Monday, November 8, 2010

A Mystery by Shane Cashion

I share office space with four other law firms. One of the perks of this arrangement is that I get to sift through their mail for the expensive journals the ABA and others put out. I tear through the pages devoted to substantive legal issues looking for sensational articles about lawyers in trouble. From what I'm reading, lack of civility among lawyers and judges is becoming a real concern for the profession. Thankfully, where I practice, bad behavior isn't much of an issue. Now, that isn't to say there isn't the occasional flare up.

I remember hearing a few years back about a couple of enraged lawyers exchanging blows outside the courtroom after a particularly nasty hearing. Allegedly, it took three bailiffs to subdue them. More recently, in an act silently applauded by most, a lawyer slapped a court clerk in the face for refusing to let her see a file. But these incidents are few and far between, and back page news compared to what's going on at a law firm down the street from my office. Theirs is the stuff of mystery novels, legal thrillers, and murderous musings.

On December 19, 2006, Ernie Brasier, an insurance defense lawyer with what was then called Boggs, Boggs, & Bates, was found dead in the office of one of his co-workers, Daniel Bennett, at just after seven in the evening. At first blush, it appeared that he had had a heart attack, until medical examiners later found a small bullet wound that had been concealed by his hair. The obvious question became: did the killer get the right man?

As far as lawyers go, Bennett didn't fit the traditional mold. He started law school in his late thirties after a long career in the military, had tattoos covering both arms, and allegedly hung out in rough, blue-collared bars. Just weeks before Brasier's murder, Bennett had divorced his wife and taken a leave of absence from the firm. He said that he felt burned out and was going to Central America to explore the possibility of opening a bar with his son, and that he'd be back to work by mid-December. He never went back to the firm, although he did return to St. Louis in early 2007.

Detectives immediately interviewed Bennett to see if perhaps the murderer had actually been looking for him. He reportedly told investigators that he wasn't being targeted. In September of 2007, Bennett was found dead in his apartment. The autopsy indicated that he had died of heart disease, despite being only 48.

So why Ernie Brasier? By all accounts, he was liked by his peers and considered to be a fine defense lawyer who took great pride in his work. Various articles written after the murder relate that his only occupational complaint was that he was consumed with trying to keep up with his firm's rigorous billing requirements. What's interesting is that just before his murder, the firm had received an anonymous memo complaining of billing fraud. Then, in 2006, just after his murder, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel notified the head of the firm, Beth Boggs, that it had received a similar letter. Brasier's wife wondered if her husband had been the source of the letters. An investigation was opened and on March 18, 2008, Boggs received a letter of admonition from the bar.

The following month, Mark Bates, as in Boggs, Boggs, & Bates, left the firm to join another local law firm.

Almost four years had passed since Ernie's murder without reports of any significant leads. To the gossiping public, it seemed the case had gone cold and the mystery of his death would never be solved. Then, just six weeks ago, two pipe bombs exploded at Beth Boggs' house where she resides with her husband, who also happens to be a partner at the firm. No one was injured as the two weren't home at the time of the explosion.

In another strange twist, on October 22, 2010, local police and ATF agents converged on the residence of Mark Bates in search of evidence related to the bombing. According to local papers he wasn't charged with any wrongdoing. To date, investigators have not said whether the bombing is linked to Ernie's 2006 murder, but the investigation remains open in what is becoming quite a local mystery.

11 comments:

Jean Henry Mead said...

Fascinating story, Shane, and the basis for a good mystery novel. Are you considering writing one?

Shane Cashion said...

Thanks. I suspect more details will come out soon. Unrelated to this post, I have another emerging story that would make for a great mystery. I've begun putting pen to paper with another lawyer, but we're moving very slowly. If we don't pick up the pace, I may just send the meat of the story over to you to see if you'll write it! :)

Ben Small said...

Good story, Shane. Would you mind editing it so it shows "by Shane Cashion" under the heading. The reason? I somehow have linked Murderous Musings to my FB page, and it will appear as my work unless indicated otherwise. I'd hate to steal credit for someone else's work.

Funny story re the decline in civility. I was once involved in a shareholder derivative and class action suit, one of many, in which Griffin Bell, former U.S. Attorney General and a true Southern gentleman and Harvey Pitt, former SEC Chairman, among other honchos, were sitting, as we worked through how we'd coordinate the suits. They broke out into an argument, two distinguished fat guys. Well, Griffin broke into some curses, southern syrup applied, I'd never heard before. Chairs groaned as large butts shifted, and both of them lunged forward on the table. Sitting next to Harvey, I tried to pull him back, and his sweat slicked my hands. A lawyer who had formerly represented Ivan Boesky yanked Griffin back at the same time. I swear, I thought the table was gonna cave. As we walked out of the room, we had to be careful to keep these two legends from head butts or other conduct for which the NFL would now impose fines, and Harvey leaned over to me and said, "Jesus, I'm too old and fat for this." Both came back and made up, but needless to say, things were a bit tense after that. And then we brought on Bork. Don't get me started on him... :)

Shane Cashion said...

That's hilarious! Along those lines, I'm sure you've seen it by now, but if not, plug in Texas Style Deposition on YouTube. It's a depo involving Joe Jumail. Your story reminded me of it.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I've been toying with the idea of a novel based on Gerry Spence the late Gov. Ed Herschler, who were good friends but made each other furious in the courtroom. Gov. Ed told me that he would lose his breakfast every morning when he knew he was facing Spence in the courtroom that day. I liked them both but Spence is both charming and outrageous.

Pat Browning said...

Re Gerry Spence. If you do write a novel about him I can guarantee you at least one reader -- my brother, who is a District Judge in Norman, OK. He was so taken by Spence that a few years ago he drove to Jackson, WYO (I think) where Spence was appearing at some kind of workshop, just to meet and hear him.

I've lost track of Spence. Is he still alive?

Jean Henry Mead said...

Pat,

The last I heard he had celebrated his 81st birthday in his hometown of Jackson, Wyoming. I think his son and a partner now run the firm, but Gerry's photo was featured on our phone book back cover last year in a full page ad for Spence and Associates. He may still have his hand in on occasion.

Shane Cashion said...

I believe he's still alive. He started a trial lawyers college or workshop or something like that where he teaches trial tips to practicing lawyers. I'm sure it's been a big success. I remember I was in court one time and the judge wouldn't let the other lawyer's evidence in so he pulled out an evidence brochure he had from Spence's course as a reference. I thought it was funny. Not too long ago I saw his home (I believe in Wyoming) featured on cable television. It was really spectacular.

Ben Small said...

Shane, I saw that vid years ago. It's outrageous. It was shown to a group of lawyers by the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court, N.E. Illinois. He was not a happy camper about it, said his court would impose sanctions if such conduct was brought to his attention on one of his cases. He was appealing for more civility. I think he message failed to get through in many areas.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Shane, I apologize for overriding your blog article yesterday. I'm juggling galleys and a number of other things and got a day ahead of myself. :(

Steve E Wonder said...

I was a law school friend of Ernie's and know his wonderful wife Pat from those days also. There is no one more likeable than Ernie was - think Greg Kinnear with dark hair. What a horrible unsolved tragedy for his friends and family. It hurts to think about what happened to him.