A Blog Voice Goes Silent

February 24, 2015 § 2 Comments

The blogosphere seems to be too young for its stars to begin winking out, but that is exactly what happened with the passing of Tom Freeland of Oxford, who died last Saturday at a young 59 years.

Tom first came to my attention as a reporting attorney on Jan Goodrich’s FOLO blog (now defunct). That blog bird-dogged various legal issues, and especially all of the litigation in which Dickie Scruggs was embroiled leading up to his spectacular criminal flame-out in 2007. Tom filled in important details for those following the cases, especially the criminal cases. Tom’s reporting was even referenced by the NYT in its reportage of the Scruggs affairs.

Tom began his own blog, NMissCommentor, in which he continued to share details of the Scruggs cases. He served up a large helping of entertaining general interest, as well. He posted about the Mississippi blues performers and blues culture, Mississippi music and musicians, and Mississippi writers. He talked about local food and recipes. There was political commentary, legal analysis, literary discussion, and general humor. His posts always drew a lively exchange of comments.

Tom was not only a blogger. He was a well-respected litigator and counselor who mentored many a young lawyer.

In sum, Tom was a civilized man and accomplished attorney who cared deeply about his home state and spoke through his blog to try to influence others.

The last time I saw Tom was last October the Friday before the Ole Miss – Alabama game. I had gotten an email from his wife, Joyce, inviting us to a soiree at their office off the Square in Oxford. Tom had hired a blues band to perform on the lawn in front of his law office, and the event was to honor former Gov. William Winter, who spoke to the assembled throng. There was a nice crowd. Many law students and recent law graduates were there. When Tom learned that we had in tow with us a couple who were Alabama fans, but were big Faulkner fans, too, Tom took time away from his other guests to take us on a tour of his office, which Faulkner frequented as a friend and client of Phil Stone, Tom’s dad’s law partner. Tom spun tales about Faulkner and Oxford, and had our bama friends in thrall. That was quintessential Tom, as I understand from his other friends who knew him far better than I did.

It’s hard to conceive that there will be no new, pithy posts on Tom’s blog to look forward to every week. I can’t imagine that there is another Mississippi blogger who could step into Tom’s shoes and offer a comparable range of insight into issues and things that matter to us in our state.

That’s a shame. There are niche legal blogs like this one, Philip Thomas’s, Jane Tucker’s, and Judge Griffis’s, and there is the acerbic and enigmatic Anderson. There are legal marketing blogs. But there is no one out there now with the breadth of Tom’s interests. He will be sorely missed. Sincere condolences to Joyce, their family, friends, colleagues, and staff.

A FEW THOUGHTS ON A LEGACY OF PROFESSIONALISM

May 15, 2012 § 3 Comments

Attorney Thomas Henry Freeland, III, of Oxford, died last Saturday. His daughter Lee’s brief, but touching, obit is posted on son Tom’s blog. You can read it here.

Mr. Freeland’s friends knew him as Hal. I did not know him, but from what I read about him he was one of those lawyers who set high standards for himself and demanded the same from those who worked with him. The respect he earned is clear in the comments on Tom’s blog.

One of those comments, by attorney Danny Lampley of Tupelo, brought me up short, and I hope he and Tom will forgive me for copying a part of it so you can read it here:

Small things I would overlook as an ignorant clerk were revealed to be important. I recall Hal crossing out incorrect phrasing in an acknowledgment and telling me the correct words to use; and he took the time to tell me why those words were better and explained how doing it one way would have an effect different from doing it the other way. I learned that just because everybody says “the law” is thus and such and “the cases say so” does not mean that is really “the law” nor is it necessarily what the cases said. I learned you gotta read ‘em and you have to understand what it is exactly that they say. I learned to always independently research an issue and to never assume that a rule is today what you thought it was yesterday. I learned how to be a lawyer; I only wish I could more often put it into actual practice.

Mr. Lampley learned how to be a lawyer from one who took professionalism seriously and who understood the care, devotion and attention that the law demands. Beyond learning the craft of lawyering, though, he learned the meaning of professionalism. And — this is important — there is a distiction between ethics and professionalism. Ethics requires that you practice in a way that conforms to both the letter and the spirit of rules of conduct. Professionalism is the style in which you approach and carry out those ethical requirements. Professionalism demands more than mere observance of the standards, Or, as Justice Mike Randoph told a gathering of chancery judges a few months ago: “The rules are the basic minimum. We expect much more than that.”

If you are a young lawyer, I encourage you to seek out a battle-scarred old warhorse who would be willing to be your mentor. If you are as fortunate as attorney Lampley, you will learn that mastery of the legal profession lies not in discovering the shortcuts, but rather in learning to love the hard work, devotion, attention to detail, study, creativity and long hours that it takes to achieve excellence.

Mr. Freeland left his family his own personal legacy, including two children who are, themselves, members of our profession. But far more than that, as those blog comments reveal, he left the legal profession richer by inculcating professionalism in those whom he mentored. I hope that someone will be able to write that about all of us when our days reach their end.

SCRUGGS-PETERS-DELAUGHTER CONNECT-THE-DOTS GAME

October 19, 2011 § 2 Comments

Of all the sad aspects of the Scruggs saga, the one that most troubles me is the chain of events that led to the downfall of Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter. Up to now, what we have known of his culpability could be gleaned from his own guilty plea and from reading between the lines of other disclosures. Ed Peters’ involvement, and how he interacted with DeLaughter, has been left mostly to conjecture and street gossip.

Thanks to motions filed by Scruggs in federal court, however, Peters’ grand jury testimony, or a portion of it, has been unsealed, and you can read for yourself the sordid details. Tom Freeland has summarized it, and has another post about it. You can read Peters’ testimony for yourself here and here. Freeland followed up with another couple of posts that you can find on his blog.  

Philip Thomas has a post questioning why Peters has never been prosecuted in state court.

Some had considered DeLaughter a sort of wunderkind of the bench. They expected special things of him after he stepped out of the role as prosecutor of Byron De la Beckwith into a circuit judgeship. But he was a long-time associate of Ed Peters, the Hinds County DA, and he allowed himself to be in a position to be influenced by Peters. Peters took advantage of the cozy relationship to demand hefty fees from clients who expected him to influence the circuit judge. Peters’ testimony reveals how they did it. 

It still turns my stomach to read this stuff, but it’s important for us to know and understand how this unfolded so that we can take measures to ensure that it will never happen again.

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