Sunday, November 23, 2014

Practice makes perfect for retiring longtime attorney

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 12/18/2013

He’s an attorney, a musician, a civic leader and a family man.

He’s Bob Green. And the 71-year-old Ottawan is retiring Friday after 45 years of practicing law in the Franklin County seat.

He’s an attorney, a musician, a civic leader and a family man.

He’s Bob Green. And the 71-year-old Ottawan is retiring Friday after 45 years of practicing law in the Franklin County seat.

Green, an owner and partner in the Ottawa law firm Green, Finch & Covington Chartered Attorneys, was a psychology major when he entered Kansas State University on scholarship in 1960, he said.

“I met with Dr. Wally Caldwell, who was the pre-law adviser at Kansas State University, and we discussed the fact that I had been really active in drama in high school, that I was someone who could stand up in front of people and think on my feet and speak to groups,” Green said. “He looked at my grades and test scores and said, ‘You would be a good candidate to go to law school.’ So, I became in essence a pre-law major.”

After graduating from K-State in 1964, Green entered the University of Kansas School of Law. It was during his third year of law school that Green became acquainted with Ottawa through a judge clerkship.

“I signed up for Ottawa because it was easy to commute to and from Lawrence,” Green said. “That was a most fortunate assignment because I was assigned to Judge Floyd H. Coffman, who was a well-known district judge. I learned a lot about the everyday business of being a district judge, and I met many of the lawyers in our judicial district, including all the lawyers from Ottawa.”

After Green earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1967, he went to work as an associate to Winton Winter Sr. in October 1967. Green worked in Winter’s Ottawa law practice for one month, he said, before serving with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. After being released from active duty in April 1968, Green returned to Ottawa and Winter’s law office. The firm is one of the oldest in the state and can trace its roots to the earliest days of Ottawa history. In 1869, a young Civil War veteran named Arthur Benson came to Ottawa to establish a law office in the 100 block of East Third Street. Benson moved the practice in 1898 to 101 W. Second St., where the office remains today.

“I did a lot of work with what Mr. Winter was doing, including setting up Rural Water District No. 4,” Green said. “I also helped set up Rural Water District No. 6, and I represented five other water districts during my career.”

Green led a hectic pace in 1971, he said, serving as a public defender in a murder case, spending a month traveling through Europe and marrying Joyce Schweitzer Dec. 27, 1971, at First Baptist Church in Ottawa. The couple bought a house on Olive Street in 1972 and their first child, Amy, was born in November 1972. Later, the couple would have a son, Jason, in October 1976.

In 1973, Wint Winter Sr. left the law practice to pursue banking interests, Green said.

“Mr. Winter, with some co-investors, purchased controlling interest in Peoples National Bank and Trust and Franklin Savings in April 1973, and he left me to essentially run the firm and build up the practice,” Green said. “I worked hard and long hours. In 1974, I began to realize that I needed an associate.”

Green interviewed a number of young lawyers , he said.

“I hired a young man who I liked a lot named Thomas Sachse,” Green said. “We worked together a number of years and the firm became Green and Sachse Chartered. We worked together for about 17 years, until 1991, at which time Judge Sachse became a district judge, where he works today.”

BUILDING A PRACTICE

Green built the practice in real estate, wills and trusts, probate and representing small businesses, he said.

In one case, after an elderly farmer’s wife died, the man deeded the farm to one of his children.

“I was able to prove the father was incompetent at the time the deed was signed and had the deed set aside so the value of the farm was shared among all the children and not just one,” Green said. “That case went to the Kansas Supreme Court and still is the law today.”

In 2002, Green was sworn in to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“When I went to Washington, D.C., with my family to be sworn in to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, I corresponded with my college fraternity pledge brother, Marlin Fitzwater [former White House Press Secretary],” Green said. “Right after I was sworn in, I went to the White House. Marlin had arranged to give Joyce and me a personally escorted tour of the White House. We got to attend a ceremony in the Rose Garden, welcoming the new secretary of defense, and we got to attend a briefing in the West Wing briefing room, all as guests of Marlin Fitzwater.”

