Harwood "Bill Bannister died Tuesday February 9th. He was 95 years old and my former law partner as well as my mentor. Bill had been in a major Seattle law firm and he and his attorney wife Nancy, decided to move to Skagit County. He ran for county prosecutor in 1948 and always said how thankful he was that he lost the race because it gave him free publicity and he wouldn’t have liked the job had he won. He practiced in the same office in Mount Vernon as John Brisky, a former county clerk who became a Skagit court lawyer under the law clerk program without attending law school. After sharing office space with John, Bill opened a law office in the former Elks Club Building where the Skagit County Administration building is now located. Bill’s background included his experience as an assistant law librarian and a Washington State Bar Examiner. He also served on the Washington State Board of Governors. He was a very bright man with high ethical standards. His calmness and professionalism were his trade mark.

My legal career is intertwined with Bill and with Stan Bruhn who became my law partners. The history of my life in the law is directly involved with both of them. A brief history starts with Stanley K. Bhrun who was a Deputy Prosecutor in the 1950's and shared office space with attorney Warren Russell. Stan had a million dollar personality and attracted a lot of clients, many of whom he met playing golf because Stan was an excellent golfer.

I was admitted to the bar in 1959 and couldn’t find work in Skagit County until I was hired by prosecutor Walter "Jack" Deierlein as a deputy prosecutor, a position Stan Bruhn had also held. The other deputy prosecutor was Harry Follman. The prosecutor’s position was part time. That is, we all had a private law practice in addition to the prosecutor’s job. We moved into an office which was later the Kamb building on First Street. Also in the building were Rubin Youngquist, George McIntosh, Clyde Fowler and Jim Hammack.

I got to know Stan and I particularly got to know Bill through an Indian fishing trial. In 1960 Prosecutor Jack Deierlein charged a member of the Swinomish Indian Tribe, Joe McCoy, with illegal fishing. Bill Bannister had represented Tribal affairs for some time and was hired to defend the case on the issue of Indian treaty rights. Indian fishing had become a hot topic among white sports and commercial fishermen and the State Fisheries Department. The case took on state wide interest. It was tried to the bench, with Judge Charles Stafford presiding. I was assisting Jack and obviously not doing a very good job, because a newspaper clipping from that trial reported:

"Luvera said: ‘The white man gave the Indians the reservations to live on…’ Judge stafford interrupted saying: "The white man didn’t give the Indians anything. The Indians owned all this land and could hunt or fish wherever they pleased."

Needless to say, the same paper later headlined: "Indians win Fish Case" Bill Bannister had prevailed.

It was in 1962, that Stan and Bill approached me with the idea of forming a law partnership. Bill’s practice was estate planning, probate and general business. Stan was involved in the same area of practice and I was to be involved in general trial work as well as general law practice. On August 1, 1962 an announcement was made that our new firm would open the doors. I kept a letter from the Dean of the Gonzaga Law School, Smithmore Myers, who wrote my partners:

"I offer my sincere congratulations on the formation of your partnership together with the advice to try to keep Mr luvera under tight control right from the start or he will be very hard to handle."

Our new firm was located in the former Elks building where Bill had his office and which we expanded to accommodate all of us. The big advantage was you could walk out our back door and there was the County Court house. Nancy Bannister was the office manager and the firm was a general practice law firm. Later our firm moved to the building across from the Kamb building and where Brian Clark is located now on 1st Street in Mount Vernon. Brian became a partner of Stan and Bill after I left.

A couple of our early cases are particularly memorable to me. One involved a case that gained national attention. In 1962 Stanley defended Ron Bodey a 22 year old coast guardsman who had won first prize in so many salmon derbies he had become a local celebrity. Other salmon fisherman would follow him and look with binoculars to try to figure out how he did it. Bodey attributed his amazing skill to his secret salmon plug , but when he was later arrested trying to steal a large salmon from a salmon packing plant just before a major salmon derby, everyone knew his secret of success. With national spot light on the case, Body pled guilty.

