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Interview with L. Gleason Allen, June 27, 2002
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June 27, 2002
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Interviewee:  Allen, L. Gleason Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman / Haas, Michael Date of Interview:  6/27/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length:

 

This is the 27th of June, 2002. We’re interviewing today L. Gleason Allen from the law firm of Allen and McDonald, Wilmington, North Carolina and I am Michael Haas. I’m here also with Sherman Hayes of the UNCW library

Haas: And I think, Mr. Allen, if we might begin, I would just ask, tell us about your years of growing up. Where did you grow up, what was your education like

Allen: I grew up here in Wilmington, born and raised, the first one in our family who was born at James Walker Memorial Hospital. The rest of them were born at home and lived in a number of places, areas, neighborhoods in Wilmington from Ann Street. I spent most of my time I guess on Princess Street growing up. I graduated from high school in 1943. Actually I had gone to college. They had a program that if you took a certain test, you could go further. I mean they were trying to get people in the colleges or something, but came back to graduate and then I went into the Navy in ’43. But do you want to know anymore about growing up?

Hayes: Well what about your family? I mean you ended up as a lawyer, but what about your own mother and father? What were their backgrounds?

Allen: My father was born on a farm outside of Plymouth, North Carolina. He matched with some friends of his as to whether they would go to Norfolk or Wilmington and they came to Wilmington. So my mother came to Wilmington from Pennsylvania. A friend of hers’ father was coming here to teach in a black church and I found out a little bit more about that from the museum. They had a special thing on it and she came down to teach home economics and they met and married and lived on 17th Street and Wrightsville Avenue and so forth. My dad ended up in the real estate business and he did pretty well in it.

Hayes: Both commercial and the private home or was there any specialty?

Allen: It was mostly residences. He did a little building. He had a big sort of thing going before the Depression and the Depression got him and he lost everything and my mother went back to Pennsylvania for a year while he was getting reestablished.

Hayes: Wow.

Allen: In 1931 and you know, we went up there too and then he got going again. He got in the insurance business and then went back into the real estate business.

Haas: How about, now your high school years were pretty much at the beginning of World War II and you mentioned that going to college early may have allowed maybe because they didn't have as many people in the colleges at the time.

Allen: I think that probably was a consideration, yeah, and I, everything I did seemed like I was a little early. I went to college early, six months early. Then I got into the Navy B12 program. The Navy wanted to have their officers with some kind of education so you got 16 months of college and I spent that 16 months in the fraternity house, the Sigma Chi House, tough war, but…

Hayes: This was in Chapel Hill?

Allen: Chapel Hill, yeah. So from there, I went to midshipmen’s school and then to a couple of other schools and I was going to school when the war was over. Then I went on an aircraft carrier for about a year and made a couple of couple of trips across to bring troops back and then got out and then I went to college early because they had a program that you could get into, I mean I went into law school, get into law school. Then the third year if you had certain courses and I had enough courses so I was able to get into law school and after my first year in law school, I got a college degree and then went to the University of North Carolina, also for law.

Hayes: Now why law if your dad was insurance and your mom was home ec?

Allen: I don’t know, I remember one thing. I remember my parents talking, my mother talking about some lawyer up in her hometown of Smithport, Pennsylvania, that one of his clients took him to Europe and that sounded good to me, you know. I don’t know, I went to lead in church and felt comfortable with taking part in the programs, you know,. It didn't embarrass me much to stand up and talk and I thought that might work out and it just, I don’t know, that’s about all I can say.

Hayes: That’s great.

Haas: So undergraduate education was at UNC- Chapel Hill and you continue on to law school. Tell us about the law school experience. Were the classes particularly big or were there people back from the war that filled the classes up or was it still rather a small affair going to law school.

Allen: Well I guess that it was fairly small. I don’t know, there were a lot of people that were_____. The classes seemed to me to be a good size. I don’t know what to compare it with or anything. They had veterans’ park there. A lot of students were married and they lived in a separate place over there and those were the ones that really worked hard seems like to me. I wasn’t there of course. It was just a nice experience. I stayed in Grimes Dormitory and I roomed last year with Bob Caulder and he and I started practicing together. He went two years to Emory and then came his final year to North Carolina and we roomed together the last year and shared a paper route and worked in the dining hall, I did, and that sort of thing. He was married. He came home most every weekend.

Haas: During law school, you mentioned some of your jobs. Did you do any legal work for attorneys in law school?

Allen: No, didn't do any of that. They didn't have a program as far as I know like they have now where a second of third year law student can come and work in the law office. If they did, I didn't know about it.

Haas: In the classes, typical case study method? Were you called on to stand up and ….

Allen: Yeah, yeah They didn't have much practical things it seems to me. It was more a case study and that sort of thing. They had some mute court, but not much going over to other areas and observing into the courtroom or the courthouse or anything like that.

Haas: Any professors or deans that particularly stand out that you remember?

Allen: Well there was one that taught real property that played in the North Carolina Symphony and I thought that was kind of interesting. Dean Brandis, he was not dean at the time, Van Hecky was dean and he was an interesting person. I enjoyed all of them. They were all kind of different in a way. I had one tough time on one exam.

The thing about law school at that time and I don’t know whether it’s still that way or not, but your whole grade, and of course depending upon what you did, you only had final exam, no tests to go in with or anything. They had to call the law school stomp? because as the time approached for the exams, the people started turning into the

infirmary because it was a pressure packed sort of thing.

