Spokane lawyer Bill Maxey received the Spokane County Bar Association’s 2017 professionalism award earlier this month at the Spokane Club, the place where his father, Carl Maxey, the city’s first African-American attorney, once worked as a busboy for 25 cents an hour.
“I was surprised, excited, humbled, and proud,” says Maxey, who was notified of the honor in February by county bar association President Jennifer Hanson.
In an interview with the Journal before the award’s ceremony, displaying the characteristic Maxey sense of humor, he quipped with a laugh, “It made me think, I’ve lost so many cases through the years that maybe this is the way my peers are saying, ‘Thank you.’”
The honor that Maxey received is called the Smithmoore P. Myers Professionalism Award, which the county bar association first presented in 1994 to its namesake.
Myers served two stints as dean of the Gonzaga School of Law, from 1955 to 1965 and from 1975 to 1978. He served as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington from 1965 to 1975, and in 1978, was named U.S. magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Washington.
Maxey says Myers was “legendary” in the legal community here, and adds that it’s an honor to receive an award in his name.
“He was a fantastic man, and I got a chance to meet and know him during my time at the law school,” Maxey says.
Maxey is the 27th winner of the Smithmoore award. In 2006, 2014, and 2015, the award was shared by two attorneys who were deemed to exemplify the “highest ethical and professional standards of the legal profession,” says Lynn Mounsey, executive director of the county bar association.
Maxey was chosen unanimously by a panel of two dozen legal professionals ranging from court administrators and judges to past award winners and other attorneys, she says.
The bar association also recognized five of its members who this year reached 50 years of legal practice. That group includes attorneys Jeff A. Morris, Gene C. Randall, D. Roger Reed, Curtis L. Shoemaker, and Henry “Ted” Stiles II.
As for Maxey, who turns 68 in May, he reiterated that he’s flattered to have been chosen as the 2017 Smithmoore winner.
“As I’ve reflected on the award, I’ve felt that I’ve had a good relationship with the court, my peers, and judges. Ultimately, it’s all about the people you’re attempting to assist for a fair and equitable result,” he says.
Maxey is a member of the board for the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, at 845 S. Sherman. He’s been a co-chairman and member of the county bar association’s diversity initiative since 2004, and belongs to a number of Eastern Washington and North Idaho legal associations.
Maxey and his younger brother, 59-year-old Bevan Maxey, own and operate Maxey Law Office—founded by their father—located in about 4,000 square feet of space in a three-story building at 1835 W. Broadway. The firm employs about a dozen people, half of them attorneys, Maxey says.
The brothers established their own firms, with Maxey Law Office serving as the parent firm. Bill Maxey has partnered with attorney Mark Harris to form Maxey, Harris Law Office PLLC, and Bevan operates Bevan Maxey PLLC.
Carl Maxey, a graduate of GU’s law school in 1951, devoted much of his career to civil rights causes, using litigation to break down racial barriers at public and private entities across the region. He also was a prominent criminal defense attorney who was a gifted trial lawyer, Bill Maxey says of his father.
Carl Maxey died in July 1997 at age 73.
As Carl’s son, Bill Maxey says he never felt pressure to practice law.
“I honestly can’t recall if I ever questioned whether I wanted to be an attorney. Dad, he never pushed us in that direction. He paved and paid the way for Bevan and me.”
Bill Maxey graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 1967. He attended the University of Oregon from 1967 to 1971 and earned undergraduate degrees in history and political science.
Maxey attended Gonzaga’s law school from 1971 to 1975, and he also was a member of Gonzaga’s last-ever night school law class, which he says was once offered solely for students who worked during the day.
“Through my father’s efforts, I worked as a clerk for (Spokane County Superior Court) Judge Ralph Foley.” Foley was the father of eventual speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tom Foley.
Maxey says he also served as a clerk for Judge William Williams, the man for whom he was named.
“It was a great experience,” Maxey says of working as a clerk. “I recorded evidence, watched trials, and learned from attorneys like Max Etter Sr., Joe Delay, Jim Conley, Mike Cronin, and Gene Annis,” Maxey says.
After graduating from law school, Maxey went to work for the firm where his father practiced at the time, Frederickson, Maxey, Bell & Allison.
Working with that firm and subsequently going to work at Maxey Law Office, when his father established his own firm in 1980, instilled in Maxey the same legal philosophy his father had.
“The number of people that have come through these doors and the diversity of our clients … shapes, sizes, colors, gender, ages, economic backgrounds … what it all comes down to is helping people in need. These doors are still open to anyone,” he says.
Maxey’s career evolved in the direction of practicing personal-injury law, while Bevan Maxey has focused on criminal law.
Citing attorney-client privilege, Maxey declines to disclose details of cases he’s handled through the years.
“I want to be as general as I can. Recently, we represented someone who was displaced, out there without access to a lot of things,” Maxey says. “We were able to resolve some matters and created a resolution for somebody that helped make a difference in their life. We reduced our fees and costs and helped them move forward.”
Maxey handles cases mostly with attorney Mark Harris, who began as an intern before joining the firm full time after graduating from law school.
“We’re busy; as you can see, things never really slow down,” says Maxey, gesturing to a waiting room with clients and staff members tending to their cases.
“With all the changes in technology, in this regard, the human condition is the same. Misfortune still happens,” he says.
Maxey married his wife, Shannon, in 1976, and they have three adult children, Kara, Nick, and Alex, none of whom practice law, he says.
Maxey, who lives in the Mead area, says he has no intentions of leaving the practice of law any time soon.
“I love it,” he says. “And there are just too many people who need help.”
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