Judy Chambers has passed away. Eight months after Tom.
In September we received a picture postcard from their final scuba diving trip. He later posted it to his blog:
After reading it (and recovering my equilibrium) I sent Tom an email. The interchange is a reminder to all of us (even the busiest of us trial lawyers) – of the importance of love.
Dear Tom – Nice way to save the tear jerker for the end. I didn’t know that added to your accomplishments, was part-time jewelry designer. The glimpse of these later years of life with Judy that you have shared, give me pause to reflect that maybe I shouldn’t stay single the rest of my life – perfectly content as I am to always get my own way and do whatever I want! Your children are blessed to be able to witness such devotion and true love. Thank you for sharing with me,
From: tom chambers [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, September 26, 2013 8:53 PM
To: Karen Koehler
Subject: RE: A picture postcard
I feel very fortunate having Judy and my children so close right now. It would be a miserable life if I were alone. But I am just damn lucky to have married one of the nicest creatures ever to have drawn breath on this planet. That we both took up scuba diving was also a stroke of luck. At our age, we have a sport in common that has taken us to warm sandy beaches around the world.
Your daughters will always be close to you but they will have their own lives to live. So take your time. Choose a mate based not just upon passion but with whom you share common interest and activities and you can be best friends with for the rest of your life. By the way, that means you must develop some activities other than trying cases. Having a balanced life is not easy for a trial lawyer. You must set you mind to do it and follow through. I may be one of the few people to be able to influence you. It is good that you have noticed how important relationships are to enjoying a rich life.
Photo by Tom Chambers: “I am proud of the above pendant because I designed (or at least had the concept for) this pendant Judy wears more often than not. The black pearl represents the world and the two dolphins represent Tom and Judy. Judy is the dolphin in front in white gold and Tom is the dolphin in back in yellow gold. To me it represents the joy, like two playful dolphins, we have shared scuba diving which has often taken us to exotic places.”
From: Tom Chambers
To: Karen Koehler
Re: Last Email
My tumors are crushing my throat and my airway. This is my last mail to you. You have been special to me for a long time. But at the time I made impressions upon you, I had no idea, how important a few encouraging words could mean. Seems same with Haskell.
You have been so supportive of me over the last few years.
Could you sneak “what would tom chambers say” into a little of your social writing.
More importantly, you have made me proud to be your mentor. You have a “Kick Ass” approach without going to the “take no prisoners” extreme used by the defense. And you have showed them that just because you are a woman does not mean you cannot be a terrific trial lawyer.
I am at complete peace right now.
At 7:30 p.m. on December 11, 2013, Tom Chambers passed away. Rest in Peace dear Tom.
Here is his official press release. Tom Chambers.pdf.
Photo: Taken by me right before presenting Rick Friedman with the first ever Tom Chambers Trial lawyer of the Year bust at the 2013 WSAJ convention. Tom and his wife Judy are in the front left of the photo. Right next to Lori Haskell.
The thing about being a young associate is that you pretty much need to do what you’re told.
During my late 20s, Tom Chambers was the boss. If he said Karen do it, I pretty much followed orders. Take this deposition. Argue that motion. Find an expert. Find a better expert. Tom’s softly spoken non-negotiable instructions structured my time at Chambers Court.
One day Tom summons me to his real office. The cubicle. Hands me a file and tells me to deal with it. It is a pro bono case. For a woman whom we’ll call …hmmm…Sybil. Yes, that will work.
Sybil has been turned down by her disability insurance company. She had been working but lost her job due to a severe psychological disorder. She had an insurance policy from work that provided coverage in the event of a medical disability. In a shocking development – the insurance company claimed her illness was a pre-existing condition and cut off her benefits.
In fact this is not shocking. It is just typical.
Tom has great compassion for Sybil. Takes on her case. Opens a file. And hands it to me.
Over the next many months I analyze insurance records, medical files and put Sybil’s story together. I can’t tell you what she says or the details about her story because that is a no-no.
But I can tell you this. She is no joke.
In order to get her story straight I have to talk to her. A lot. I have to learn every little detail about her history. From the time of birth forward. What makes her tick. The good things. The not so good things. What has changed so that she is no longer able to work. This is a rigorous process. It’s how Tom wants things done. And I aim to please.
Phone calls have to be abandoned. This is because if I call, I can’t tell exactly whom I’m talking to. You see, Sybil is also Sherry and Alice and Tracey and about a dozen other people. Each person has not only a different perspective, but an entirely different history. Not to mention style of dress. makeup and tone of voice. In reading the psychiatrist’s records, I piece together how this came to be. Can’t tell you the reason. But if you think of something very bad and traumatic that will be close enough. Poor Sybil.
This means, need Sybile to come see me. In person. Up close and real. All dozen of her. Until we have figured everything out. After awhile I get the hang of things. The strangeness has worn off. Can usually figure out who has come to visit. Even get the names straight.
Eventually Tom’s pro bono project ends well. The insurance company gives up. Sybile’s policy is honored. And the White Knight rides off in search of the next person he can save.
Photo: Alysha and Reid exhibiting their elvish personalities waiting for dinner with me, Shellie and Dan at Umi Saki House..
The most coveted award of our trial lawyers association is the Trial Lawyer of the Year Award.
This year it is extra special. We are at Couer d’Alene at our annual convention. The Brandeis bust we usually use, is to be forever replaced. With the Tom Chambers bust. Tom is in the audience.
Am given eight minutes to make the presentation. Have gotten background information from Rick’s brother Ken. As well as photos from Janet of his office.
Here is the PPT: RickFriedmanTLY2013.pdf.
