A small town's law firm turns 100

By Terri Gleich, Special to KPBJ

Updated: 6:01 a.m.


Frank Shiers Jr. and his sister, Jane Bryce, remember their father answering calls from clients at all hours of the night, reading appellate court decisions during family trips and occasionally bringing home boxes of vegetables as payment from his Port Orchard law practice.

“My mom would say, ‘What’s that?’ and dad would say, ‘That’s a fee.’ It happened many times,” said Shiers. “That was the kind of practice my dad conducted.”

“The law was his hobby and his profession,” said Bryce. “He just loved the law and he loved people.”

When Frank Shiers Sr. died in 2000 after more than a half-century of practicing law, the Port Orchard Independent called him “perhaps Kitsap County’s most respected attorney.” On Oct. 5, the law firm that bears his name is celebrating its 100th anniversary and Shiers’ successors say they are continuing his legacy.

“We care about our clients, we really do,” said Tracy DiGiovanni, the firm’s managing partner. “Every attorney here goes above and beyond to assist their clients.”

That reputation has attracted a wide range of business clients, including Silver City Brewery, Kitsap Bank and West Hills Auto Plex, as well as multiple generations of families.

“They’ve always taken care of their clients,” said Glennys Gehring, who along with her husband Buck, and son, Richard, worked with the firm to develop the South Kitsap Mall and operate four A&W Drive-Ins. “They listen to you. Even though they’re very busy, they listen to you when you call.”

“It’s a small town, but they’re a big law firm in service and reliability,” agreed Richard Gehring.

Over the years, the firm has produced three Kitsap County Superior Court judges — Leonard Kruse, James Roper and William Kamps, as well as long-time Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge.

With eight attorneys it’s one of Kitsap’s largest firms, but it started in 1916 as a one-man operation, founded by Ray Greenwood, whose pipe stand and gray fedora adorn a shadowbox in the waiting room at the law firm’s offices across from Port Orchard City Hall.

When Greenwood started practicing law, the streets of Port Orchard were dirt, the courthouse was a wood-frame building, Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States and World War I was raging.

Greenwood was described in a 1999 Kitsap Sun article as “a legendary Kitsap County lawyer, who thrived on the competition and theatrics of a courtroom battle.” He served as prosecutor for six years and was special prosecutor in the highly-publicized 1935 Erlands Point Massacre trial that resulted in Leo Hall being convicted of murdering six people during a bungled beach house robbery.

Greenwood had his own troubles, as well, and was disbarred from 1941-45 because of “discordant domestic relations and the excessive use of intoxicating liquor.” He was reinstated after convincing the state supreme court that he had returned to a “sober, industrious and upright life.”

In 1949, he hired Shiers straight out of law school and the two practiced together until 1963, when Greenwood died of a heart attack while duck hunting in Sequim with Shiers and Leonard Kruse, who joined the firm in 1962.

Frank Shiers Jr., a newscaster for KIRO-FM and editorial cartoonist whose work appears in the Kitsap Sun, said there were two events that made an impression on him as a child — Greenwood’s death and a fire that destroyed the firm’s law office on Bay Street that same year.

His sister, a retired school librarian, also remembered. “The law office burned to the ground,” she said. “A lot of the records burned up. Some would come home and my mom would iron the pages.”

According to the 1999 Kitsap Sun article, the firm almost folded after the fire. Shiers and Kruse considered closing the office or moving to Bremerton before deciding to relocate to an office on Prospect Street.

Gary Chrey, a long-time partner who is now of counsel, credited Kruse with helping grow the firm in the 1960s. Both his presence and his credentials were formidable. “He was well-known throughout the community. He was a big guy, bald, loud, very much a personality.” He also practiced both civil and criminal law at a very high level, said Chrey.

Also notable was William Kamps, who joined the firm in 1972 and oversaw construction of the Greenwood Building and the firm’s relocation to its current location on the second floor, overlooking Sinclair Inlet.

At age 75, Kamps is the oldest living alumni of the firm. The retired judge counts Shiers as a mentor and father figure and looks back fondly on his years at the firm. When he arrived in Bremerton in 1970, he was the county’s 37th lawyer.

“It was a great time to practice, a great time to be at that law firm. During the 70s, the county bar burgeoned. The modern world moved into Kitsap County,” he said.

When the Bangor submarine base was built in 1975, Kamps said it was a boon to the county and to Kitsap lawyers. “It brought lots of people and lots of people have lots of legal problems.”

Two of the firm’s best-known cases came during the 1990s, when Hauge and attorney Kim Zak helped homeowners near the Bremerton sewage treatment plant obtain more than $7 million in damages because of the plant’s noxious odors. The settlement also forced the city to fix the problem.

“It’s why, when you drive by it now, it’s covered,” said DiGiovanni.

As for the future of Shiers Law Firm, she predicts slow methodical growth, including expanding the firm’s Poulsbo office, which opened in 2009.

“It’s been a really good firm for a long time,” said former Kitsap Bank president Jim Carmichael. “The attorneys live in the community, they volunteer in the community, it keeps them attuned to the community and that’s really important to people.”

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