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.