WSAJ will be providing the video and will upload that later.
What is interesting about the PPT is how many slides there are. However, don’t feel rushed or that there are too many during the speech. Several of them are montages, quickly flashed to show the breadth of his verdicts and book writing.
Congratulations Rick. And thank you Tom!
Photo: From the PPT.
Tom Chambers has summoned me. I walk down the hall past Sheila – Tom’s right hand office manager whom we have nicknamed Sheera Princess of Power. Enter his fake office. The one where he meets with clients or other lawyers and important people. It is as big as a large living room. Sitting proudly next to the marble fireplace is an imposing desk. There is one small pile of papers neatly stacked on it just so. As if ready for a magazine photo shoot.
Ignoring all of the magnificence, I head towards an open door on the left side of the room. The door leads to a closet. Tom’s real office. Inside, papers and files are piled high on unimposing furniture. Tom sits there contentedly. Surrounded by his cases.
The room is so small that I have to stand outside of its doorway. Tom hands me a file. He has obtained a large uninsured motorist award in an arbitration. It well exceeds the policy limits. He tried to settle with the insurance company. But as usual they are obstinate, unreasonable, and have forced litigation. Now after making its insureds waste time and expense fighting for payment, the insurance company is only willing to pay the award up to its policy limits. But Tom has another idea. The idea involves me. My assignment is to get the insurance company to pay the rest of the money.
Me: I don’t see how this can be done.
TJC: It can be.
Me: Is there precedence for this. Do you have anything for me to work from.
TJC: Just looks at me with that steady unblinking semi-smile of his.
Me: I don’t see how this can be done. (Mentally roll my eyes).
I take the file. Review it. Research it. Write a brief. Read the opposition brief and know we are going to lose. Remind Tom of this. Research more. Write the reply brief.
The day has dawned for the motion hearing. Complain one more time to Tom. He barely blinks. Try a different approach: Hey Tom maybe you’d like to argue this. No. He wouldn’t.
Alysha is still an infant. Hand her carrier to Sheila so she can watch her. Drive the few miles to Third & James.
Trudge into Judge Faith Ireland’s courtroom. This is going to be so embarrassing. Am going to lose this big time. Say hi to the defense lawyer with downcast eyes. Preparing for the inevitable thrashing.
Judge enters. Calls me to the bench. I stand up and deliver.
Defense lawyer goes next. Haughty and snotty. Says I am a dumb dumb and don’t know what the heck I’m talking about (paraphrasing just a little).
Judge Ireland says: motion granted. I smile slightly and pull out a proposed order. As if I always expected to win and this is no big deal.
Defense lawyer is continuing to argue. Her face is actually red. Finally the court shuts her down. Signs the order and sends us on our way.
Drive back to the office. Walk up the stairs. Cross the fake office. Stand in the doorway of the real office.
Tom looks at me. With his half smile.
I shamefully announce the news that I won.
And he grins.
Moral of the story: The biggest mistake trial lawyers make is giving up too soon.
Photo: My nephews Ben and EJ playing chess
Flashback to 1990.
We are at Chambers Court. In the upstairs conference room. In a former life, the building was a funeral home. So when we call it “The Morgue” we aren’t joking.
Like all good attorneys with new associates, Tom does not trust me quite yet. When I am told to depose an electrical engineer defense expert, Tom comes along and sits by my side. With a foot and a half pile of documents on the table in front of him. So he can listen with one ear but also get the rest of his work done.
I’ve been a lawyer for five years and am no slouch. Tom knows this because he hired me after I was a defense lawyer in a case against him. But he’s a meticulous man. So I don’t mind that he wants to make triple sure I do things right.
I’ve read everything, prepared somewhat of an outline, and am methodically going through the routine.
About half an hour into the deposition, Tom leans over and tells me we need to take a break.
Oh brother, I think. Can’t he ever loosen the reigns. I have this under control. Geez.
“Let’s take a short break”, I announce. Tom and I walk out in the hall and he shuts the door.
“There’s a rat in there,” he says. Looking his typical Tom Chambers matter of fact hard to read self.
I look back at him just as calmly. Enigma facing enigma. Inside am thinking – oh for heaven’s sake. Of course, I know that. I mentally stamp my foot.
Mouth turned up in a patient half smile, I respond. “Of course there is. I know that. I’m just laying a foundation.”
He doesn’t back down. In the same evenly measured voice, he says: “No, I mean there’s really a rat in there.”
I tilt my head just a little but otherwise do not blink. Inside am feeling like a race horse stuck behind the door while everyone else is off and running. Adrenaline is going. Game is on. Except for me. Because I apparently am obtuse. Not doing this properly according to His Highness’s highest of high standards.
Exhale quietly: “Tom, I know that he’s a rat. I need to finishing laying this foundation and then I’ll begin to challenge him.”
There, that should do it. Nice way to be firm. To stand up to him…as much as I dare.
“Karen!” he says with dramatic emphasis. Enough to make me jump deep inside where it doesn’t show. But my eyes widen. Uh Oh. What am I missing. What am I doing wrong. What am I not getting.
I brace myself as he leans towards me and says – punctuating each word quite clearly. Yet not quite yelling: “There’s. A. Mouse. In. There. And. It. Just. Ran. Over. My. Foot.”
I blink and look at him. He looks back. “As in…” I say.
“Yes.” he answers.
And so it was that Al, our receptionist-valet-painter-handyman-chauffer, escorted our deposition guests to another scenic morgue location. Then handily added the new title “mouse catcher” to his resume.
Photo: Justice Tom Chambers and Paul Stritmatter reviewing their scripts as we shoot the How to Prepare for Deposition DVD.