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Memorial-Heeney, Robert C.
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Robert C. Heeney
Date of Death: February 23, 1981 


JUDGE MATHIAS: I call upon Thomas Heeney, Esquire, to speak in memory of his father, Robert Heeney.

     MR. HEENEY: May it please the Court, members of the bar, friends and distinguished guests.

     We hear it said all too frequently that the practice of law in 1981 is regretfully different from the way it was practiced years ago. To be sure, all of us, young and old, have observed the increasing complexity of the law and are well aware of the constant development and changes of the law and we’ve had an occasion many times to compare those photographs of the Bar Association of today with the Bar Association of thiry-one years ago. We notice, to be sure, the difference in the sizes. We also notice again regretfully that some of the members of the most recent bar photograph we don’t even know ourselves. We’re certainly aware of the problems that our profession has from the problems of law office management to the problem of fair and equitable distribution of legal services.  It really is almost a wistful yearning from what veteran members of this bar remember and what us young members of the bar can only imagine as the good old days. Nostalgic functions, it seems to us, such as these, say that those days are gone forever. They are not, I assure you. As long as the memory of Bob Heeney stays with each of us, as long as he has anything to do with it we’ll preserve the good old days in the practice of law.

     Bob Heeney always wanted to be a lawyer. Oh, he had a few obstacles along the way in achieving that dream. When he was a youngster in depression times his family home was lost. His volunteer fireman father had to rent a house. And when Bob Heeney graduated from high school, unlike some of us, he didn’t go direct into college. He went direct into a factory. Like some or unlike some of us, after his second year he wasn’t promoted to a sophomore in college. He was promoted in the factory to a cable splicer for the Remington-Rand Corporation. For sure, four years of military service, serving his country in North Africa during World War II was a slight impediment but upon coming out of the Service at his discharge he still had preserved that dream and the dream was to be a lawyer. Another slight problem in 1946 at the age of twenty-five. Seven more long years before he could even sit at the bar to take the bar examination. It wasn’t any problem. The preordained foregone conclusion to be a lawyer regardless of the obstacles simply said you cram seven years of law school into four. Seven years of college. Four years of college, three years of law school into four, and he did it.

     He was part, they tell me, of an era in the law that spanned over four decades when you think about it. I think most of you all who saw him at some time in that period would agree that he was truly a genuine, and I use this sportsman vernacular right now, an all-star. He was perhaps the finest cross examiner that this bench has ever seen. As an orator they say he was without peer. He was matchless. He tried over one hundred capital cases during his long and illustrious career.

     Some people ask why he was so successful and perhaps the best answer is that he was able to talk to people. People listened to him. Perhaps the essence of a trial lawyer.

     Forever optimistic, he exuded confidence. Even upon the eve of a very, very serious operation for cancer recently, not knowing what the result would be, he and I were in a hospital room discussing not his health, not his future, but discussing strategy in a celebrated homicide case in Prince George’s County, Maryland. As we were discussing it he looked at me sharply and said, Tom, is your appearance entered in that case? And I responded, Well, yes, it is, Dad. My appearance is as the lawyer for the Defendant and Phil Armstrong’s appearance as the lawyer for the Defendant is in the case. My father then looked at me and in no uncertain terms instructed me that, in his words, File my line.

     He took his profession with the utmost of seriousness. They tell me that when Bob Heeney started out in the practice of law in the early 1950s as a criminal defense lawyer that you could have held a convention of those kinds of lawyers in a telephone booth.

     He never was afraid to take upon an unpopular cause. That never bothered him. To him the practice of law was a proud calling. He practiced it like a religion. He practiced the law with skill, integrity, humor.

     At the dinner table five of his children would look at him and say, Dad, why is it that you’re so good. The Irish blarney would come out when he’d wink at us with a beguiling eye and said, Because I employ better than anyone else trickery and deceit.

     Certainly if the famous hypothetical law firm of Feld and Heeney faced Maurie Dunie who decided to bail out at the last moment by offering a settlement the joint response, and I know young Alvin would support me here, would be settlement? What’s that? Clearly the second response would be after Maurie in his scholarly way would define the definition of settlement, the joint response surely would be of course we’ll settle this case. Now let’s get in front of the jury and settle it the way it should be settled.

