In my law ofﬁce in downtown Orlando I have a walk-in vault in the basement. It has been there since my father purchased the building in 1974 as his practice was advancing after his retirement as an Orange County Juvenile Court Judge. It was there when I joined him and began practicing law in 1983. It was there as my grandfather spent his last days practicing law in Orange County in 1974. The vault holds many treasures, as you can imagine. When asked to write an article for The Briefs about being a third-generation Orlando lawyer and the changes in the law practice, I took the opportunity to dust off and review many of those treasures. These items have very little monetary value, but they are priceless to me. They consist of various diplomas, plaques, certiﬁcates and awards. The treasures of the vault have grown signiﬁcantly since my grandfather, C. Arthur Yergey (“Art”), began the practice of law. He and his bride Germaine Graft, later known as Germaine G. Yergey (“Gerry”), had just acquired their ﬁrst precious article of wealth. That wealth consisted of the knowledge and diploma that each of them had gained upon their graduation from Dickinson Law School in Pennsylvania in 1925.
My Grandmother, was truly a unique woman at that point in time. In the 1920s it was unheard of for a woman to consider going to law school or to even consider the “man’s” profession of the practice of law. She, however, had the inner strength and endurance to complete the task in spite of the many improper statements made by many of her male colleagues.
The next asset was acquired on November 5, 1927. This was the date that my grandfather was admitted to practice law in the State of Florida. With these assets, my grandparents embarked on their journey from Pennsylvania to Florida. Their plan was to leave the State of Pennsylvania for the Sunshine State and move to the thriving city of Miami, Florida. Orlando was an unknown factor.
I am told that the path to riches came to a swift halt when the young couple’s only monetary asset, their aging vehicle, died on the side of the road near the then-small town known as Orlando. My grandfather, without sufﬁcient funds to repair the vehicle, sought and obtained a full-time associate’s position from a local attorney, W.B. Crawford. My grandparents then made the decision that Orlando would be their home.
Shortly thereafter they made the decision to open their own ofﬁce. They started their law practice in the Dolive Building at the corner of Orange Avenue and Washington Street. They worked as a team. My grandfather met with clients and handled the trial work. My grandmother did the research and handled the preparation of motions and briefs. She acted as attorney, paralegal and secretary, handling each task better than most of her male counterparts.
The practice of law was very different then. There was only one Circuit Court Judge (Judge Smith) who handled all of civil, criminal, domestic and probate cases. All pleadings and correspondence were handled solely by mail or hand delivery. There was no facsimile, email or overnight delivery.
Their practice was a general practice, including civil, criminal, probate and real property matters. This was the norm at that point in time. My grandfather assisted with the formation of Attorneys Title Insurance Fund and became the “fourth” fund member.
Their wealth grew on March 16, 1930, when their only child, D. Arthur Yergey (“Young Art”), was born. C. Arthur Yergey continued his practice of law with the assistance of his wife, who was instrumental in the growth of his practice despite never having taken the Bar. At that point, both felt that Gerry should spend her time raising Young Art, a decision that would reap dividends to all of Central Florida in the coming decades.
My grandparents’ service to the Orlando area grew with each passing year. Both shared a love of music. Gerry was active in the Florida Symphony Association and Art served as president of the Central Florida Civic Music Association. Art was also a staunch supporter of legal aid and acknowledged the need for access to the courts for all people, regardless of their ﬁnancial abilities.
Unfortunately, World War II came along and hindered the growth of his law practice. However, it continued to increase his knowledge and inner wealth. Art Yergey was a Major in the Air Corps and served his country valiantly from June 18, 1942, through December 21, 1945. This service included time spent not only in Europe and West Africa, where he earned a Bronze Star, but also in the Judge Advocate General’s Ofﬁce.
He returned from his military service to a very different Orlando. He continued his law practice and his involvement in various civic organizations within the Orlando area. Both Art and Gerry were avidly involved in their churches: Art with St. Luke’s Cathedral, where he served as Senior Warden, and Gerry with St. James Cathedral.
One of their greatest accomplishments came when Art represented land owners who owned property on the shores of Lake Maitland. A local dentist had purchased submerged property consisting of approximately 35 acres of lake bottom in Lake Maitland. The property consisted, in part, of what was then known as Picnic Island and what is now known as “Dog Island.” The dentist was seeking to dredge and ﬁll the areas between his existing property and Picnic Island. Injunctive relief was sought and temporarily granted while the court sorted out who had jurisdiction over the properties. The legal position of the dentist was that these were swamp lands. C. Arthur Yergey appealed to the Attorney General and the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund to intervene in the case, claiming that the lake was a navigable waterway. If it could be shown that the lake was a navigable waterway, then the State would own the lands and they could not be conveyed to private property owners. After several years of litigation it was ultimately determined that Lake Maitland was a navigable waterway, resulting in victory for Art’s client and all citizens who enjoy that lake today.
C. Arthur Yergey was also concerned with the quality of life of Central Florida. He was honored several times, including being named Man of the Week for Florida Magazine on October 3, 1965, for his efforts as Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Beautiﬁcation Committee. He was adamant about continuing the efforts to beautify Orlando and worked to improve that beautiﬁcation process at every opportunity.
He was proud to have his son join him in the law practice in 1957. The two practiced together in the Citizen’s Bank Building at Orange Avenue and Robinson Street until C. Arthur Yergey was appointed as a Juvenile Court Judge in1963. At that time Orlando was so small that there was no need for a full-time Juvenile Court Judge. This allowed my father to continue to practice law until his resignation from Juvenile Court at the end of 1969. He then went back to full-time practice since my grandfather was nearing retirement. My father continued that practice with his father until C. Arthur Yergey’s death in 1974. Gerry continued to provide her “assistance” until her death in 1981.
The practice moved to its present location on Magnolia Avenue in 1974. The new location and resignation from the bench allowed Young Art to continue to assist and help others throughout Central Florida. These activities included acting as a founding Trustee for Lake Highland Preparatory School and assisting with establishing Edgewood Boy’s Ranch, now known as Edgewood Children’s Ranch. As his father before him, Young Art served as Senior Warden at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and was involved in various Bar activities. He still supports these organizations today.
I was fortunate enough to begin my practice of law with my father in 1983. I did not realize the beneﬁts of my father’s desire to return to the law practice and not continue his career as a member of the judiciary until many years later. His patience and advice were, and continue to be, priceless. I went from law clerk, to all-knowing associate, to enterprising junior partner. My father has since retired but now serves as an ever-valuable sounding board with over ﬁfty years of experience.
Yes, as I go through that vault, it has many priceless items. Those include the diplomas, the plaques, the certiﬁcates and the awards of three ﬁne attorneys - attorneys who were dedicated to serving the people of Central Florida and making it a better place for all. I can only hope that as time marches on, the treasures of that vault will continue to grow as the needs of Orange County continue to increase. As my father, grandmother and grandfather before me, I am honored to be an attorney and a member of the Orange County Bar Association. I look forward to the OCBA’s next seventy-ﬁve years of excellence. Hopefully, during that time, three more generations of Yergeys will have had the opportunity to provide legal services to the citizens of Orange County and all of Central Florida. And the treasures of my vault will grow with them.
The Briefs, January 2008, Vol. 76, No.1