As president-elect of the Palm Beach County Bar Association, John Whittles will have plenty of work to do when he begins his one-year term in June.
One important goal: Boosting the reputation of attorneys.
Whittles, the son of a police officer, said he knows what it’s like when a few bad apples tarnish the reputation of the whole bunch. He’s seen it in the law enforcement field and in the legal field too.
“Most lawyers I see in my practice are good people who try hard and do important work,” said Whittles, of Mathison Whittles, with offices in Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach.
“Stories of the bad ones rise to the surface more often than not,” Whittles said. “It’s our job to show the other side, to show they’re good people working hard.”
Members of the Bar are involved in a number of charitable programs, including Law Week, which features a dial-a-lawyer phone-in program. Bar members also do work for the Legal Aid Society, which provides free legal services to people who qualify.
Whittles declined to comment until he’s bar president on the ongoing issues in the Palm Beach County Circuit Court probate division.
The Palm Beach Post has published a series of articles casting light on the practices of longtime probate judge Martin Colin and his wife, Elizabeth Savitt. The Post investigation revealed that the savings of incapacitated seniors flow into the household of Colin via his wife’s work as a professional guardian in his division.
After the Post published its stories, Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath transferred Colin out of the probate division.
Whittles said an important goal this year is to keep the bar association humming the way it has been under the longtime leadership of executive director Patience Burns, who is retiring after 37 years. Whittle said the Bar is in the midst of selecting her replacement.
When he’s not thinking of ways to improve the Palm Beach County Bar Association, Whittles tends to his legal practice.
Part of his practice involves handling election law cases. And elections in Palm Beach County never seem to take place without at least a few controversies.
This year, for instance, Whittles is representing David Levy. Levy has been named the winner in the Group 4 Palm Beach Gardens City Council race over retired city policeman Carl Woods, but Woods and a former Palm Beach County Republican Party chairman dispute the results.
Whittles also represents Bruce Guyton, who has filed a lawsuit alleging voter fraud in his defeat by Lynne Hubbard for a seat on the Riviera Beach City Council. A trial is set for today.
Whittles also handles business litigation, which is brisk now that the economy has improved.
“In bad times, people want to sue more,” Whittles said, “and in good times, people can pay to sue more.”
Name: John Robert Whittles
Hometown: West Palm Beach
Education: B.B.A. Florida Atlantic University (1995); J.D. cum laude, Nova Southeastern (1999)
Family: Wife, Shannon Marie Mahoney; daughter, Ella Marie Whittles
About your company: Mathison Whittles, LLP, provides business advice and litigation services for business and individuals. Our goal is to be “one-stop shopping” for business clients, most of whom are repeat clients. Steve Mathison is the consummate deal person, and I am dual certified by the Florida Bar as an expert in business litigation and in trying civil cases.
First paying job: At 14 years old, I was a busboy at Zaino’s Restaurant in Tequesta. I wanted a nice guitar so bad and that was my ticket. I saved up to buy a used, pale-yellow Fender Stratocaster and thought I was certain to be a rock star.
First break in the business: Being hired by Gerry Richman (Richman Greer, P.A.) in 2000. I got a taste of big, high-profile cases that Gerry is well-known for.
The best business advice you’ve received: “Work so hard, you become irreplaceable.”
The best business book you’ve read: “The Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence.” Riveting.
What I tell young people about this business: “Take the job seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.”
Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? I miserably lost the first substantive hearing I ever had in front of a judge. It was a summary judgment hearing before the Honorable Kenneth Ryskamp in federal court in 1999. I was so nervous, I could hardly speak and had to keep my hands down because they were shaking. I quickly learned to calm down after that.
What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? New businesses and residential construction in northwest portion of the county; Riviera Beach waterfront reaches its incredible potential.
Power lunch spot: City Cellar (the new Manero’s)
Where we’d find you when you’re not at the office: In my daughter’s room working as a supporting actor while she stars in re-enacting her favorite movies (“Frozen,” “Tangled,” “Inside Out”); practicing or recording in a studio set up in our garage; on our family boat.
Favorite app: “Songsterr” (library of guitar sheet music)
What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? If someone has the bandwidth to learn and adapt.