Well I got a bad grade in Dean Van Hecky’s course and I went…it wasn’t failing, but it was close to it, and I went back to talk to him and he said, “Well, your answers weren’t too bad, but you didn't discuss everything that was involved”. So next time I took a course under him, I discussed everything I could possibly think of and got an A (laughter).

Haas: Did you have much in the way of choices on electives or was it pretty much a set ….

Allen: Yeah choices, you had, as I recall, you had criminal law, procedure, constitutional law, contracts. I think there were only about six or eight things and then lots of electives seemed like to me.

Haas: Were most of the students from North Carolina that you were with?

Allen: Yes. I can’t even remember any from out of state right now.

Haas: Interesting.

Hayes: Different time.

Haas: Yeah, and did you have any friends from high school that were going to other law schools by chance or were you the only one going into law from among your friends?

Allen: No, I can’t recall any of my friends. I hadn’t thought about it, but I can’t recall any of my friends that were there at the same time.

Hayes: Now you had mentioned that later in your career, you had gone into the Reserves or was that National Guard?

Allen: Well what it was was after you were discharged from the Navy, you had the opportunity to stay in the Reserves if you wanted to and I decided to do that. You would just go…at the time, they had only a surface division. They had the place out on Burnett Boulevard where it is now, the Reserve Center and you went. I was a gunnery officer. I didn't know much about gunnery, but I was the gunnery officer (laughter).

Well I was on training duty which I enjoyed. So I told my friend down in Cogden that I had to go to Jamaica and Key West and Newport, Rhode Island, he, the lucky fellow, always went to Camp Stewart in July or August (laughter).

At any rate, I enjoyed that part of it and I just stayed in the Reserves. After awhile we got enough Navy lawyers in town, we were able to form a JAG unit. Then they decided that you had to have at least 10 people to form a unit. So we only had four or five. They let us go together with Charleston and they had four or five down there and we formed a unit.

We met maybe two or three times joint meetings. They’d come up here or we’d go down there and later on, something happened to them and we formed that sort of relationship with the people up in Raleigh and now I think there are one or two in some outlying North Carolina eastern towns.

We did that until, I stayed in 20 years which was good. Well actually it was over 20 years. When you do that, you can retire and I’m able to visit Camp LeJeune and that sort of thing.

Haas: Now what sort of thing, what rank were you when you retired?

Allen: Commander.

Haas: Commander, very nice, very nice.

Hayes: And so fairly shortly at least they used your lawyer’s talents. They didn't keep you as a gunnery sergeant (laughter)?

Allen: (Laughter) Well that was kind of, you know, my choice and I guess that was the better use of the Navy. They used to pay us for drill, but then things got tight and they didn't pay us for the last four or five years. They would pay us if we went on training duty sometimes. I think one time it was kind of tight and they didn't even do that. It depends on what kind of unit you were in. I think they felt the JAG unit weren’t all that necessary so they wouldn't pay those, but they would pay some of the other.

Hayes: So would you actually have the potential of being called into service to serve on cases and so forth?

Allen: Yeah, yes. Then one of…several of the fellows were called in from here during the Korean War. I happened to be on training duty during the Cuban Missile crisis down in …. I happened to be in Charleston down in the Legal Department down there and they offered, it was voluntary, but they offered to take me back in for several months or something because a lot of the legal officers in Charleston had gone to Key West or some other place and they needed somebody to keep it running or something. I didn't choose to do that. I was afraid it would interrupt my law practice.

Hayes: That’s interesting.

Haas: Now you took the North Carolina bar of course. Can you tell us anything about that?

Allen: Well, it was interesting. It was a three day affair and we went over to Raleigh and got a hotel room, you know, my friends and all. I remember one fellow that after the first day, he went over and renewed his teaching certificate. He said there isn’t anyway I’m going to pass this thing, but he did pass. But anyway, that was his attitude about leaving.

We would study right up to the time we had to go over. I remember one time on one elective, I was studying right up to the time we had to go and I got over there and one of the cases I had reviewed was right in front on the thing and it made me feel so good. But it was, you know, kind of tough.

As I recall we took it in the legislative, the old capital legislative rooms. Then it wasn’t like it is now where you have to wait so long to get the answer. They told us that we could find out, I think we took it something like Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They told us we could find out on Friday.

Hayes: Wow.

Allen: I don’t remember how many people took it, but anyway they said to call in so there was a friend of ours from Kingston who came down and joined us at Bob Caulder’s house and he placed the call, you know, to find out if we had passed. I admired his self-control when they told him he passed and he kept a poker face and passed it to me and I passed it to the other fellow. All three of us had passed. That’s about all I can remember from back then (laughter).

Hayes: Great relief, right?

Allen: Oh yes.

Haas: Did you have any sort of a class to go to that was run by the law school or anything to prepare you for it?

Allen: They had what you called Love School, I think some people went to that you could go it, but I didn't go to that.

Haas: After the bar exam is over, then how did you decide what you were going to do and why? Set up a practice.

Allen: Well I talked to two or three lawyers around town. My dad knew some and then I decided I would go upstate and check around and I went to Raleigh, I think Charlotte, Greensboro and Durham I know and maybe another town and somehow I got people to talk to in those places. It was interesting to me that several of them, not just one, but several of them said, “If you come up here and practice, you’re going to have to work. You can’t hunt and fish like they do in Wilmington”.

