Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile / Harry Schneider, Jr.: Presidential Caliber

Profile / Harry Schneider, Jr.: Presidential Caliber

July 2018 Bar Bulletin

By Dave Burman

Harry Schneider, Jr., takes over this month as the King County Bar Association’s president for 2018–19. His pedigree and résumé, however, make his rise to the top of the bar hierarchy seem anti-climactic. In short, he comes well prepared for the task at hand and promises to lead the KCBA with customary vigor and aplomb.

After serving in World War II and Korea, Harry’s father, Harry Sr., became a civilian procurement specialist for the Air Force. Harry’s mom, Rubye, ran a wedding planning business. Mom and dad had grown up in the Texas hill country, and to get back home, they chose an assignment at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, where Junior was born. But when Harry was 4 years old, a promotion sent the family to Travis Air Force Base in California. Harry grew up in nearby Vacaville, small and rural. His parents eventually retired there.

Harry did everything he could to subvert his parents’ rules, but he figured out that making A’s would excuse a lot. Near the end of his life, Harry’s father reminisced that at age 5 Harry was already unafraid to talk in front of an audience and that he became good at sports and music because school wasn’t enough of a challenge. Harry remains close with friends from those years, and they remark on the sharp wit that got him into, and sometimes out of, trouble, and his green Ford Maverick in which they cruised Vacaville, timing its one stoplight.

Harry’s father never had the chance to go to high school, and was quite proud when Harry applied to college, despite his high school counselor’s advice not to “waste his parents’ money.” His father was hoping for West Point, but Harry went the opposite direction. He arrived at UC Berkeley in 1972, close enough to the ’60s to feed his store of fanciful and “hazy” tales and to encourage his guitar playing. He’d make unplanned weekend trips to see his friends at their college 170 miles away, arriving with a toothbrush and no change of clothes. He played in bands since junior high, regularly performing at the air base and schools around Vacaville. He continues to play occasionally with the Perkins Coie band at holiday parties.

Harry’s favorite Berkeley professor said he needed to see something different for law school, and nowhere was more different than the University of Chicago. He arrived on the South Side in 1976. The green Maverick was stolen, but he met Gail Runnfeldt, who’s patiently listened to his stories ever since. They married after graduation, on a trip to London with his parents before heading to Seattle to start their careers.

Perkins Coie was the jumping off point for Harry’s legal career and he hasn’t looked back. Fifteen years later, Perkins realized it had picked the wrong one, and the business law group recruited Gail behind Harry’s back. They have since raised four talented young men: Henry, Mac, Remi and Sebastian. Harry’s a superb chef, but you might not eat until midnight if you bring a bottle and get him started telling stories. The Vacaville connection played a role in a case. Harry represented a newspaper sued for defaming an allegedly upstanding citizen by accusing him of instigating an attempted skyjacking. Harry refuses to ask boilerplate questions, often starting instead with, “Do you now, or have you ever owned, a 1965 Buick automobile?”

This time he asked one of the routine questions, and the plaintiff had indeed “ever been convicted of a crime.” A few more questions elicited the fact that the crime was murder. Harry asked where the crime occurred. He happened to know the California neighborhood and worked a few local details into his questions. He learned that the plaintiff had served his time near Vacaville. Harry asked if Joe Smith, a family friend, was one of the guards on plaintiff’s wing. Plaintiff decided Harry must have known everything he had ever done wrong, and within a few days dismissed the case.

When Susan Fahringer was a new associate assigned to Harry, they met in Harry’s office for a discovery call. The lawyer on the other side worked himself up until he was screaming into his phone. After he stopped, Harry let a few moments pass and then indicated that the lawyer needed to repeat everything because Harry’s speakerphone was acting up and they had barely been able to hear him. “But I’ve been yelling!!!” Susan decided it could be fun to be a lawyer.

