August 31, 2020
Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley discusses Sylvester Powell, a former Mission, Kansas, mayor and well-known lawyer who recently passed away, and his personal experiences trying two cases against him. Buckley even faced Powell in his final court appearance, an unforgettable encounter in more ways than one.
The article, A Worthy and Entertaining Adversary, was published in the August 29 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.
There was a picture in The Kansas City Star last Sunday of the Mission, Kansas, city council and mayor from 70 years ago. I noticed in the photo that the mayor was Sylvester Powell, who was mayor from 1955 to 1965, and from 1977 until his death in 2002.
I knew him as Sylvester Powell, lawyer, and had the privilege of trying two cases against him. When you practice law for 40 years like I have, you encounter many characters. Syl Powell was one of them.
He and his longtime partner, Richard Heilbron, had a law firm called Heilbron & Powell. They were actually employees of Farmers Insurance Company. My first and only experience with Mr. Heilbron was in a case involving an injury to a 10-year-old boy. Mr. Heilbron came to our offices to take his deposition and began the deposition in a chair about 30 feet from the boy and began talking to him like he was his grandpa. Mr. Heilbron was a true gentleman and treated the boy well and fairly. He looked like my grandpa and acted like him too. It was tough beating grandpa.
Mr. Powell had a different style. He was gruff and crotchety. I always enjoyed having a case with him, although I was initially intimidated because of all of the stories I had heard about him.
The first case we had involved an automobile accident in which my client injured her wrist. A ganglion cyst developed on her wrist, and her surgeon who removed it said it was caused by the accident.
The offer I had received before I filed suit was too low and so I recommended that we file suit. One of my law school classmates, Lance LeFevre, worked for the Farmers Insurance law firm and had told me that Farmers always low-balled you prior to the lawsuit and normally paid about 20% more if you filed suit. Therefore, we filed suit.
Mr. Powell called me up and told me that they were withdrawing all offers. We had no choice but to try the case. I beat him at trial, and he appealed the jury’s verdict. We ultimately settled the case. His defense was that my client was in good physical condition and she liked to do pushups and her pushups caused the cyst. I am surprised he did not do pushups in front of the jury.