Hayes: Oh no!!

Allen: That was the concept they had of people that practiced law in Wilmington (laughter). And Wilmington was not the thriving place that it is now.

Hayes: Now what year are we talking about that you formally finished then?

Allen: Well in 1949.

Hayes: ’49, so you’re looking at post-war. What was Wilmington like? What was the size of the city? What was it like then?

Allen: It seemed like to me it was around 30,000, I don’t know. Coastline was here. It was comfortable. It had been a boomtown, of course, during the war and a lot of new people were around. It just seemed like the same old place, you know, to me. I decided to stay.

I did have one job offer in Durham. Two fellows that were going to form a partnership. One was in Chapel Hill and one was in Durham and I was to go between the places. That sounded good because I feel like everybody that goes to Chapel Hill, they want to go back and I liked that idea.

Anyway I decided, about that time, there was a lawyer, they were getting ready to build a housing unit, one that they are fixing up now over in Jervez Place on Dawson Street and they were condemning the properties to build and a lawyer had asked me to come in and, you know, help and do the title work. So I knew there was something I could do and so I just….

As a matter of fact, I talked to a friend of mine who was younger than I, but he was starting an insurance business. So the two of us opened an office in the Odd Fellows Building which is down on Front Street and we shared offices. No secretary, but just a telephone, shared a telephone and everything and that’s how I started out.

Hayes: Do you think somebody could do that today?

Allen: Yeah, I don’t know why not. One of the lawyers I talked to here said that’s the best way to start out because then you’re not, you know, depending upon anybody else but yourself and you get a better start that way.

Haas: What sort of cases came in to you at the beginning? What sort of things did you do?

Allen: I’ll never forget the first actual case and I don’t know how in the world this person found me. There was a lady. She was on her way to Florida. She was from Connecticut, said that she had gotten pregnant by a professor at Yale and she wanted to change her name to his name so when the child was born in Florida, it would have his name. Wanted to change her name.

Somebody had referred her to me, I think that’s what it was. Go see that fellow who just started practicing. I didn't know a thing in the world about how to change your name so I told her to come back in a little while (laughter) because I don’t believe I had a library. I called somebody that did have one who was a friend of mine who was with a firm.

We checked into it a little bit and found out that she had to be a resident before she could go into a changing name proceeding. So I told her that she went on her way (laughter).

Hayes: Other kinds of cases then, what were early years type cases to make a living? What’s a lawyer doing, 1950?

Allen: Well my practice has always been I guess a general practice, but emphasis on real estate. My dad was in the real estate business and he recommended me to people and he had some friends in the real estate business so I did that. And then there was this work, I also did a lot of the title work for Mr. Bill Campbell who was city attorney.

At that time the city was buying land around Greenfield Lake to make a park out of it. That was the first of that and so I did a lot of that title work.

Hayes: Well tell us about that Greenfield Lake. I hadn’t heard about that. In other words, were there houses right up next to that lake already?

Allen: People owned right up to the lake. They had a roadhouse out there I guess it was on the eastern side of the lake. I didn't know about it. It may have been gone, but my dad remembered about it and told me about it. That’s what they called it, a roadhouse, I guess a place where you could go out and get…I mean alcohol was not prohibited, but anyway sort of a shady kind of establishment I guess.

They had a black bathing beach over on that side of the lake and they just had people that owned down at that part. I don’t know if they had houses.

Hayes: But they owned the land.

Allen: But they didn't have, yeah, I don’t think they had the road put in there. I’m unclear about that. Parts of the road, I think.

Hayes: But it wasn’t difficult, people were willing to sell pretty much?

Allen: Yeah, it had been I think kind of plugged in the paper that somebody had that concept, that notion about making a park out of Greenfield. Greenfield had had, I remember going out to Greenfield where Carolina Beach Road goes and that was a pretty, right much of a beach area there and they had boats you could rent and you would go down there and they had a playground material and all that too.

Haas: Now at the beginning, you were sort of sharing office space. Did you go into a partnership at some point with others?

Allen: No, the fellow in the insurance business got drafted and so Brad Tillery and I shared offices. We moved over to the Trust Building which is at Front and Market Street and then he went into a partnership with Rudolph Mintz and shortly after that, I shared offices with Brad Tillery. No, Lloyd Elkins.

Hayes: Oh right, you weren’t partners, you just shared offices.

Allen: Just shared offices. He had been with I guess he told you about getting shot and all that.

Hayes: No, he didn't. Tell us about that. We want someone to tell us. We heard that story from other sources, but what happened?

Allen: Well the fellow that he was in with as an associate, Emmett Bellamy, was representing this lady Rhinehart who had a son that, I think an only son, and he kept after her to give him property or give him control and that sort of thing and he was just pestering her so bad that she went to see Bellamy and he said, “Well put all your property in my name as trustee. It will still be yours and I’ll just have the legal title and that way, you can tell him you don’t have anything to do with it anymore”.

Well that just really excited that fellow more and so he got a lawyer in Charlotte to bring suit to get back, a transaction of return. So they were in discussion about what to do about that and Bellamy asked Elkins to come with him to go to Charlotte to talk to this lawyer and they went and talked to him. It was in some high rise building. I don’t know exactly what floor, it may have been the 6th or 7th.

