Parker Thomson, an elder statesman of the Florida Bar and admired constitutional scholar, doesn’t believe law can solve all of society’s problems.
Take doctor-assisted suicide. He appealed a case that ended in 1997 with the Florida Supreme Court deferring to the Legislature, which did nothing. The law that prevented the suicide of Charles Hall, 35, who was dying painfully of AIDS, stayed on the books.
“It was sort of a gut-wrenching issue,” Thomson said. “My personal belief is that doctors take care of things like this with mercy and understanding, and sometimes they make a mistake.”
Thomson said he learned through his work for juvenile justice that institutions must be allowed to make mistakes. If courts address moral quandaries prematurely, they risk provoking disrespect for the legal system.
“I became a believer that the Legislature had a right to be wrong, and you don’t want to constitutionalize everything because then the Legislature can’t learn to be right,” he said.
Still, many would say Thomson, 81, has devoted the greatest part of his career to pro bono cases that persuade the courts to take the best progressive course.
Just out of Harvard with an L.L.B., Thomson went to Ropes & Gray and worked with a young partner named James Vorenberg, later a dean of Harvard Law School. Vorenberg counseled a Cambridge good-government group.
“James Vorenberg was instrumental in convincing me … that we have an overlawyered society, and therefore lawyers have a responsibility to do more than just make money, though that’s a nice thing to make,” Thomson said. “I’m not opposed to money; it’s how you educate your children.”
In 1961 he moved to Miami and joined a like-minded colleague, Dan Paul, in a firm they called Paul and Thomson. Thomson credits Paul as founder and manager.
“I’m the last person you want to run a law firm,” he said. “That’s not something I’m good at.”
After 22 years, the senior partners split up.
“Word on the street was that Dan got the house and I got the children,” Thomson recalled. Paul and junior partner Franklin Burt stayed and formed Paul & Burt. Thomson and the other juniors left to launch Thomson, Zeder, Bohrer, Werth, Adorno & Razook.
As of Jan. 1, Thomson is of counsel at Hogan Lovells. He’s trying for a statewide rule to effectuate his firm’s victory last year on behalf of overworked public defenders. Having led the charge to build Miami’s new performing arts center, he’s helping his daughter with a mass transit project.
Retirement doesn’t beckon.
“I don’t intend to retire because I’ve still got a lot of things I do, and this is a good platform.”