     The exhilaration of Bob Heeney, of the fight and the camaderie with his combatants afterwards really kept him on a perpetual high but he also had certain inspirational principles that made his practice of the law and maybe ours too fulfilling. First of all he believed that a defendant, one who was accused of a crime, and the defense of that was the highest calling of our profession. He believed in giving no quarter in the courtroom. He believed throughout his career in the nobility of championing and protecting people’s rights. In a most profound way he believed that any time a constitutional right is ignored liberty dies a little.

     As his son and as his law partner I’d be the first to agree that there never will be, I’m sure, a lawyer quite as unique as Bob Heeney. He was truly one of a kind.

     However, I say this with as much conviction as I can, I think I share it with everybody here, the members of the bench, his colleagues, his family and his friends, this is not, his recent passing is not the closing of an era because Bob Heeney taught us, all of us lawyers, how the law should be practiced. That is the legacy I submit to you that he leaves to all of us. The good old days of the practice of law are still to come because the guiding hand of Bob Heeney has touched us all in one way or another.

     JUDGE MATHIAS: Thank you, Tom, for those grave remarks.

     Judge McAuliffe will respond.

     JUDGE McAULIFFE: Let me say I’m honored to be asked to respond on behalf of the bench. As many of you probably already know, three of us here, Judge Fairbanks, Judge Jim McAuliffe and I served as law partners with Bob. All of us on this bench have known Bob for many years.

     Bob began his practice in 1950 and shortly thereafter was an Assistant State’s Attorney in the County, that at a time when both State’s Attorney and Assistant State’s Attorney were part-time jobs and Bob was beginning his practice and also acting as an Assistant Prosecutor. It was at a time in the early 1950s when Judge Fairbanks was serving as the substitute or part-time rather trial magistrate in Silver Spring and Bob Heeney was the prosecutor in Silver Spring and I was privileged to be the Justice of the Peace there writing the warrants that we first got together and later formed a firm. Bob Bourbon, along with Judge Fairbanks, myself, were members, first members of the firm. Later my brother joined us. Bob ran for State’s Attorney at one time even though his primary love was on the other side of the fence, that is, in defending criminal cases, but he made a very strong run for State’s Attorney. He was, however, a Republican and that did not stand him well in that particular year.

     Bob was a member of the presitgious American College of Trial Lawyers. He was also a longtime member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and was the President of the national association not many years ago. Through his association with the National Criminal Defense Lawyers Bob became the head of the defense team for the Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota and was successful in that effort.

     I was impresssed by the fact that when memorial services were held for Bob very shortly after his untimely passing we had at least seven attorneys from all around different parts of the country who were members and officers of that National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys coming from New York, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Virginia, all dropping whatever they were doing and taking a plane to comein for the memorial services for Bob, which speaks volumes about Bob and what he did for that Association and the kind of person he was.

      Bob loved this particular courtroom and he gave many an animated presentation in this courtroom. He never gave anything except an animated presentation in any courtroom. He was an absolute delight for the presiding judge. Unfortunately, I was not privileged to preside over cases in which Bob was representing someone because I had been so close to Bob for so many years that I was forced to recuse myself. I could not have been impartial in a case in which bob was involved and so I missed out on the pleasure of having Bob come before me, but I do know that the appellate judges of this State looked forward to the cases that Bob would bring before them. As many, many of your know Judge Moore could tell you that in the appellate courts where they do not have live witnesses, where they have attorneys who come and argue from briefs, things can tend to get a little bit dry. Bob still had the same animated presentation in the appellate courts, the same intellectual ability that was like a breath of fresh air, I’m sure, for those judges. Bob gave every client that he represented a great defense. He was truly a great trial lawyer.

     He was a longtime member of the Rockville Civitan Club. He was a coach of both basketball and baseball for youngsters in this County for as many years as I can recall. He’s left behind an outstanding and a wonderful family including a trial lawyer who as you have seen is going to follow in Bob’s footsteps.

     I cannot help but conjure up the image that right now in some place not too far away but somewhat above us here on earth there’s now gathered a group which includes Judge Anderson and Bob and Judge Moorman and Clitus Bourdeaux and Judge Prescott and Whaley Dawson, and Alger Barbee and have gathered to watch and maybe to raise a glass or two, notwithstanding the presence of Judge Woodward, who is cautioning them against excess.

     I am deeply sorrowed by the loss of Bob as you are and as this bench is but I am gratified that at least we could memorialize Bob in this courtroom where he practiced so well for so long and a courtroom which he loved.

     JUDGE MATHIAS: Thank you, Judge McAuliffe. These remarks will be entered upon the permanent Minutes of this court in memory of Robert C. Heeney.