They had worked something out that was satisfactory. I don’t know what the terms were, but they came out of this other lawyer’s office and this guy Rhinehart was in the hall and he asked if he gave the property back to her, were you going to give the property back to her, some questions with a very belligerent attitude and Bellamy said, “I can’t talk to you. Go talk to your lawyer”. And he kept after him and he kept after him.

They went and pushed for the elevator and the elevator came and as Bellamy was getting on the elevator, the guy pulled out a pistol and shot Bellamy and shot Elkins and the elevator operator pushed the button going down and went down. Bellamy was killed and Elkins, the bullet lodged against his heart, but just bruised it or something like that.

Hayes: Wow, that’s beyond the call of duty, isn’t it?

Allen: It’s such a shame, you know, that the thing had been worked out and you know, you’re not supposed to talk to somebody else’s client.

Hayes: Wow, I assume they got the guy, didn't they?

Allen: Yeah, he was sent to prison for a right good while and both of them sued him. I remember I went with Elkins. He got a settlement and he wanted me to go with him, you know, we’re friends, we were real good friends. So this Rhinehart lived in South Carolina and we went down to get the money and I went with him.

Hayes: Wow, so how long did it take for Lloyd to recover from that? Quite some time or?

Allen: No, no. He kind of raised his arm and it had gone under his shoulder. He was up in Charlotte I guess a week and then came down here.

Hayes: Good, so it didn't put him out…

Allen: Anyway after that, he tried to carry the practice on the Bellamy had, but somehow or other that wasn’t working out so he asked if…and I had just lost the one I was sharing with, so he came in and he shared with me together for I don’t remember exactly how long, several years. An old friend of his from his youth, that they had talked before, either one of them went to law school by starting practice, was late going to law school, but he came out and they formed a partnership. About that time, I moved over to the…no, the first place was the Masonic Temple Building on Front Street.

The Odd Fellows Building was where I had my next office. It’s where I think Centura Bank is now, caddy-corner from the old courthouse at Third and Princess and I had my own practice by myself from there for a number of years. I know I had a lady next door that would answer the telephone. She had her own office. She was in real estate and in insurance and we cut a hole in the wall and I’d take my phone and put it in there (laughter) and she’d answer it when I was someplace else.

She always wanted to do a good job so she would ask people their names. Some people wouldn’t want to give their name to her. She’d browbeat them (laughter) and they would ask me who in the world is answering your telephone. Then I got a secretary to come down after she…D.O. Program, she’d come down. She’d get out of work at 1:00 and would come to work in the afternoon while she was in high school and taking business courses.

Hayes: So in the 50’s and 60’s, you were concentrating on real estate. Would you say that was the majority of your business then at that point?

Allen: Yeah, I did still have a general practice. I do some criminal. I do some corporate, I do some trial work, do some collection work.

Hayes: Who are the judges that you would have run up with in that time period? Oh excuse me, who were the judges that you would have practiced in front of then?

Allen: Well of course the one I remember pretty much is the one that was Recorder’s Court judge at that time and here again, I have a hard time remembering his name, Winfield Smith. I don’t know whether you’ve heard about Winfield or not. Somebody ought to write a book about him. They didn't have district courts at that time, they had Recorder’s Court.

Somewhere along about that same time, I became an assistant solicitor to Johnny Walker who later became judge, but he was a solicitor. They didn't call him district attorney. But anyway, I would go there one day a week and hold court and it was over with by midday.

Hayes: Now an assistant solicitor, you were working for the state then?

Allen: For the state, I was the prosecuting officer just like a district attorney is.

Hayes: I see. So you were bringing the cases against people?

Allen: That’s right. Winfield Smith was the judge and he was really a character. He was so sure of his job, I told people that I don’t believe at that time Dwight Eisenhower could have beaten him. As a matter of fact, his platform one time was “I need a raise”.

Hayes: You’re kidding.

Allen: Can you imagine anybody that would have that as their platform. He said he just wasn’t getting enough money and needed a raise. He had opposition, but was in by a landslide.

Hayes: (Laughter) I need a raise, how often did he have to run, every four years, two years?

Allen: Every four years.

Hayes: So why was he a character besides that? Was he a character in the courtroom as well?

Allen: ((Laughter) Well yeah, one time when I was prosecuting a case, a man was charged with beating his wife. Well he always said he was the Supreme Court of New Hanover County, you know, and people would come and they’d have a case from the law books from North Carolina Supreme Court and they’d say that’s good law for the Supreme Court up there in Raleigh and he’d say, “I’m the Supreme Court” (laughter).

This case of the wife beater, he found the fellow guilty and he said, “You know” he said… I don’t remember the facts, but he said, “You know, this is the kind of case and I’m thinking about this. You know, we have to get permission from Raleigh.” He said they had to call the county farm. If people had misdemeanors, minor offenses, sent up there and they worked the farm while they were doing their time.

He said he had to get permission from the government, but said they take wife beaters and they put them over a barrel and they pull their pants down and they beat them until the blood runs down in their boots. He said, “I don’t know if I’m going to do it. You sit over there while I think about it”. He motioned to his wife and she came over and he talked to her, real earnest talking (laughter).

