Jackson law firm produces seven judges - so far

Attorney Robert Best says no other local firm can top this record

By Tom Gantert

Legal News

Robert Best is afraid he's forgotten a judge.

For years, the Jackson attorney has thought that eight judges came from the law firm his father, Felix, started in 1958 that he now carries on with the name of Best, Heyns and Schroeder.

So Best sat down and made a list.

And surprise. He could think of only seven.

Best knows all of them, beginning with the judges who worked as attorneys at his father's firm. Best would visit the office as a boy, and later took over the firm.

The seven include: retired Jackson County District Court Judge Charles Falahee, who served from 1988 to 2007; retired Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Gordon Britten, who served 26 years; retired Jackson County Probate Judge Kevin Daly, who served from 1966-1989; retired Jackson County Probate Judge Russell Baugh, who served from 1966-1973; Jackson County District Court Judge Daniel Goostrey; former Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Chad Schmucker, who is now the State Court administrator; and Jackson County District Court Judge Michael Klaeren.

"People have said to me they want to come work for me so they can become a judge because we have had so many go on to become judges," said Best, 68, who has been practicing law since 1971 and recently welcomed his nephew, David Best, to the firm.

Best says he never wanted to join the list of attorneys who went from his firm to become a judge.

"I just like what I do," he said. "I'm a litigator."

However, in recent years Best has seen his career shift from litigation to mediation. What started out at a request from another attorney to mediate a dispute has turned into a full-time part of the practice. He's done more than a thousand mediations in the last 10 years and doesn't show any signs of letting up.

Best hit the intercom button on his phone and reached his secretary.

"How many open dates do I have for a mediation in June?" Best asked.

"You have June 13 available," the secretary replied. "How about July?" Best asked.

"You have one day (open)" the secretary said.

"See what I mean?" he asked, smiling. "And I'm willing to work on the weekend, but usually the parties aren't."

Best started out doing one or two mediations a month. Then one a week. Then two a week. Now, it's four a week. He does civil mediations that usually involve medical malpractice, auto accidents, and cases involving harmful exposure to chemicals.

The average mediation takes four to eight hours, he said. Some mediations can be successfully completed in two hours, while others are much more involved.

Best did a mediation in Troy that involved 29 people and more than a dozen attorneys and took five days to complete. He had the parties separated in 10 rooms.

Best said his style is to keep all the parties apart while he goes from room to room negotiation a deal. He says he successfully settles a mediation 75 percent of the time, which is why he says he gets so many requests to keep doing them.

"You have to be a problem solver and think outside the box," Best said. "And being a litigator with all these issues of the law is very important."

He finds that many times, people just want to tell their story.

"You have to be a very good listener," he said. "Usually, it's not just the result people are interest in. They want their story heard. It's cathartic."

Published: Thu, May 16, 2013

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