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.
He now has an unlisted address and phone number, and has installed a security system with cameras at his home, office and in his vehicles.
"There are a lot of crazy people out there — or maybe they weren’t crazy when they started out, but under stress, when they become incredibly stressed, they take it out on the lawyer," he said.
The American Bar Association doesn’t track threats or attacks on lawyers nationwide, but the State Bar of Nevada surveyed its members in 2012 and found that 40 percent of respondents had been threatened or assaulted at least once. The incidents described included stalking, dead animals left on doorsteps, slashed tires and broken windows. Eight percent of respondents said they had been physically assaulted.
ATTACKS AND THREATS
Indeed, news stories are full of accounts of attacks on lawyers around the country. Among the most recent:
• On December 13, 2012, a defendant in an attempted-murder trial in San Diego slashed the cheek of his lawyer, William Burgener, with a razor during court.
• On January 22, West Virginia lawyer Scott Radman was severely beaten by another attorney, S. Sean Murphy, in the Marion County, W.Va., courthouse.
• On January 30, an Oklahoma man facing assault charges attacked his lawyer, Larry Monard, in court, punching him in the face, grabbing his neck and kicking him.
• On January 31, Mark Hasse, the chief prosecutor in the district attorney’s office in Kaufman County, Texas, was shot and killed outside the courthouse where he worked.
• On February 3, the 28-year-old daughter of lawyer Randal Quan was shot to death, allegedly by one of her father’s former clients in Southern California — an ex-Los Angeles police officer.
Connecticut personal-injury lawyer Irving Pinsky said he received more than 50 death threats after he filed a notice (since withdrawn) that he planned to sue the state for $100 million on behalf of a child who survived the Sandy Hook ­massacre for failing to prevent the ­shooting.
Also, one of his office windows was shot out, a bullet lodged in the wall. "There’s a hate factor out there," he said. "I don’t want to say I don’t worry about it." Pinsky said that the FBI "is aware" of the threats, but declined to elaborate.
State Bar of Arizona president Amelia Cramer said that lawyer safety is an ongoing area of concern for the organization. In 2011, a lawyer in Yuma County, Ariz., was killed in a shooting rampage that left six dead. The lawyer, Jerrold Shelley, had represented the shooter’s ex-wife when they divorced.
Cramer said the Arizona bar plans to ask its 22,000 members whether they have been threatened or attacked. Anec­dotally, she already knows the answer is yes. She’s the chief deputy county attorney in Pima County, and in her 100-­lawyer office based in Tucson, she said, "Our prosecutors on multiple occasions each year for the last five years have been threatened."
After Mark was shot and killed, Cramer wrote that his "senseless killing raises questions about what more we can do within our profession to protect one another and our clients."
The bar released its file detailing a complaint that Harmon filed against Mark, alleging that he made "harassing and terrorizing phone calls." In a Decem­ber 15, 2012, letter to Mark, Harmon wrote, "I will expose you for what you are, with numerous documents depriving me and my family of requested documents to prove my case."
The dispute began when Harmon, who represented himself and was not a lawyer, sued Fusion in April in Maricopa County Superior Court. Fusion, which operates customer-service call centers, entered into a $47,000 contract with Harmon to refurbish office cubicles. The company paid him $30,000 before realizing that the cubicles could not in fact be refurbished and asked him to return much of the money.
Harmon filed suit, demanding the balance of the payments plus $20,000 in damages. The company countersued, and questioned whether Harmon’s sale of his home to his son for $26,000 was a fraudulent attempt to shield his assets.
It was "not the kind of case that might come to the firm all by itself," said Osborn partner Randall Nelson, but Fusion was a good, ongoing client, so Mark, a business litigator, was tapped to handled the matter.
In correspondence released by the bar, Mark seemed concerned about controlling the cost of the litigation. "I regret that you are choosing to make this litigation unnecessarily expensive and difficult," he wrote to Harmon on July 20. "I have not sent any ‘harassing’ or ‘intimidating’ emails, but have merely sought to communicate with you as necessary for the litigation of this case. I had thought that our exchanges had been relatively pleasant and cordial. I am sorry that you perceived things otherwise."
Harmon was not mollified, writing back on December 5, "I do not want you, or anyone from your firm, to ever call my residence again, and ‘harass’ my family.…If you feel the need to talk to me, you are to write me a letter to schedule a meeting."
On the morning of January 30, Mark and Singer, the Fusion CEO, met with Harmon in a Phoenix office building to discuss settling the case. Harmon shot them with a pistol, also wounding a bystander.
"I can’t imagine it," said Sara Greene, a former Osborn lawyer who worked with Mark closely. "I never saw him short-tempered or anxious.…In everything he did, he sought first to listen and understand."
Osborn partner Timothy Eckstein agreed, calling him a "decent, decent person to his core," with a playful side as well — Mark kept a unicycle in his office that he occasionally rode in the hallway.
He was a truly gifted lawyer, added Osborn’s Nelson. "I know people who were in the game for 20 years and didn’t have his knack," he said. "Frankly, I think he was born to do this."
Mark, who passed the bar in 2005 after earning the highest score on the exam, began his career as a reporter, writing for the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal after he graduated from journalism school.
He explained why he switched careers to Berkeley journalism school dean emeritus Neil Henry. In Henry’s book American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media, Mark said, "I came to realize that government officials are so well-trained in obfuscation and spin that it’s next to impossible to get a real answer to most questions you ask them. This continues to drive me absolutely nuts with people in general.…I met a lot of lawyers while working on stories, and I came to think of them as the people who really understood what’s going on, and the ones who can make real change in the final analysis."
Jenna Greene can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.