Then she went over and said something to the bailiff, the deputy sheriff and the bailiff got up and said something to the judge. So the judge called him over and called the wife over and he said, no, what he did, he called me up to the bench and said, “You watch what happens”. That’s what happened and then he said, “Alright, your wife has spoken for you.” He told the wife, “I didn't pick him out for you, you know, you picked him out.”

He said, “Now your wife has asked me not to do this”. He said, “I’m going to listen to her, I’m going to let you go this time, but one thing you got to do, you got to kiss her right here in open court.” He said, “You come back again, you bring your toothbrush” and I thought that was one example.

Another time, Aston Hewlett was the representative in the House. He later became Speaker. One of the times he wanted a raise, I don’t know if it was that time I was talking about or not, but the raise had to go through the house – the Recorder’s Court was an instrument of the legislature. It formed Recorder’s Court, in this county and that county. They didn't have a statewide district court system and all like that.

So to change any of the things setting it up, you had to go through the legislature and Hewlett didn't think that he was entitled to a raise. So they had been just great bosom buddies and friends before it turned bad. So Aston was telling people, “I can’t take people over there. He’s finding all my people guilty and I don’t know what to do. I have to appeal to the Superior Court”.

And that went on for a while and finally they worked something out. I don’t know what they worked out, but they finally worked something out. They became good friends again. Either before or after that, he called me up to the bench again and said, now listen to this. Aston Hewlett has a case over there and he said, “Mr. Hewlett, is there anything about this case that you have that reminds you of your duty during World War II?”

Aston got this funny look on his face and then it finally occurred to him that he had made some sort of speech there in court about he was connected with the Air Force and he talked about the planes leaving and going over and not knowing how many were going to come back and just had something, I guess it was a jury speech he gave and it nothing to do with this case, but Winfield just liked to listen to him go on and listen to that speech one more time, you know.

Hayes: So he asked him to give the speech (laughter).

Allen: And so he did it and Winfield just nodded and thought it was great. He actually died, Winfield Smith, climbing the steps to go to court.

Haas: Wow.

Hayes: Wow. Do you think that today we tolerate any characters like this? Can a judge have a personality or be a character anymore or is that lost?

Allen: I don’t know that it’s lost. Maybe not, you know, all of the things, but people would call in before court about their case and he would tell me, he said, “I would listen to them, but it goes in one ear and out the other” (laughter).

(Laughter) Oh another time, he had an office also in the same building I was in. He was allowed, he would go practice law in surrounding towns. It was alright and he could actually do criminal law. You know, he wasn’t a full time. He was just how ever long it took and he had an assistant. So he had the afternoons and he had days that he could practice and had a pretty good practice otherwise.

This was in January and right after the Christmas season and so forth and had the janitor -- back in those days, it was called a drunk. They don’t have public drunk or drunkenness or something like that. So they had our janitor in our building was up for public drunk and he listened and he listened and he says, “I’m going to find him not guilty”. _______, he was president of…it wasn’t Wachovia Bank, but whatever the bank was prior to Wachovia, he was charged with driving under the influence and he found him not guilty. Then he looked around and he said, “Any more Christmas drunks?”

Hayes: (Laughter) We’ll throw it out of court now …

Haas: While all of this was going on, I would assume you got married. Did you have children while this was happening too at the same time?

Allen: I got married in ’52 and …

Hayes: Wow.

Allen: Yeah, (laughter), our anniversary is coming up.

Hayes: What’s the date?

Allen: October 11.

Hayes: Coming right up, well congratulations.

Allen: Thank you. So we had four boys. Then let’s see about that time, I had a call from Rudolph Mintz who was Superior Court judge. Well he wasn’t judge then, but he told me that the governor had asked him if he could appoint him judge and he had just taken Louis Newton in. Louis is an associate and he was worried about Newton because he asked if we wanted to share offices and I said that it sounded good.

So we did and we shared offices for a long time. Seems like a long time, I couldn't tell you how long it was, but I enjoyed that very much and he and I are still good friends. As a matter of fact, right now we’re serving on a local permission deal, navigation pilot commission for the Cape Fear River. And he’s a chairman and I’m a member. We just had a meeting last night and I guess that’s why it’s on my mind.

We stayed until, he had become good friends with Jim Fox and Fox went with the Murchison firm and so Fox asked him to come join that firm and that was a good opportunity for him. They wanted somebody in Southport and he was from Southport.

Hayes: Who was this?

Allen: Louis Newton. He would be a good one to talk to.

Hayes: And he’s down still in Southport?

Allen: No, no, he’s by himself. Yeah, he would be a good one to talk to. Talk about stories, now he would have some good stories about Southport and everything. Real good.

Hayes: And what about Fox, is he still practicing?

Allen: He’s the Federal Court judge, Jim Fox.

Hayes: So he’d be another one. Is your generation then? About the same?

Allen: Yeah, he’s a little younger and Newton is a little younger, but not much, you know, two, three, four years. Yeah, the same category.

Hayes: As Tom Brokaw said, the greatest generation.

Allen: Well, I got the book, but I haven’t read it (laughter). So we had a secretary that could really make a typewriter sing. She was the best in the world, but she was a little bit on the wild side I guess you’d say. Monday morning she wouldn't show up and we’d call her mother, and she’d say, “Well Eloise went down to the drugstore to get, I mean to the garage and she hasn’t come back yet”. I don’t know, she was something.

