Yesterday, Stark County and The State of Ohio lost one of the finest attorneys ever to step foot in a courtroom. Eugene P. Okey was one of the most feared and respected personal injury attorneys in Ohio in the 70's, 80's and even early 90's. His courtroom victories were legendary--numerous multimillion dollar jury verdicts, the landmark Jeep rollover case, which set legal precedent in Ohio and in the U.S. and is still good law today, and numerous medical malpractice jury verdicts. He earned a national reputation for his representation of injury victims and his trial skills.
But more than his brilliance as a lawyer, he was an even finer person. I had the privilege of working with and for him for almost 15 years. It was very easy to see why he was so successful and so highly thought of. First, he came from modest means and had to hone all of his skills the hard way--by trying scores of jury trials, learning what worked and what didn't, and relying on his own instincts. This process turned him into a great trial lawyer--one who feared nothing, made him able to think on his feet, and adapt to the changing winds and momentum shifts of any trial. Later, with the help of his two sons and daughter, all excellent lawyers in their own right, he built a fantastic law firm.
Secondly, he had an incredible gift for reading people and connecting with them. I call this "street smarts," and it's a gift that most "elite" law grads or attorneys simply can't develop or hone. He didn't read law books; he read people. I think he was good at reading witnesses and juries because he knew how to treat people, and he treated everybody the same--with dignity, respect, and courtesy, both inside and outside the courtroom. From the waitress at lunch to the witness or court reporter at trial, he was genuinely nice and friendly to everybody, and he had an incredible sense of humor. He was a people person, a sometimes playful practical joker, and he never took himself too seriously, despite his success. Although he had a reputation for handling "big cases," he continued to work on smaller cases too, where clients just needed their bills and lost wages paid. Didn't matter to him--he was simply helping people.
I had the privilege of sitting in on a few of his trials. It was impossible for juries or observers not to like him. Oh, there were a few occasions where I saw him get in someone's face during cross examination in the heat of a trial, but he NEVER did that until that witness crossed the bounds of decency, decorum, or was outright taking liberty with the oath to tell the truth. Another sign of a great trial lawyer--learning the art of the effective counterpunch.
His life is testimony to the fact that honest, decent, humble, and hard working people will succeed. One of my favorite quotes on life in general is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once remarked: "It's hard to be simple enough to be good."
That describes Mr. Okey perfectly. He will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.
And "now he knows."