By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
There were a couple of reasons why Hoover vs. Cain wasn't your typical probate-court lawsuit. First was the case itself. Oh, sure, from the way 33-year-old Dallas lawyer Wes Holmes described the dispute to a panel of prospective jurors, it sounded ordinary: 28-year-old Melissa Rene McReynolds and her sister, 36-year-old Rynda Sue Hoover, were suing their father, Mel McReynolds, and two of his friends, Gerald Cain and Donald Baker, for draining money from their trusts. Yet at its heart, this case appeared to be less about the usual litigation fuel, money, than about anger--the rage of two daughters spurned by their father. After all, the amounts Mel McReynolds was alleged to have pilfered from his daughters' trusts were small: $4,800 here, $2,500 there. There was the suggestion that Dad and his daughters might not have seen each other in some time and fleeting mention of a long-ago divorce. And most of all there was the unusually uptight bearing and stiff half-smiles of Holmes' clients--body language that appeared to mask a Krakatoan fury.
The second oddity of Hoover vs. Cain was the reporter sitting in the courtroom--an event so rare in Dallas County's probate courts that everyone from the bailiff to the defense attorney stopped to ask what was newsworthy about this case.
The answer was nothing; it was the plaintiff's lawyers who were the attraction. The earnest young men representing McReynolds and Hoover were also representing another angry woman: Paula Corbin Jones.
Holmes and his partner, 30-year-old McCord Wilson, took the presence of the press in stride. Clad in neo-Reagan era attire--navy blue Brooks Brothers suit, white button-down shirt, striped tie--the clean-cut, prematurely balding young Holmes faced the panel. "Is there anyone here who thinks that children should never sue their parents?" he asked. Beside him, helping to scan the faces of the 24-person jury pool, was Wilson, who in glasses resembles Clark Kent. Contrary to what one might expect from news accounts from Jones' sexual harassment case against President Clinton, they didn't seem like right-wing nut jobs: They didn't rant, didn't rave, and didn't foam at the mouth. Instead, they were quiet, rational, straightforward and, above all, extremely polite.
They did take the moral high road, eschewing theatrics and melodrama in favor of a vaguely Joe Friday, just-the-facts-ma'am style. They didn't mention that Mel McReynolds had divorced Mom and married his bookkeeper, didn't dwell on the fact that Dad hadn't called his daughters in 14 years. Instead, they toed the line of propriety: How many jurors believed in tort reform? How many had served on juries before, and how did they vote? Had anyone heard of Holmes' firm, Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke, which had been in the paper a lot lately, thanks to the fact that they represented Jones? No one would hold that against Holmes' clients, would they?
The thought that these nice young men might be tormenting President Clinton provoked a collective shrug.
By contrast, Mike Handy, Mel McReynolds' lawyer, was all touchy-feely empathy and solicitousness, wanting to know how the jury felt, what they thought, what kind of bumper stickers they had on their cars. Handy's courtroom demeanor was rather at odds with his scorched-earth behind-the-scenes defense; in depositions, the lawyer had bludgeoned McReynolds' daughters about drug use, their sex lives, even about a long-ago abortion. But the judge had ruled this material out of bounds, and so Handy was left to face the jury with naught but baleful expression, as if meditating on how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have thankless children. This pained countenance vanished whenever the jury left the courtroom.
Sincerity went to Holmes and Wilson.
Ditto for skill. Though a full decade younger than their opponent, the plaintiffs' lawyers had the edge in handling evidence and witnesses. Even more important, they showed superior judgment. When Mel McReynolds broke down on the stand, giving a long, rambling, self-serving account of how he had tried to be a good father, they didn't cut him off. For the most part, they didn't needlessly object. They didn't get rattled, didn't let their tempers show.
They made their mistakes too. "My take was that Wes and [McCord] calculated damages wrong," says Tom Bravenec, the daughters' stepfather. "And they have a lot to learn yet, in handling juries from an emotional point of view. But I think both of them are extremely talented young lawyers. And what they're lacking in worldly experience with juries, they make up for in ethics and morals and plain smarts."
All in all, a solid performance--especially for trial lawyers so tender in age. Ten days after the case began, the jury of three men and three women returned with a verdict for the plaintiffs on all counts. The $120,000 verdict included $60,000 for the firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke.
It wasn't the million-dollar fee they hope a jury will award in Jones vs. Clinton. And Handy wasn't Bob Bennett, the pugnacious, Brooklyn-born street fighter who will be representing President Clinton when that case goes to trial in Little Rock next month, as it almost surely will.
But then Holmes and Wilson, the two youngest partners in the Rader, Campbell firm, didn't appear to be exactly the right-wing ideologues that the White House's mighty spin machine has made them out to be either. What they did seem to be were two young, pretty talented trial attorneys with the chutzpah to dream big dreams--big enough to make them tug on the cape of the leader of the free world.