But I never will forget, she came in, she said, “Those fools”. I said, “What are you talking about”. She said “Penny’s just started a system where they’ll give you a card and you can charge things. Those fools gave me a card (laughter)”. And it wasn’t a month or two later, we started getting calls, “We’re from Penny’s”. But anyway she was a good secretary. What happened, she had a couple of children and I think she said she figured out she could get unemployment or something, she could do just as well as she could working for us and paying a babysitter.

About that time I was in what is now the County Building at 4th and Chestnut. It was the CP&L Building at that time. We were on the fourth floor. It was 1975 I guess it was, I took in Jim McDonald as an associate. Actually he came in as a clerk I guess you’d say because they were only giving the bar once a year in July and he had gone the fast track and got out in December and didn't have anything to do until he took the bar so he came in and helped me.

He took the bar and passed it and he became an associate and a year or so later, we formed a partnership and had a partnership up until I guess January of 01 is when I quit practicing.

Hayes: Oh really, so he two of you practiced together all those years?

Allen: Yeah, yeah and they decided that they were going…CP&L were going to sell the building to the county and they didn't give us any time that we had to move, but we had an opportunity to buy the building at 217 North Fifth Street and so we bought that. Another lawyer was in there. He had been a pilot before he practiced law and his marriage didn't work out and he married again and the girl that he married, the two of them liked to jump out of airplanes.

So they decided there wasn’t any glamour in the practice of law so he decided he was going to get out and go back to being an airplane pilot so his place was for sale. Bought it and rent it out, the top part for a while, and then we expanded into it. So he’s still running the business down there now, but he’s moving out to Military Cutoff Road. I told him I’d always wanted to get one of these little plaques. So after I got out, I got one of those little plaques to put on the building. It’s a hundred years old. That was an interesting process.

Haas: Any of your sons become attorneys in your footsteps?

Allen: No, I didn't, you know, push them.

Haas: Right.

Allen: I sent, I think all of them to, what do they call it, take aptitude tests and they were all flat (laughter), just the slightest little blip here and there as to what they were interested in or whatever those things show you. They do different things, I have one here, one in San Francisco, one near Rochester, New York and one in Raleigh. They go from computers to physician assistant to carpentry.

Hayes: That’s interesting. We have about five minutes left so we’re in good shape. Well one of the questions we ask everyone is someone comes to you and says there interested in the law, do you still recommend it as a profession that someone should go into?

Allen: Oh yes, yeah. I tried to talk to all my children. It’s something you know, where you’re your own boss so to speak. You’re not working for anyone and that’s the part that I like. I don’t know that I ever turned down anybody, but I would sometimes redirect them someplace. Of course when you take on a client, they’re the boss too, to an extent. Sometimes you have pretty much discussion about what to do. But I thoroughly enjoyed practicing the law for the most part.

I didn't have that many big cases some have and so forth. I did have a number that went up to the Supreme Court of North Carolina. I went around and talked to a couple of lawyers and at the time that I started practice, the lawyers were very helpful to me so I try to be helpful to others.

Haas: I was just going to ask if the bar was a collegial place when you practiced.

Allen: Yeah, I never will forget one judge. His name was Walter Bunyon, Judge Walter Bunyon and when he retired, most judges are asked if they will serve, you know, if somebody gets sick or they need a judge and most of them do that. He said he would, but his requirement was he would serve in New Hanover County, but not any others. There’s some of them he said that the bar, they’re just too much dog eat dog sort of.

Another kind of story I guess was that Bud Franklin and Aaron Goldberg, Frank from Southport and Aaron from here were two of the finest lawyers, trial lawyers in the area and they had a case one time. One was prosecution and the other one was the defender for a nonsupport and they went at it tooth and nail in the courtroom. Frank when he was at cross-examining, no when he was talking to the jury, he talked about the grueling, viciousness of Goldberg and so forth and so on.

One of the jurors after the case was over on that case was telling me about it and he went over to the Ambassador Coffee Shop and had lunch and he was there and Goldberg and Bud Franklin were there having lunch and just talking and laughing, having the best time you know, and he just couldn't understand it. He just could not understand it. It was eating him something awful.

Haas: When it came to women or African-Americans in the bar, did you practice against any of them or was it pretty much a white male bar here?

Allen: Well I think there was one woman in my class in law school, no, there were two and I think they were the first ones. And, of course, we were here when…I think the first black lawyers were pretty well received in Wilmington when they came. _______ was of course a top-notch individual anyway, always has been and still is, you know. He and my partner were good friends. It must have been law school, they lived in the same neighborhood and so forth.

I was thinking about things that you all might ask about about the profession, the progression of it and so forth and a couple of things you might be interested in or not, but the technical side of it has made the practice so much easier. I know not having a secretary and the deeds that were drawn had to be typed out and I typed them out and I’d made a mistake at the bottom and I’d have to start all over again. You’d get $5.00 per deed. I think it’s $75 now and they had, we started out, we had the minimum fee schedule.

I’ve got one of those. I saved mine and I’d have been glad to charge $2.50 for a deed, but I had to charge $5.00 you know, and that sort of thing. I forget when that went out, probably about 1960 or something like that. I don’t really know. But anyway, the technical side of it, I can remember when we got a machine and I don’t remember what they called it the machine, where you could change a paragraph around, you know. If you decided that instead of the end, it ought to be up here, you’d have to type it all over again.