Harry treats everyone equally and hates hierarchies. Jeff Tilden notes that even as an associate no target was too important for Harry’s wit. Harry was asked to work with one of the firm’s most powerful partners on a joint presentation at a firm-wide meeting. The partner directed Harry to prepare both of their remarks. Harry ducked the partner’s requests for a status report. He handed the partner his script as they approached the stage. Harry’s part had the substance; the partner’s script was various permutations of “Harry, that’s the most intelligent analysis I’ve ever heard.”

The next year no one wanted to present with Harry. So, he brought a life-sized cardboard cutout of the partner to stand next to him.

Harry has tried more cases, more successfully, than anyone at our firm. He’s a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and of the International Society of Barristers and a board member of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy. Recently, Harry was lead trial counsel for the City of Missoula in a long and complex effort to acquire through condemnation the only privately owned municipal water system in Montana. The proceedings were closely watched, and observers noted that Harry persuaded the trial judge with “the low-keyed, good-humored manner that is the hallmark of the Schneider style.” His Missoula co-counsel adds, “Harry was consistently understated, unexpected and entirely exceptional in everything he did. The entire courtroom held their collective breath every time Harry stood up.”

But he’s perhaps best known, and made his friends and firm most proud, for his pro bono role as a member of a team of Perkins and military lawyers, with then-law professor Neal Katyal, that represented Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver. Hamdan’s case went to the Supreme Court, where it was argued by Katyal, later the acting solicitor general. Katyal notes that he has worked with many of the best lawyers in the country, “but I have never met a lawyer with a keener sense of good judgment than Harry Schneider.”

The Supreme Court upheld Hamdan’s rights under the Geneva Convention, but that just meant he had the right to a “regular” court martial at Guantanamo. Harry led the trial team to an almost complete victory (and even the partial loss was reversed on appeal). A few years after Hamdan’s release, Harry went to Yemen to check on him. Col. Steven David, then in charge of defense work at Guantanamo and now a justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, observes: “At a time when it was not popular, but it was the right thing to do, Harry volunteered his talents and risked his reputation and career to ensure justice and fairness for all. His time commitment, professionalism, passion, advocacy and dedication … is as much a John Adams legacy as any work any of us ever have done or will ever do to protect and preserve the Rule of Law. We should all be more like Harry!”

Harry and the team received numerous awards for their work, and have been asked to speak about the case before many organizations. Tilden watched one of Harry’s presentations, to trial lawyers in a training program in Kenya organized by Justice Advocacy Africa. Tilden cannot imagine a better advertisement for our country after seeing the audience’s reaction to the story of American lawyers fighting for, and a legal system respecting, the Rule of Law for a Muslim, from far away, accused of the most heinous terrorism.

At first blush, Harry seems to prove the adage that trial lawyers are not organization people. He’s made more than a few comments about the proliferation of firm policies, bureaucracies, and lawyers in management. He hates branding and marketing. His bio is a decade out of date in most areas. When we shortened the firm name, and again when we jazzed up the font, he commandeered every available box of letterhead on our floor so that he could keep using the old style for years.

Harry’s former partner, now Ninth Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown, notes that he is not just a great teammate and extraordinary courtroom lawyer, but steps up when an organization needs him. “He throws himself into the effort, regardless whether it is high strategy or mere legwork,” Judge McKeown said. Harry was one of four lawyers managing the firm for six years; was a cornerstone of the pro bono and other firm committees; and was the one we all wanted to advise and defend the firm for over 20 years. Outside the firm, he’s been chosen by the ALAS lawyer insurance organization as a board member and then chair, by the Barristers as their president, and by Western District federal judges as chair of the magistrate judge merit selection panel.

Before joining the KCBA Board of Trustees, Harry served the King County Bar Foundation, including stints as president and as co-chair of a tremendously successful campaign to honor the bar’s 125th anniversary. His co-chair in that effort, Kate Battuello, says that when Harry is needed to move a matter forward, “you can count on him to deliver, and to do so in an efficient, intelligent and politically adept way that always includes an appropriate dose of good humor.”

Harry has been asked to step up again, and serve all of us in the King County Bar Association. He’ll once again make us proud.

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