It was Tom Pickert’s last jury trial, and attorney Bruce Keplinger was on the losing side.
But Pickert, as he did throughout his career, win or lose, reacted last Friday to the Johnson County jury’s decision like a “complete gentleman,” his opponent said.
“He always did his best for his client,” Keplinger said. “And he always played within the rules.”
When he got news Wednesday morning that Pickert had been shot to death outside his house in Kansas City’s Brookside neighborhood, Keplinger was reading a transcript of Pickert’s final closing argument.
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Keplinger even praised Pickert’s passion in his own closing argument to jurors.
That passion is reflected in Pickert’s final argument to the jury: “So if you’re with us, fight for us. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.”
“Out of everyone in Johnson County, you were called here,” Pickert told them. “You were called here. You came to this courtroom. Out of all the people, you ended up being on the trial and I have to think that there’s a reason. It’s because you care and you want to do justice and you will.”
News of Pickert’s death prompted Keplinger to write a letter to Pickert’s law partner expressing his condolences. He included a quote from the Bible that Keplinger said was a perfect description of Pickert.
“He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing. He cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.”
Keplinger was not alone in his admiration for Pickert as a person and a lawyer.
“He was just a super person,” said Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Steve Leben. “It is just such a tragedy.”
Pickert was still in law school when Leben first met him.
Leben was a district judge in Johnson County and Pickert volunteered to help edit a publication for judges.
“He didn’t do it for credit or money,” Leben said.
That impressed the judge.
Later when a law clerk’s position opened up in Johnson County, Pickert applied and Leben and another judge who he would work for “were thrilled to get him.”
“He worked on some of my most difficult cases,” Leben said. “He was very bright. Very straight forward. Very dedicated.
Court reporter Abby Ryan worked with Pickert during his clerkship and said that since then she has always enjoyed catching up with him at the courthouse.
“Tom’s sense of humor made him an absolute joy to be around,” she said. “Over the years I watched Tom develop into a skilled plaintiff’s attorney who represented his clients with a great deal of passion and professionalism.”
After his clerkship, Pickert went to work with the Johnson County law firm Logan Logan and Watson.
“He was a really fine guy and an outstanding lawyer,” said Fred Logan Jr. “I enjoyed working with him.”
Logan said he was heartbroken for Pickert’s wife and their two young sons.
On Thursday, Jill Chadwick, a spokeswoman for The University of Kansas Health System, spoke on behalf of Pickert’s wife, Emily Riegel, a palliative care doctor within the system.
A palliative care doctor helps people living with chronic or serious illnesses and end-of-life care.
“Emily is so alone in this moment,” Chadwick said. “Her job is dedicated to doing everything she can to help those people have a better quality of life and be stress free and not suffer in pain. She asked our office today if we could maybe help her and be her palliative care in this moment, and that’s what we are trying to do.”
Chadwick said she spoke with Riegel via telephone. Riegel, Chadwick said, expressed a wide range of emotion about Pickert’s death.
“What I thought was so remarkable is just how strong her voice was,” she said. “I could hear anger in her voice and I could hear concern for her children in her voice.”
Chadwick said family members are trying to determine how to best memorialize Pickert.
“They are trying to figure out (funeral) arrangements, and what and how they want to remember Tom,” she said.
Keplinger said he only knew Pickert professionally and wished he could have known his family.
“Some lawyers go to court because they have to,” he said. “He went to court because he loved it.”