GREAT BEND, Kan. - In my 25 years of practicing law, the most unforgettable lawyer I ever met was Kerry Granger. A whole collage of words and phrases come to mind: colorful, champion of the little guy, eccentric, idealistic, flew by the seat of his pants, a dreamer.
When Granger was found dead of natural causes in his home Saturday afternoon, the Hutchinson News ran a front page "above the fold" story: "Popular Area Lawyer Found Dead in Home." Most lawyers pass away with little publicity, but, as Arthur Miller once wrote, "attention, attention, must finally be paid to such a man" as Kerry Granger.
Granger was unique in my profession because he didn't care about money. His only goal was to help people, and he would tell them: "Just pay me when you can." Sometimes when a person tried to represent himself in court, Granger would listen to the person stumble and bumble, and then stand up to come to the rescue: "Your Honor, I will represent this man."
Granger died with little or no assets, but his passing is mourned by "the little people" of Central Kansas. He fought for them in court with or without any guarantee of being paid. He was sort of a Mother Teresa with a legal pad, walking around looking for the next person to help. Sometimes "retaining" Granger involved buying him lunch or doing him some small favor.
Outside the municipal courtroom in Hutchinson, Granger would just show up, and lawyerless people would flock to him, ask him for help. For years he was known as "hundred dollar Granger" because a hundred dollar bill would secure his representation on even the most complex of cases. But the "small potatoes" cases in municipal court (e.g., speeding tickets, dog-at-large tickets) he often did for free.
Once, a lawyer saw Granger open his wallet outside the Hutchinson Municipal Court.
In his wallet, there was a strange cardboard divider between a group of small bills, and another group of larger bills. "Why do you segregate your cash with that cardboard thing?" the lawyer asked.
"Oh, the small bills on one side of the divider are mine," he said. The bigger bills on the other side belonged to clients: "My client trust account is on that other side," said Granger.
Lawyers aren't supposed to vouch for a witnesses' credibility, but Granger often threw caution to the wind in arguing for his clients: "Your Honor, I have known Billy Thompson since he was a newborn. And I have known his beloved mother for over 30 years. And there is no finer family in Hutchinson than the Thompsons!"
And his clothing? He was the only lawyer I knew who literally didn't care how he looked. He was sort of like the TV detective "Columbo," stumbling his way into the truth.
But in terms of his idealogy, he reminds me of another lawyer: Atticus Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Granger was like Atticus Finch, but with messed up hair and a bad suit. He was an idealistic liberal in a tough place to be a liberal: Hutchinson, Kansas. Like Atticus Finch, he took on unpopular causes, and really believed in the system of justice in America.
For years he practiced law without a phone or office. He would meet clients at McDonalds or another restaurant to discuss the case. According to the Hutchinson News, judges and clerks who were frustrated about his inaccessibility went on "Granger hunts," which were attempts to get messages to him by third parties.
But the story of the rumpled lawyer, the champion of the little guy, leaves out a major part of Granger's story. He was actually a "Renaissance Man," fascinated by operas, music, books and world travel. His world travels took him to Kosovo, Russia, China, Budapest, The Amazon, Mexico and South Africa. His world travels were so mysterious that some joked that he was an undercover CIA man disguising himself as a small-town lawyer.
And who would have thought of Granger as an aficionado of opera? He attended the Seattle Orchestra's rendition of Wagner's "Circle of Life" in Seattle and enjoyed it thoroughly. The "Circle of Life" is actually four operas in one, comprising Wagner's "Ring Cycle." It is so lengthy (twenty hours) that a substitute orchestra plays the second half, due to the exhaustion of the first orchestra. But Granger sat still throughout the performance, taking it all in.
My favorite story about Granger involves a man from Sterling, Kansas who was vacationing in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The tourist was stuck in "Standing Room Only" at an elite opera performance in Santa Fe. He was dressed extremely informally, just glad to get to stand to hear the performance.
The man from Sterling decided to walk up toward the stage briefly just to get a good look at things, and was shocked to see his friend Kerry Granger, sitting on the fourth row, impeccably dressed in a tuxedo. How did Granger get those seats? And why was he dressed in formal wear? Who knows? But Granger was a complicated man, far more complicated than most knew.
His easy manner and rapport with the "little guy"---the butcher, the baker, the policeman on the beat---suggests an easy going guy with little formality. Yet in his conversations with other lawyers and judges, he would use stilted, formal language, like something from Shakespeare. The last time I saw him, I said "Hi, Kerry." "Mr. Keenan," he said. "It's great to see you, and in such fine form, I might add."
He often greeted judges in their chambers with formalistic greetings like: "How are things in the Temple of Justice today?"
I barely knew Granger, but I liked and admired him. Many lawyers seem almost indistinguishable from one another, all wearing dark suits and power ties, carrying their briefcases. But Granger was different. And it was a good kind of different.
Living in conservative rural Kansas, Granger seemed to belong to all the wrong clubs: he was a Democrat, a Unitarian, and a member of the ACLU. But Granger, a graduate of George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C., seemed to relish the role of the outsider, the gadfly.
He was one-of-a-kind in a cookie cutter world. And he was the most unforgettable lawyer I ever met.