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Oklahoma Lawyers Making Equal Justice for all a Reality

Clerk Takes Judge Cook's Advice

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

  • By: Ralph Schaefer
  • Organization: Tulsa Business Journal

Tulsa Business Journal
Article by Ralph Schaefer

Judge H. Dale Cook thought it might be a good idea if his young law clerk passed his bar exam as quickly as possible - even though being an attorney wasn't a job requirement.
That law clerk did just as the federal judge suggested - he passed the exam in February, 1975. A month earlier he had passed the Iowa Bar.

Ken Brune earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa College of Law, graduating in December, 1974, fulfilling a life-long dream and started a rewarding legal career.

Judge Cook was just one of many mentors who helped shape the focus of Brune's legal work.

He had earned a masters degree in English and Literature from the University of Iowa, was tired of school and broke, so he took a break from the educational scene and joined the U.S. Army. He knew he would return to the classroom with some help from the GI Bill.

Part of his training for the Vietnam veteran was at Ft. Sill, the Iowa native's introduction to the Sooner State.

'I decided that Oklahoma would be a fun place to live,' Brune said.

It was a marvelous experience working for Judge Cook, he said. The judge allowed and required law clerks to be in the courtroom.

'Judge Cook just started working on the bench and I was the first of his law clerks, serving two years,' Brune said. Clerks would serve longer later in the judge's career.

That early experience exposed Brune to see some of the best lawyers in the entire county practice in the courtroom as motions were filed and trials were held.

Assessing that time, the attorney said he felt the most important lessons he learned as a clerk that would affect his professional life was to be prepared, be professional and be ethical.

He also quickly learned the hardest lesson in the legal community was the old adage that 'Lady Justice is a Jealous Mistress.'

Judge Cook concentrated on the law morning, noon and night, Brune said. 'Work was intense and I even worked on July 4, 1976, the date of our nation's bicentennial. It was not unusual to be in the federal courthouse at 10 p.m. waiting for a jury's verdict.'

Work wasn't limited to Tulsa and the northern district of Oklahoma.

Cook was a traveling judge and would hear cases in the Eastern and Western districts.

That meant Brune was on the road and followed the mandate of being prepared for court regardless of where court was located.

'As clerks, we researched authority cited by counsel and briefed the judge accordingly,' he said. 'We drafted legal opinions and orders that he would review that were applicable to a case and the law.'

In the end, the job was to counsel the judge with important facts in either civil or criminal actions.
'I learned about proceedings and the relevance of the law,' he said.

The next step was the Tulsa County District Attorney's office under S.M. Buddy Fallis and an assignment to the civil division.

Brune would advise county officials - commissioners, assessor and treasurer - about legal issues and work with the city government. INCOG meetings were a regular part of the agenda.

'I still remember Commissioners Bob Newhouse, District Three, Terry Young. Distrtict Two, and Lewis Harris, District One,' he said. Others included Treasurer John Campbell and Assessor Wilson Glass.

During his time in the county office, he estimates he handled a thousand cases in one form or another. Cases ran the gamut in about every form one can imagine.

Next on the training schedule was a two-year stint as a Tulsa County Court Special District Judge.

Work included handling the traffic docket, the pre-hearing docket and presiding over about 35 jury trials.

The biggest lesson that Brune learned was that as a judge, it sometimes is difficult to make decisions.

There is not always a clear path to justice, he said. 'I have had sleepless nights before deciding a case. But once that decision was made, it was time to put it behind and move on to the next case and do the best for all parties involved in that issue.

Government work ended in 1979 when Brune joined the Holliman, Langholz, Runnels & Dorwart law firm as a partner.

Here, work involved a strong litigation and transactional component focused on business and commercial issues.

'I had quite a number of cases, many in federal court and through the midwest,' he said.

It was at this time that Brune went before Judge Cook, his former boss, and found out how tough he really was.

As a clerk, he had seen other lawyers sweat uncomfortably when they came to court and were not completely and thoroughly prepared on issues of the law they were arguing.

'I could see those attorneys chill when they were asked a question they couldn't answer,' he recalled. 'When I was on the other side of the bench I also felt that chill. I also learned that no law clerk would be favored.'

Oil and gas law, notably take or pay contracts representing producers, would be the center of the law firm Brune, Pezold, Richey & Lewis between 1985 and 1994.

'That was where I cut my teeth on the contract based clause that required a minimum take obligation or payment was made to the producer regardless,' he said. That litigation grew out of the deregulation of natural gas in the 1980 when the government policy was changed. By 1994 most cases had been settled. Today few pipeline companies or producers enter into those long-term contracts with that take or pay requirement.
The crux of the issue was that natural gas must be moved by pipeline and it is expensive for producers to build those lines to the well site, he said. Producers wanted to be certain they would recover that expense.

It was a government decision in 1974 that caused natural gas to become a desired marketable commodity, Brune said. Prices rose from 19 cents to several dollars per mcf. When the gas bubble broke in 1984, demand fell

It was in 1994 that Brune and Neff was formed, again with the focus on civil cases, but less on gas litigation.

The Brune Law Firm was formed in 2004 and the focus on civil cases continued.

Throughout his career, Brune found time for community service, both to the Tulsa County Bar Association, the Oklahoma Bar Association and to various nonprofit groups.

But it is the most recent appointment by the Tulsa City Council to the Oklahoma State University Medical Center Trust that will occupy a lot of his time during the next few weeks.

The job is to effect a smooth transition of the medical facility to the trust that will ensure the hospital's continued operation, Brune said. This is important both to the city and northeast Oklahoma. It will eliminate the stigma that Tulsa is the largest city in the U.S. without a medical facility for indigent patients.

This public trust is extremely important for Tulsa and will continue that service for indigent people since Hillcrest Hospital went private.

Even though he faces new challenges both in the law practice and in his community work, Brune says his early mentors have made the difference in his career.

Brune considers that Judge H. Dale Cook, S. M. 'Buddy' Fallis and the experience as a judge as key factors in shaping his legal career.

'These mentors were the top professionals in the law,' he said. 'They encouraged and trained me to give the greatest possible effort to work for the appropriate and best outcome of the client, no matter who I represented.

'That would have been county officials and many others since where I had to be ready to do the best I could to give the highest response and greatest capability that I could have to meet the issues and needs of the client.

'These mentors were of the highest ethical standards so that I learned and was encouraged to do all of that in the appropriate standards both legal and ethical.

'In that sense, I consider myself to be extraordinarily fortunate my introduction to the profession was through those who had built the highest standards. I learned from that one does not have to compromise those standards.'


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