Then in that year, I was asked to associate with Seattle plaintiff’s lawyer Hugh Miracle and his partner Howard Pruzan in the case of Carabba vs Anacortes School District. Steve Carabba had become a quadriplegic during a high school wrestling match when his opponent applied an illegal full nelson fracturing his neck. David Welt’s father, Robin along with Seattle defense lawyer Tom Lee and others represented the school district. King County judge Stanley Soderland presided. It was the longest jury trial in Skagit County history to that time. I had the privilege of sitting at counsel table throughout the trial and learning from the best as well as from one of the best judges in the state. The case resulted in a defense verdict which was overturned on appeal and a new trial ordered. The case settled before the new trial took place. That experience was my advanced college education on how to try a lawsuit.

After fifteen years of working together as law partners , I decided to open my own law office and on January 8, 1973 I moved into a house at 1002 South 3rd street. Jim Bishop Sr., at Skagit State Bank had agreed to loan me the money to buy it and for renovation. I practiced alone with C.Bob Davis as the claims investigator and a number of paralegals. It was a general practice with an emphasis on trial. I practiced alone, but also had associates from time to time like John Karp, now with Pemco Insurance company and John Kamb Jr. On April 30, 1977, Gilbert Mullen announced he was leaving Angevine and Johnson to associate with me at a different office location, 917 South 3rd, just across the street from the former office. Attorney Ken St. Clair leased the other office. After Bob left for better things, my high school friend and team mate Nick Petrish joined me as his replacement and has been with me ever since.

Thirty three years ago Lita Barnett joined me as an associate and never left because I married her. She is a full time partner in our present firm. Associates David Beninger , Susan Cook (now a Skagit Superir Court Judge) and Ralph Brindley joined the firm. After some years a partnership was formed with Joel Cunningham and the firm became Luvera, Barnett, Brindley, Beninger and Cunningham. As the trial practice grew, we decided to move our primary office to the Columbia Tower in Seattle, but maintained the Mount Vernon office as a branch office. We have been in the same office on the 67th floor for over a decade now, but we have added some attorneys since the firm was created: Robert Gellatly, Andy Hoyal, Patti Anderson, Deborah Martin and most recently, John Gagliardi are also members of the firm. We maintain our banch office in the same building in Mount Vernon, where Nick and several other paralegals are officed. Aas a past president of the Skagit County Bar, I have continously maintained my membership in that organization for fifty years. 

My legal career began with the training and instruction I received from Jack Deierlein and then from both Bill and Stan. Bill, however, taught me by his instruction and example, that great lawyers were ethical and honest. Bill was the single most professional and ethical lawyer I knew and his good example has been with me to this day. I am indebted to Harwood, Bill, Bannister for many things, all good and helpful. May he rest in peace.

One thought on “HARWOOD “BILL” BANNISTER February 9, 2010

  1. I would say your amazing career has been a living tribute to Mr Bannister. He sounds like he left quite a legacy in the legal world. I enjoyed reading how your firm got started and has progressed through the years. I smiled when I saw Susan Cook’s name. I sat on a jury Judge Cook presided over and she made quite an impression. During voir dire the defense counsel repeatedly mispronounced my name and I was reluctant to correct him. Finally Judge Cook interrupted his stammering attempt and pronounced my name for him. “Babarovich.” she said perfectly and then she turned to me “Sorry, Mrs. Babarovich, apparently Mr. So&So hasn’t spent much time on the other side of the bridge.” It was hard to keep a straight face and it made me her fan for life. Side note: Sitting on that jury actually became my favorite service because in addition to the memory of Judge Cook’s wonderful comment, I managed to turn the jury verdict around from guilty to not guilty. I’m sure this is probably one of the stories my family gets tired of hearing but I revel in that memory. I think it’s ironic that I ended up helping the defense attorney who couldn’t pronounce my name…and he’ll never know it.

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