EDITOR'S NOTE: NLJ Reporter Jenna Greene wrote this essay about a journalism classmate turned lawyer who was killed last month, along with his client, during a mediation.
In my journalism school class at the University of California, Berkeley, there were a few in-your-face, abrasive people, the type who seemed to enjoy confrontation.
Mark Hummels was not one of them. I remember him as unflappable, sunny and kind, someone who listened more than he spoke. He rode a unicycle and played the ukulele.
He was possibly the last person I would expect to be the victim of a murderous rampage.
Mark went on to the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law after several years as a reporter. And on January 30, he was in Phoenix doing what lawyers do: representing his client, Fusion Contact Centers CEO Steven Singer, in a mediation. Across the table was 70-year-old Arthur Harmon, who was in a dispute with Singer over a $47,000 contract for office cubicles.
Harmon pulled a gun and shot both Mark and Singer. Singer died a few hours later. Mark, who was shot in the back and neck, died the following evening, when he was removed from life support. Harmon fled the scene and was later found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A rising star at the 50-lawyer Osborn Maledon, Mark graduated first in his law school class, made partner in five years and was the current president of the Federal Bar Association in Phoenix. He was 43 and left behind a wife and two children, ages 7 and 9.
"It's inexplicable," said Judge Andrew Hurwitz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who hired him as a clerk in 2004 when he was a justice on the Arizona Supreme Court. "It's a senseless and awful tragedy. He was the kind of person who made me feel good about the future of the profession. It's just devastating."
I can't help but think: If this could happen to Mark, it could happen to anyone.
LAWYERS AS TARGETS
The phenomenon of lawyers as targets is not new. The 1993 massacre at the San Francisco law firm Pettit & Martin by a former client who shot eight people to death put the issue of security on the map for lawyers and firms. Doors are now kept locked; buildings have guards in the lobby and closed-circuit cameras.
Still, dangers persist, especially for those who practice criminal, divorce and family law.
"I think it's far more prevalent than lawyers want to realize," said Alabama solo practitioner Richard Jensen, who in 17 years as a lawyer said he has received two credible death threats and had his property vandalized.
In one instance, his wife discovered a former client in a child custody case parked in their driveway with a rifle, waiting for Jensen. Another woman who had her children placed in foster care drove her truck through the pasture fence on his farm and attempted to run over his 6-year-old son. "The police and I took her down at gunpoint," said Jensen, a former police officer who carries a concealed weapon.