On June 8, 1999 during the 6:00 p.m. news, Jackson’s WLBT ran a story by reporter Bert Case about Governor Fordice, who had just returned from a trip to Paris. Someone had recognized the Governor and a woman who was not his wife on a connecting flight from Atlanta to Memphis and snapped a picture at the airport. This was before everyone had a camera with them at all times.
The Governor had been reacquainted with Ann Creson, an old girlfriend, when he attended a reunion in Memphis in 1992, which was the same year I graduated from high school. He and the First Lady, Pat, later made public statements about their marriage, which created a challenging political time for the Governor, a wealthy contractor who was the state’s first Republican to hold the seat since 1876. The First Lady was stubborn, and the people of Mississippi loved her. She was unwilling to leave her marriage and more importantly her status as First Lady.
It was like Mississippi had two heads of state.
A few years after he and the First Lady went public with their problems, Governor Fordice was almost killed north of Grenada when he was traveling back to the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson down I-55 South in a green Jeep Cherokee after a rendezvous with Ann in Memphis. This was 1996. The same year I graduated from college. I would become a lawyer three years later.
The key video footage in the news report by Case depicted the governor, who the reporter had summoned from the window of his car. Fordice was headed to check his mailbox, his black labrador retriever at his side. This was only a few days after the photograph went public.
“Hello Governor. How are you?” said Case in a chipper voice.
“I guess you get paid for this Bert,” sighed Fordice, quickly followed by these words that became famous in Mississippi.
“Let me tell you something.. you invade my privacy this way six months from now, I’ll whip your ass. You have no damn business playing these games.”
The newscast continued as Case reported “We have learned Mrs. Fordice has spoken to one of Jackson’s most prominent divorce attorneys, but she has yet to file any action.”
I have told the story about getting fired from my first job as an attorney many times – usually to classrooms full of future attorneys at Ole Miss or Mississippi College. I guess it has been my way of dealing with the pain of the circumstances and evangelizing how God’s provision always seems to be a few steps ahead of our plans. Obviously, in hindsight, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me professionally.
As I said in Part 1 of this article, LC was a brilliant attorney. The quote under his senior picture in his high school yearbook said, “If LC’s brain was dynamite, he could blow up the world.” He effortlessly helped clients solve their complex legal problems. By the time I met LC in January of 2000, the Fordice divorce was over. I knew nothing about LC’s involvement. I was just looking for a place to work. While LC did directly teach me the law from time to time, I mostly absorbed legal skills by watching and listening to him in the office, adapting what I saw him do to my own personality and style. He let me sit in dozens of meetings and prepare routine paperwork for him, which he would graciously critique with handwritten notations. I would pay attention as he walked the halls of the office with a microcassette recorder in hand, he used to dictate letters. LC did not have a computer on his desk the entire time I knew him, although he ironically developed an addiction to eBay. To create his legal product, he would find a copy of an old letter or pleading and use it as a template from which he would orally shape his writing with the help of an office administrator who would type for him. I can still hear his melodic voice in my head if I close my eyes.
“Let’s prepare the following correspondence in the Jones case. Use the re line and address from the previous letter to counsel dated August 14, 2001.”
LC liked to tell stories about lawyers with whom he was in relationship through the years, like Bob King, Ross Barnett, Sr. and Sam Wilkins. He was a tremendous tennis player, and he liked to drink wine at the office in the afternoons. He was a dedicated shopper, especially if he thought something was a “good deal.” Everything was a negotiation for LC. To him, it was a professional sport.
And he was very, very good at it.
One year at the annual Junior Auxiliary Gala, he bought a Porsche in the live auction.
Yes. A Porsche.
As time went on, I noticed his clientele was probably seventy percent women, and he liked to flirt with the one’s who did not annoy him. Reminiscent of Governor Fordice’s comments to Bert Case, I once heard him tell a lawyer who was about my age that he was going to hang up the phone, get in his car, drive to his office and whip his ass before slamming down the phone. Lots of people were afraid of LC. He would say jokingly it was because he was hairy. LC was really funny, but you had to pay close attention to what he said or you would miss it.
At some point before I met my future legal mentor, he had divorced the mother of his three children and married a former client. I later became friends with his son, David, who has become a tremendous attorney in his own right. He is also hilarious. LC’s former wife is a lovely person who went on to marry a pastor, and she continued to serve as his accounts payable staff member for the rest of LC’s life.
LC was a collector. He stockpiled beanie babies, Asian figurines, artwork and he had a Rolex or Tag Heuer for every day of the month. He also collected oriental rugs. Lots of them. So many when he moved his offices to Ridgeland, he had them stacked in empty rooms several feet high. He hosted some of our work colleagues to his house around Christmastime one year, and he had more Christmas décor in his home than one would see in most holiday boutiques. David once opined that if LC had a Post-It-sized space on his wall, he would find a Post-It-sized painting to fill the space.
My father died at the age of 83. He met LC a few times, even doing some electrical work at his house. LC was not very mechanically inclined. When we were moving out of his office downtown, we found all sorts of things, including a small handgun. LC did not know how to operate it, so he was going to fire it into the couch in his upstairs office until it was empty. I took the gun from him before he did, and I unloaded it. I still have the gun in my safe. At my dad’s funeral he told me something I have never forgotten, which gave me great comfort.
“Craig, if we could all be guaranteed 83 years today, we would happily accept the offer.”
We lost LC at the age of 76.
After I finished all of my contract assignments with LC, I went on to work several cases opposite of him —some big and some small. He was always a gentleman to me, and we settled every case we had together, thankfully never facing off in a courtroom. In the months before he died, I was trying to arrange for LC to be a guest on our podcast. He was another imperfect father figure in my life, along with my dad, Coach Polk and others. I would have loved to have a recording where I could hear my dad talking about his life, but we never made the time. I felt compelled to not make the same mistake with LC. The following is an email LC dictated to his secretary sent to me ten months before he died:
I am flattered that you would want me to participate in one of your podcasts, and I am also proud of the relationship that you and I have developed and maintained over these last many years.
I knew that after working with you that you were one of the few associates that I have ever had over these last many years who could establish his own separate successful law practice, which you have certainly done. You have demonstrated an extremely hard work ethic, dedication to your clients, and a professional and personal integrity and respect which few attorneys seem to possess.
I will hopefully be able to get with you and Matt to discuss available dates for me to take you up on your offer to be a part of your podcast program. The way things are shaping up around here, it may not be until I return from Cleveland Clinic before it can be done, but I do look forward to the opportunity.
With all respect,
LC always signed his letters, “Very Truly Yours.” It was not until I started writing this post did I realize he signed this one, “With all respect.” Reminds me of the interaction I had with my Daddy after vascular disease created the necessity for his leg to be amputated which robbed him of his independence for the remainder of his life. When my dad came back after surgery, I looked him in his hazel eyes and said, “Daddy, I am proud of you.”
He looked back from his hospital bed and said, “I’m proud of you too, son.”
I cherish those words, just like I do the respect of LC James – a giant among family law practitioners in Mississippi.
Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling. For over 24 years, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. You will want him in your corner because he knows the things you care about deeply are at stake, and he will counsel you about wholistic modalities to foster health and wellbeing. He was a contract attorney for Honorable LC James for eight years.