorneys selected by the Lone Star State 20 years ago to help negotiate a 17 billion dollar settlement from tobacco companies, you know, back when we were all first beginning to admit at the dime of R.J. Reynolds that smoking may be bad for you. A founding and managing partner of the law firm, Provost Umphrey, he continued to be a force to be reckoned with in the Texas legal environment, though I’ve been unable to determine if he ever wore a white suit that was as pure as the driven snow and referred to himself as “just a simple country lawyer” or not.
Seriously. I’m staring at a picture of the guy. He looks so much like Matlock it’s terrifying.
In a tragic turn of events, however, it appears the well-respected litigator was brought low in 2012 by the early onset of the fear of every competent person that uses their brain for a living: Alzheimers. Sadly, in that situation, alleges Umphrey’s wife in a lawsuit filed in 2018 in Harris County, Texas, Umphrey had not been in the process of surrounding himself with the … best of people. See, Umphrey began, in 2008, doing what Grandma only dreamed Matlock would do and slept around, keeping a mistress by the name of Jolyne Thompson. Of course, according to court records and my firm belief that anyone who looks like Andy Griffith can’t be that skeevy, Umphrey was “seduced” by Thompson, who would up the stakes of fucking around with an accomplished attorney by deciding to enter the World Series of Poker on Umphrey’s $24,000 dime in 2008 and would go on to receive a number of gifts.
Can I take a second here and say something? Why is it these complaints of the spurned spouse always paint the mistress as some horrible harlot taking advantage of the poor husband? Look, folks, Umphrey, up until 2012, was an intelligent and capable man with a respected law practice negotiating billions in settlements from ruthless motherfuckers that once had Fred Flintstone light up a Winston in glorious black and white (and apparently is old enough to remember that shit to the extent he remembers anything now). It isn’t like back in 2008 he didn’t know what the score was. No matter what the nature of his marital relationship with his was versus the obviously long-term mistress Umphrey cavorted with outside of the happy home, it’s pretty clear he was using his position, wallet, and gifts at the very least to interest Ms. Thompson from 2008 to 2012. I mean, let’s just be clear. He was definitely getting some tit for his tat in this instance.
Where things got questionable though, according to the amended complaint, was when Umphrey began showing signs of early onset Alzheimers in 2012, as discussed before. According to the wife, this was when Thompson made her move and influenced the man, who I swear to god is the former sheriff of Mayberry, to transfer, between July and October, approximately 1.8 million dollars of assets to Thompson, some in cash and some to secure the purchase of a house, all of which was placed in a Trust in Thompson’s name. For the next three years, then, Umphrey would continue to pay over $120,000 in property taxes…likely in excess of other gifts of tangible property and money.
Look, if the amended complaint is true, then for 3 years the mistress took advantage of a man with failing mental capacities. Of course, there’s always a chance that Umphrey intended to make these gifts to care for his mistress who, at that point, had been with him for four years, and wanted to do so while he still had the mental capacity to do so. Who the fuck knows?
Anyhow, why is this news? Because this month the lawsuit between wife and mistress regarding the fleecing of Umphrey was settled. Umphrey, whose license to practice law was placed on inactive status in 2016 and who seemed to have left his former firm in 2015 among a flurry of lawsuits from partners leaving to start their own practices in the wake of the mentor’s departure, was obviously unavailable for comment. And, while the details of the settlement agreement are unknown, it is reasonable to assume that both mistress and wife have agreed it’s best not to drag the name of this legal lion any further through the muck than it’s already been. Could you imagine building a career like Umphrey’s only to have the local legal news report on you as “That Matlock Impersonator whose wife sued his mistress?”
…Oh shit, I’m part of the problem now, aren’t I?
Fuck Dos Equis, We Found The Real Most Interesting Man in the World.
On to our last story this time.
On the heels of two stories that expose the dark underbelly of the legal profession and its intersection with our personal lives, let’s look at someone who we can all celebrate. Retired Federal Judge George Leighton passed away early this month on June 6, 2018. Leighton -who has a Chicago criminal courthouse named after him – was the first African American to sit on the Illinois Appellate Court. Originally a fruitpicker from New Bedford Massachusetts, this son of African immigrants who didn’t learn English as his first language never finished high school. Instead, placing him firmly in the “holy shit this is the most interesting man ever” category, he became a ship’s cook until he was thrown off the ship during an honest to god mutiny. Afterwards, the man whose highest level of education was grade school talked his way into Howard University and then Harvard Law School in an era where being an African American without a high school education was definitely a goddamn liability in going to Harvard Law.
Leighton would attend Harvard on a scholarship, taking a break to serve his country during World War II, and even then couldn’t get a foot in the door of the segregated Chicago firms. Instead, he took cases for those unable to afford other attorneys, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States for civil rights out of his two-man law office for 18 years, Leighton, who was defended by Thurgood Marshall when indicted in 1951 for “provoking a race riot” by telling an African American family they could move to Cicero, Illinois and acquitted, would later be elected as a Cook County Judge, elevated to a a state Appellate position, and finally was nominated to the Federal District Court bench by President Gerald Ford.
Leighton retired in 1989 from his place as a federal judge, at which point he returned to his old firm of Leighton Neal, where he continued to work until age 99 before finally retiring. On June 6, 2018, Judge Leighton passed on in Brockton, Massachusetts at the age of 105 years old from pneumonia, having left his mark not just on the legal community of Illinois but also the United States and the civil rights movement as a whole. We wish our best to the family of Judge Leighton, and reassure his surviving children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that the judge was, most likely, the real most interesting man in the world.
That’ll wrap up the legal news for this time. I’ll be back in here on Wednesday, hopefully more well-rested, with a new post on some bullshit topic!
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