Tom Pickert was an outstanding lawyer, by all accounts around the local bar. Our paths never crossed, at least as recollection says, but our circles overlap considerably. Word of his death came via the listserv of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, just as a few of us were walking into the Association’s membership meeting in Kansas City. When the president announced the tragedy to the group, quite a few gasps came out, from those who hadn’t read the email on their phones, along with a few tears from those who knew him.
Pickert was supposed to have been in that room, having lunch with his colleagues, perhaps at my table or at the one next to it. Instead, he had been gunned down on his own front porch three hours earlier, while I sipped my morning coffee just a few blocks across our bucolic neighborhood.
We didn’t know each other, except by his reputation, but the profession we both chose was targeted this morning. Tom was murdered because he was good at his job. He was gunned down on his own front porch because an arrogant, evil, psychotic defendant refused to accept that a jury of his peers said he was wrong. Oddly enough, the jury said he was wrong to gun down somebody else, Tom’s client. [The defendant shot a homeless guy’s leg off with an AK-47, because the homeless guy was stealing from his business, so he said. The man kept an AK-47 at the office. Let that seep in for a minute.] Pickert was assassinated– because he had the courage to stand up and point a finger at a defendant with an itchy finger.
This tragedy is the natural confluence of, on one hand, a sick and twisted attachment to firearms, and on the other an insidious hatred of lawyers. “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” is a popular sentiment among the Tea Party contingent—of which David Jungerman was apparently a part. They fail to realize that Shakespeare put those words into the mouth of a spiteful antagonist hell bent on the overthrow of society. They fail to realize that the libertarian ideals they purport to hold so dear were devised by men in the very profession they disdain.
Now, to be sure, the Right Wing will tell you that they don’t hate all lawyers. Just plaintiffs’ lawyers. You know, those ambulance chasers who brings frivolous lawsuits against good, god-fearing job creators and needlessly raise the cost of doing business. Those charlatans who drain billions from the economy each year over such stupidity as a woman spilling hot coffee in her lap.*
But the sad thing is, that’s a specious argument no matter how you slice it. Set aside criticism of lawyers who are handsomely compensated for bringing suits on behalf of plaintiffs. Set aside the court-imposed sanctions that we’re subject to if we bring cases without merit. David Jungerman seemingly hates all lawyers. So much so that he represented himself in the trial that Tom Pickert won. So much so that, if he’s not already dead by his own hand, he’ll likely refuse to have one of us defend him at his trial for this.
Our profession was targeted today, and Tom Pickert paid the price, because he was one of us. The sons he walked to school—just minutes before his death—will cry themselves to sleep, no doubt next to their mother, who will wake up tomorrow for the first time without her husband. They’re paying an even bigger price.
Now, to be sure, the facts aren’t all in. As of this writing David Jungerman hasn’t been captured or charged. He is due a fair and impartial trial, and in all likelihood Tom Pickert would be the first to stand up in his defense before the horde calling for his head.
Because a lawyer’s first and last objective is justice. We should all share that objective. Plaintiffs’ lawyers, corporate counsel, prosecutors, public defenders… all of us mourn Tom Pickert tonight. And we’ll stand up again tomorrow to fight the good fight.
* If you still buy into that garbage about the coffee case, watch the documentary film Hot Coffee, which tells the real story behind Stella Libeck’s suit over McDonald’s 200-degree coffee—and those of other tort plaintiffs—in a form that wasn’t written by corporate America. The part the smartasses leave out when they mock that poor woman: your coffeepot at home brews at 200 (if it’s good), but it runs about 140 at warming temp. McDonald’s, prior to the suit? Maintain that stuff at 200 or better, so we have to throw less of it out. That’s just a few shy of boiling, y’all. But that’s how they handed the cup to her, all in the interest of saving thirty-seven cents per wasted cup. [Yes, I fabricated that number.]