Catching Up with Pat O’Connor
The first lawyer in Savannah to be nominated president of the state bar of Georgia since Sonny Seiler in 1973.
This June, Pat O’Connor wraps his term as President of the State Bar of Georgia. In one year, O’Connor has crisscrossed the state in a 25,000-mile odyssey toward a clearer understanding of what it’s like to be one of Georgia’s 49,000 bar-certified lawyers. Pat O’Connor reflects on his experiences during that term of service and looks back on some of his most memorable Savannah cases.
“Law is important to every citizen in this country,” muses O’Connor, “this year I got to see how Georgia legislation in particular effects a wide range of people all over the state.” As Bar president, O’Connor acted as both messenger and mediator, communicating with attorneys as well as Georgia citizens.
But all that traveling, meeting and speaking left him longing for his Savannah home. “I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to serve this year, but I am ready to get back to my practice at Oliver Maner.” O’Connor gives a special nod to his partners at the firm and how they stepped up to fill in the gaps when he became bar president.
Pat O’Connor mostly practices municipal law, representing cities, towns, and counties. In 1984, a young O’Connor took a novel approach in a case for Bonaventure Cemetery. A family alleged that city workers interfered with the burial of a loved one after their funeral ran past 5 p.m. The workers allegedly threw shovels and insisted the family pay cash on the spot for their working overtime.
The family filed suit against the City of Savannah, but clever O’Connor thwarted their aim under an obscure piece of law. He insisted that Bonaventure Cemetery was actually a park and therefore immune to legal action.
O’Connor successfully convinced all but one judge that, since so many people visit Bonaventure, enjoying picnics, boating and strolling along the shore of Wilmington River, Bonaventure Cemetery was indeed a park and not a cemetery. And the case was dismissed.
It’s not always cities, towns, parks and cemeteries for O’Connor. In 2009, he represented the family of David Starnes Jr., a Georgia Southern University creative writing professor killed in a head-on car collision on Mother’s Day 2007. The driver, who was under the influence of alcohol and prescription medication, was severely injured.
O’Connor won the suit, and Starnes’ surviving parents were awarded $4 million in damages. “For me, this was a clear example of how the law really can deliver justice,” O’Connor ponders, “that money won’t bring back David Starnes Jr. but the ruling made a strong point about the very real repercussions of driving recklessly.”
This summer, Pat O’Connor returns full time to Savannah, with a new perspective on issues facing Georgia’s lawyers and with an eagerness to rejoin his partners at Oliver Maner. No doubt, he’s ready to enjoy the great trees and green spaces of Savannah, probably a picnic and glass of wine or two at Bonaventure, too.