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35 five Seven Years of Lawyering in West Seattle during jerry hile’s absence, clients came to me with every imaginable kind of legal problem: wills, divorces, leases, contracts, real-estate transactions, bankruptcy, personal-injury claims, criminal cases, traffic cases, and even federal income tax returns—the subject I had failed in law school. Confronted with this variety, I was forced to research and analyze new areas of law constantly. Few young lawyers have the opportunity to learn the practice of law so directly in such a short time yet without the benefit of guidance from an experienced lawyer. Hile returned to the office in November of 1956. He was subdued, not at all like his former ebullient, confident, even bombastic self. But this didn’t last long. After two or three months I began to notice his energy level increasing dramatically. He was once again attracting clients. I was concerned that many retained him because of his sweeping assurances that they had a wonderful case and couldn’t lose. I didn’t always share his optimism, but after suggesting that a case might not be as clear-cut as he anticipated, I couldn’t argue in the face of his emphatic rejection of all doubt. I retreated to my office and my own cases and left him alone. After all, he was a lawyer of many years’ experience. Unfortunately, it became impossible to ignore his increasingly bizarre conduct as his assertions became more and more irrational. He insisted that his illness had been caused by negligent dental work. He often worked the entire night without going home to sleep. The most serious 36 seven years of lawyering in west seattle problems resulted from his increasing belligerency. I often heard him shouting over the phone, talking to opposing attorneys with language that was often shocking. A lawyer simply does not tell his opponent, “You’re a stupid asshole,” and worse. When I tried to gently tell Hile that I thought it unwise and unprofessional to talk to a colleague that way, he smiled slyly and said it was just a tactic to intimidate the fellow—he knew what he was doing. One of the most bizarre episodes involved Hile’s feud with a young lawyer named Preston Niemi. I knew nothing of their case, but I heard Hile shouting at him on the phone: “Niemi, you’re a yellow belly, nothing but a yellow belly!” Matters came to a head when Hile received a call from the clerk for a superior court judge advising him to be present at a hearing the next morning. This was highly unusual, because ordinarily attorneys simply receive notices of hearings from their opponents and ignore them at their peril. When Hile told me about the call, I knew something odd was going on. So I decided, in the interest of protecting him from his own recklessness, to attend the hearing with him. Driving to the courthouse, Hile seemed agitated, smiling malevolently every time he mentioned his young opponent. I tried to calm him down, but to no avail. Entering the courtroom he spotted Niemi, a tall, lanky young man, sitting at the side of the room. Hile took a seat in the front row and immediately began taunting him, whispering loudly, “Yellow belly.” Niemi was clearly upset. The hearing concerned Niemi’s motion for an order of default— Hile’s failure to file an answer to a complaint in a lawsuit within the time allowed. The courtroom was crowded with attorneys waiting to argue their motions. When the judge called out Hile’s case, he and Niemi strode forward to the bench. Niemi could barely control himself as he recited the history of his dealings with Hile on the case. I remember his words. “Your Honor, I have never received such abuse from any attorney I have ever dealt with. His answer to our complaint was two weeks overdue and out of courtesy I called him to remind him and ask when I could expect the answer. I got a stream of insults. He called me a horse’s ass, Your Honor, and said I would get the answer when he was goddamned good and ready. So when I said if that was his answer I would file a motion for default, he said, ‘Just try it, yellow belly.’” At this point, seven years of lawyering in west seattle 37 Niemi’s voice was quavering with rage. “I filed the motion for default and...


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