Then they got, I forget what those things were called, but my partner happened to have a case ending, he was getting a brief ready for the state Supreme Court and that was the finest thing in the world for him, being able to change things around and then doing a lot of real estate work, we had closing statements.

You’d have a printed form and you’d put them in and then if something had to be changed, some little thing up here, there’s a two page statement and you had to erase and erase and erase all the way down and then all the way down on the other thing and now, you know, your computer prints out the form and if you want to change something, there’s really nothing to it. So the technical side – well on the minus side, one of the reasons why I quit doing trial practice was the discovery.

This is a second type of L. Gleason Allen, attorney in Wilmington, North Carolina. This is the 27th of June 2002. I am Michael Haas and with me is Sherman Hayes, the librarian of UNCW.

Hayes: We are just continuing. We were talking about kind of the technical changes that have happened and you were just getting into the computer age. When did the computer come into your office then, were you very early grabbing that computer as a tool?

Allen: Well before they had, actually I can’t remember the progression, my partner was more interested in that end of the practice than I was, we had something that would enable us to, whether it was something that attached to the typewriter, forget the technical name of it, but it was a program that you could buy in Raleigh, but it wasn’t a computer, that would do what I was telling you about.

Haas: A word processor.

Allen: That’s exactly what it was, word processor, that’s the word I was looking for. So that helped a lot. The other thing I was thinking about as far as changes in the law, I remember that in cases, when I started practicing and I don’t remember exactly how long it was before… you would try to keep anybody from knowing who your witnesses were or what you were going to present in court and the best way you could win a case was having a surprise. They were jealously guarded and so forth. Then they came out with the laws of discovery and that changed the practice of law completely.

Hayes: Now when you said they came out, was that a legislative change or was it a judicial change?

Allen: It was a change that started in the federal courts and they came out with laws of permitting discovery and it gradually started going into the state courts.

Hayes: Well tell our listeners who don’t know what that term means, what happens with discovery then?

Allen: Well discovery is that you have a right to ask the opposing party who their witnesses are going to be and if they give you a list of witnesses and they try to offer a witness at trial that isn’t on that list, then you can object. After you get that list of witnesses, then you can have discovery as far as that witness is concerned and come in and answer any questions that you might have.

Hayes: So you have to tell everything to the opponent?

Allen: Yeah, that’s the idea. There’s not supposed to be any surprises anymore. If a question is asked that would be objectionable if it were asked in court, then that could be reserved and the judge can rule on that. You can’t just offer everything and in certain cases, a question on a case will have to be ruled on by the judge before the witness even answers it, you know.

Plus you take interrogatories. You can send five pages of questions for the witness or the defendant to answer and then you have cross-interrogatories and reinterrogatories and you see lawyers today going to court and they’ve got one of these things like you get on the airplane you know, transcripts of discovery of witnesses and interrogatories and so forth. If a witness says something, then you’ve got to remember whether the witness said something else and be able to find it in a hurry so it gets to be, it’s more drudgery I think than the practice of law now than it was because it’s just such a paper sort of thing and all like that.

Plus it gets real expensive for the client, but I think one of the wonderful things in the practice of law has been mediation. I think mediation has been highly successful and then it cuts out a lot of that, get to mediation before you do the other. But you can imagine lawyers and court reporters at the prices that lawyers and court reporters charge for getting all of these, interviewing all of these witnesses and so forth and all this before the case goes to trial. You’ve got to be pretty well off to go into a court.

Hayes: You mentioned earlier about that information was more widely available too, the legal books are handy. Were you using CD-Roms at the end with all your cases on them, that kind of a thing?

Allen: I think my partner does now, but we didn't have them. They were available. We could go to the law library. The law library was another thing that was nice, they didn’t have a law library when I started practicing, not only for the lawyers, but anybody else that wanted to use it. Lot of changes.

Hayes: What’s your feeling about the advertisement change? That’s a big one that’s happened in your career? Did you or at the end, were you advertising to …

Allen: No, we never have. I don’t know whether we’re too lazy for just didn't like the idea. I never did like the idea (laughter), but I remember one time before it came in, somebody put a mock paper, I think it was the meeting of the National Bar Association that had and it seemed so outrageous to have this four page paper with all this advertising and it seemed so outrageous. Then when it became an actual possibility, reality, it was hard. But we never even talked about doing it.

The only thing we did on a couple of occasions, I guess a client of ours was putting together a brochure maybe to hand to potential customers in the real estate business and wanted us to write something about the role of the lawyer in a real estate transaction or when you’re purchasing a property and so forth. They have companies that will do that now. You would try to sell that to the real estate agent. And so we did that a couple of times, but that’s as close as we came.

Hayes: Now one of the things you mentioned you’re on a civic board. I know lawyers are always sought after as volunteers within the community, what are some of the ways that you’ve chosen to, you know, serve in Wilmington? You’re a lifelong resident. Any particular areas that you’ve chosen to help in.

Allen: Well I’ve been pretty active in church. Boy Scouts when I was younger, I was a scout master. Head of the Troop committee and served on some counsel things and I got interested in the Democratic party and I was party chairman at one time, when Jimmy Carter was elected.

Hayes: Interesting. Do you go the national convention then?

