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What Would You Do?

It was the day of the final hearing in a heavily litigated case and one of the lawyers was drunk. As the judge in the case, I didn’t know it, but the lawyer representing the other party had been talking to opposing counsel before I entered the hearing room and could tell. The sober lawyer said, “Your honor, I’d like to request a continuance.” The tipsy lawyer, mildly slurring his words, objected. “My client and I are ready to proceed,” he said. By this time, I realized there was a problem and granted the motion. Later, I found out that the unimpaired lawyer drove the impaired lawyer home and personally took responsibility for helping his colleague get help with his drinking problem.

The point is simple. Those of us working in the field of workers’ compensation litigation should not lose sight of the fact that our fellow lawyers and judges are real people who deserve our respect and even our compassion. The sober lawyer that day could have done any number of other things. He could have publicly accused his fellow lawyer of being intoxicated. He could have said nothing and sought to proceed with the hearing so he could win the case by exploiting the situation. Instead, he asked for a continuance without blaming his colleague for the problem. I will never forget it.

Kennie Edwards

In September of 1996, a deranged injured worker with a gun forced entry into Mr. Edwards’ law office and took hostages. One attorney was shot in the arm and fortunately survived. Mr. Edwards was tragically shot and killed while defending his staff and fellow attorneys.

Every year the Palm Beach County Bar Association hosts a seminar on workers’ compensation. Several presentations and panels are presented by judges, lawyers, and physicians on various workers’ compensation issues. The seminar culminates, however, with the presentation of the Kennie Edwards award for professionalism. Each year the former winners of this prestigious award vote as to who will be the next recipient of this honor. Candidates are nominated by the past winners based upon their integrity, demeanor, and professionalism, both in and out of the hearing room. All qualities exemplified by Kennie Edwards.

I never met Kennie Edwards, but I did have the opportunity to meet and talk with his son and other individuals who knew him well. Mr. Edwards was everything a professional should be. He was always fair and respectful in his dealings with clients, judges, and opposing attorneys. Everything I have heard about him tells me that he exemplified all of the qualities of professionalism. But even if I knew nothing about the man, the events of that dark day in September of 1996 would tell me everything I would ever need to know about him. Mr. Edwards died while trying to defend his employees and coworkers from the gunman. As I listen to the recounting of what happened that fateful day, I am compelled to ask myself what kind of person places himself in front of an angry armed gunman to defend others? The answer is obvious; a hero. Mr. Edwards gave the ultimate sacrifice, his own life, to ensure the safety of his employees and co-workers.

The Kennie Edwards award serves not as a memorial, but instead as an honor and tribute as to how Mr. Edwards lived his life and conducted himself as an attorney. I have reviewed, in many affidavits and verified petitions, proud recipients of this award in support of their claims for attorney’s fees. It is an award that is given only to those select few who exhibit the qualities that Mr. Edwards did during his time with us. We should all strive to live up to the legacy Mr. Edwards left behind. As the award states, it is given to the attorney who best exemplifies qualities of professionalism admired in Mr. Edwards; honesty, integrity, cordiality, good humor, high ethical standards, and advocacy tempered with a sense of humility.

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