Saturday, April 21, 2001

A storyteller


This lawyer may be last of kind

        People love to hear Pat Flannery tell a story. It's the telling that gets them — the way he doubles over with the force of his own amusement, eyes dancing under wisps of white hair.

        Never mind that whole truth thing.

        Mr. Flannery's tall tales and rumbling laugh excuse all manner of quirks: his habit of running a wee bit late, his outlandish criticism of Republicans, his fondness for a working barber chair that occupied his bedroom for 20 years.

Flannery
Flannery
        His Covington office is similarly jam-packed. There are hillbilly signs, stuffed pheasants, JFK busts and a metallic Jesus mounted on seashells.

        Presiding over it all is a 72-year-old Irishman who may be the last of a breed.

        “I'm not confident we'll see characters like him again in the practice of law,” says Steve Wolnitzek, a fellow attorney in Covington.

        Hence my gratitude to Kenton County District Judge Martin Sheehan, who nominated Mr. Flannery as one of his favorite characters.

        Mr. Flannery takes this as a compliment. He's been called worse.

        “I'm maybe the last of the old-style, New Deal liberals left over here,” he says. “Everyone in Northern Kentucky thinks I'm a Communist.”

        He laughs deeply at this and leans back in his chair.

NOMINATIONS
    Send me a few sentences about your favorite character — someone who makes you laugh, marches to a different beat, embraces his or her own oddness. E-mail: ksamples@enquirer.com. voice: (859) 578-5584. Mail: 226 Grandview, Fort Mitchell, Ky. 41017.
        “I always liked to think that particularly young lawyers were idealistic and interested in fighting the good fight for social justice,” he says.

        In that spirit, he attended Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech and John F. Kennedy's funeral. He picketed with striking coal miners in West Virginia and marched in protests against the Vietnam War.

        Born in Northern Kentucky and raised among the guests at his father's Covington hotel, Mr. Flannery has never worried much about keeping a schedule.

        Interesting people wander in and out of his office. Cheerful arguments ensue. This isn't like most law practices, with computers tracking billable hours and attorneys playing the lottery with class-action litigation.

        Mr. Flannery's former secretary, Debbie Smith, remembers his most famous case: a murder trial in the 1960s in which he used the then-novel defense of battered-wife syndrome to win an acquittal. Ms. Smith also recalls the aura of hospitality around her boss, a magnet for oddballs.

        One guy would show up with a snake around his neck. A man named Homer loved taking Mr. Flannery's mail to the post office.

        On a recent afternoon, Mr. Flannery laughed over the moose head in his hallway, which he claims came from an animal shot by Teddy Roosevelt. He laughed over losing a Covington City Commission race in the 1960s. And he laughed about his legendary second-place finish in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest. Of course, only first place was awarded, so, technically, everyone came in second.

        Mr. Flannery's laughter fills the room and embraces the afternoon. It says: Come in and sit for a while. Share a story or two. Life is supposed to be fun.
       



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