Allen: No, no. I kept up a little bit with that sort of thing. I was on the Battleship Commission at one time. I sued the battleship a few times, I felt bad about that.

Hayes: (Laughter) Tell us about that. Why did you have to sue?

Allen: You all ever heard of Fergus Art?

Hayes: No.

Allen: Fergus Art was a floating restaurant at the foot of Princess Street and it served good food, mainly seafood and so forth. So when they brought the battleship in, they were going to put the battleship right across and Fergus Art felt it should be moved so they made arrangements for a tugboat to come, you know, move it until the battleship had gotten in and put it back.

So they came, Fergus was having breakfast and he had a very successful practice, he had lots of people and told them to come back early, that it is too early. This was 8:00 and it wasn’t scheduled to get there until 2:00 or sometime like that I think. So they said okay. Well nobody ever told them – to make a long story short, they didn't come back and move it. So they came up the river and they saw Fergus Art and they said, “Oh what shall we do?”

Well they timed it so, it was on high tide for that area, you know,. So they said, well they had to just to take a chance and turning in there, one of the gun turrets hit the ark.

Hayes: Oh no.

Haas: Yes, I heard about this, yeah.

Allen: Hit it, the ark had concrete pole, one of the few ships built that had a concrete pole and there was a crack and it knocked right there where the galley was, knocked down a lot of crockery and glasses and all and the people started flooding out of the kitchen, you know, and that was it.

Well Fergus thought he would just make light of it so he had a big purple heart made up and put it over the entrance, you know, and claimed that he had earned the purple heart. But then after a couple of years, the city said, “Look, you don’t have any permission. You don’t own any land down there. I don’t know who you got tied up there in the first place. You can’t stay there. You got to go”. And there were negotiations back and forth and finally they made him go, you know.

Well that ticked him off and he decided he was going to sue for his damages. He will willing to forget about them before that. So he came to see me. Fergus, he built a couple of places called Fergus Arc, one of them out on Carolina Beach Road. It had the ship motif. It was built like in the other one. Fergus was a modernistic place where Target is, it was a good restaurant.

But anyway so I got a friend of mine, Jack Caulder, that’s another fellow that you could talk to. He’s been retired for a while, but he was primarily a trial lawyer and worked for insurance companies, Crosby, McIntosh and so forth, right up here, but he’s been retired for maybe about 10 years longer than I. But he and Caulder and I started practicing at the same time. He lives out, has a house that he ________, that place on Carolina Beach Road where they have that airstrip. He bought that.

Anyway so I talked to him about it because he had some, I didn't do any maritime law and he did some, he was within a firm that did some of that so we attached the battleship and had the federal martial attach a sign to the skipper’s door, “Do Not Leave Port Under Any Circumstances” (laughter).

Hayes: Oh that’s great.

Allen: Well what happened was if you sue the state, you sue the state in industrial commission and you only have a two year statute of limitations so that was gone. So what we did, we sued the pilot and the pilot, I can’t remember his name, but he was a nice fellow. So the pilot said it was too dangerous, they were not going to have anything to do with it. He said, “I’ll do it and I’m not going to charge you for doing it”.

But we decided there had to be an insurance policy somewhere so we were going to sue the pilot. So we sued the pilot and it was in federal court. So we had I guess a pretrial conference scheduled up in Clinton before Judge Butler who was the father of Algernon. Butler. We got up there and he said, “Why don’t you all settle this thing”. I don’t want to try it. Some judges were that way. Some of them would try to sell and some of them were hands off sort of thing. It’s been treated all ways and always will be I guess.

Anyway he talked to us and talked to us and talked to us and we finally settled it and Fergus got a little bit of money for this, that and the other.

Hayes: So was there an insurance company behind it finally?

Allen: Yes, there was an insurance company.

Hayes: But he still had to move the arc.

Allen: He still had to move it. That had happened before we brought suit. It was after he lost that, you know. Then I had a little girl that was on there and the family came to see me and her grandfather had taken it and they had going up and down some of the ladders and I forget how old she was, two or three.

She lost the pole in her hand and she fell between the railing. They just had a railing that you could hold on to going up the ladders and she fell between them and hit her head. She had a hearing loss, ended up with a hearing loss. So we did that before the Industrial Commission and got an award on that.

Hayes: But who owns the, I mean who is the body you can sue because I thought it’s a foundation or something?

Allen: The state provides that you can sue the state in certain circumstances. Basically the law is you can’t sue the sovereignty which would include the city and the county and the state. But most all of them have made exceptions to it and the city, I guess one of the first cases I had was actually a woman fell on the city sidewalk and broke an arm or a leg or something like that.

So I just wrote a letter and the insurance company got in touch with me and we settled out and they paid whatever the medical was or something, but the city could say that we are the sovereign and you can’t sue us, but they’d rather get an insurance policy and pay for that and have the citizens, I guess that’s the theory.

So the state said you can sue in certain cases and this is how you do it. You sue in Industrial Commission which is not a jury and there’s a limit on the coverage just like Workmen’s Compensation which is the main thing – anyway, it was there so we got on board and settled.

But anyway I was on the Industrial Commission and then I was on the same commission that I’m on now earlier on back. Then I’ve been on, you know, several little things of lesser importance.

Hayes: Well listen, we want to thank you very much, very interesting conversation and appreciate you talking with us.

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