In 2003, current state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, joined Green’s practice as an associate after graduating from the Washburn University School of Law. Finch had served as a law clerk in Green’s law office for a couple of years while he was in law school, Green said. In 2008, Finch became one of the owners in the firm.

“Bob Green has been a mentor and friend to me for many years,” Finch said.

Green has dedicated 45 years of his life to providing Franklin County with the best possible legal service, Finch said.

“Just like Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Bob cares about and he is a part of the community he serves,” Finch said. “He has always been sensitive to the role of the county seat lawyer in helping the community and serving the public through the practice of law.  

“Bob embodies the noble aspects of the lawyer’s profession: He is fair, practical and a dedicated advocate for the needs of those he represents and the community he is a part of,” Finch said. “We will miss him as a practicing member of the bar.”  

Green served as the attorney for Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa, and was president of the Kansas Association of Hospital Attorneys in 2004. He also served as president of the Ottawa Rotary Club, of Ottawa/Franklin County Economic Development (the forerunner to the Franklin County Development Council), of the Franklin County Bar Association and the Fourth Judicial District Bar Association. He also served on the Ransom Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees.

Larry Felix, chief executive officer of Ransom Memorial Hospital, said Green is a man of integrity, a good attorney, a civic leader and active in the church.

“Bob was the hospital’s attorney when I came here about 14 years ago, and he has handled contracts, patient issues — all sorts of legal matters,” Felix said. “I have nothing but good things to say about Bob. I have known him to be a man of high ethical standards.”

OUTSIDE INTERESTS

Green has many interests outside of his law practice. He obtained his pilot’s license in 1969 and was a member of a local flying club called the Prop Twisters. A voracious reader, Green always is reading a novel and hopes to write some stories in his retirement, he said. Green has bought and sold many real estate holdings — from apartment buildings and farms to downtown business buildings — through the years.

He loves to ride his Honda Gold Wing motorcycle, he said, and has taken it to Yellowstone National Park, Natchez, Miss., and many points in-between. He and his wife have a motor coach now, which Green said they like taking on trips. He also enjoys his grandchildren, he said.

“Our daughter Amy lives in Overland Park, and our son Jason lives in Nashville,” Green said. “We have three grandchildren, all of whom are Amy’s and they are [ages] 9, 7 and 5.”

Green is an accomplished trombone player and singer and has been active in a number of barber shop quartets.

At K-State, Green played in the marching and concert bands and orchestra. While in the U.S. Army, he joined the 89th Division Band at Fort Sill, Okla., he said.

Green has been a member of the Ottawa City Band for 45 years and is the oldest continuous member.

Steve Baker, who also plays trombone in the Ottawa City Band, said in an earlier interview Green is top notch.

“I’ve known Bob since I’ve been in town since 1983,” Baker said. “Everybody looks up to him. He is a real nice anchor, and he brings a lot of leadership [to the band].”

Green performed in a show — which he co-wrote with Ottawa businessman Mike Esser — on the former Whippoorwill Showboat on Lake Pomona. The boat capsized in a tornado in 1978.

“The show was about a cruise on the river and the Whippoorwill was supposed to be in an imaginary race with another river boat,” Green said. “We essentially wrote a plot that strung together a lot of songs about showboats and the river and the Old South, and everyone liked it.”

Green has enjoyed serving as a county seat attorney, he said.

“I’ve been fortunate, but luck is the residue of design,” Green said. “Any time you have a county seat general practice of law, basically the most satisfying thing is that you have close relationships with the clients, and they come to you with things that are important to them. If you are able to relate to that and you are able to maybe bring them through a stressful time, then it becomes more satisfying than just a job. That’s probably what I’ll miss the most. Whatever success I have achieved, it’s because I have put the clients high on my list of priorities.”

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