The Founders of the Firm
The firm was founded in Columbus Ohio in 1945 by John W. Bricker, Ralph Marburger, William S. Evatt, and Robert Barton.
John Bricker was born on September 6, 1893 and attended one-room rural schools until he entered Mt. Sterling High School. Bricker earned money to attend college by teaching eight grades at a local school for $45 a month. He earned an additional $5 for serving as its janitor. He farmed on weekends and during vacation. Bricker enrolled in the college of arts, philosophy and science at Ohio State University in September 1912. During his sophomore year, Bricker was the catcher on the varsity baseball team and, during his senior year, was elected class president. He was also a member of the varsity debating team, was initiated into Delta Chi fraternity and was elected to Sphinx, the senior men's honor society. He received his BA degree in June of 1916 and continued at Ohio State to earn his law degree. His first public office was that of solicitor of the village of Grandview Heights, a Columbus suburb, in 1920.
During his almost 40 years of public service, John Bricker served as Ohio Attorney General (1933-1937), three two-year terms as Ohio governor (1939-1945), and two terms as a United States Senator (1947-1959). Additionally, he was Thomas E. Dewey's running mate in the 1944 presidential election, won by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Bricker also served as president of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees. Known by his colleagues as "the Senator," Bricker remained an active presence in the firm until his death in 1986. Several books have been written about his extraordinary career, including Bricker of Ohio: The Man and His Record by Karl Pauly (G.P.Putnam's Sons NY 1944) and Defender of the Old Guard: John Bricker and American Politics by Richard O. Davies (Ohio State University Press, Columbus 1993) and his legacy continues in Bricker Hall on the oval of Ohio State University and the Bricker Building at the Ohio Expo Center.
Ralph Marburger, another of the firm's original founders, came from the Ohio Bell Telephone Company, where he was general counsel. He died in the early 1950s.
Bill Evatt served in the Attorney General's office for many years and had served under John Bricker when he was Attorney General. When Bill was in the Attorney General's office, bonds issued by the state and municipal subdivisions in Ohio had to be accompanied by an opinion of the Attorney General as to their validity. Bill was in charge of reviewing the proceedings and preparing the opinion letter. He acquired both the knowledge and reputation as a premier bond authority in Ohio. Later, John Bricker, as Governor, appointed Bill Evatt to be state tax commissioner. In that capacity, Bill was responsible for litigating a number of cases which established important precedents in Ohio tax matters. When Bricker, Marburger, Evatt and Barton was formed, Bill determined to establish a bond practice, and by the middle 1950s the firm's bond practice was well established.
Bill Evatt was a U.S. Navy officer in World War I, serving on board a ship in the North Atlantic. His wife, Harriet, was a well-known author of children's books. She also was an artist, and some of her paintings continue to hang in the firm's Columbus office. Bill Evatt died in 1970.
The fourth founding member of the firm, Bob Barton, probably was the best known lawyer of the original group. During the time that John Bricker was in the Senate -- from 1947 through 1959 -- Bob Barton was so prominent in the Columbus community that the firm was known as the "Barton firm." Bob had been with John Bricker in both the Attorney General's office and the Governor's office. Like the other founders, Bob was active politically. He also had extremely strong practical skills as a lawyer. Through his hard work and success, he became recognized as one of the best known trial lawyers in Columbus. Bob Barton died in 1972.
The Early Years
John A. Eckler grew up in Elyria, Ohio, and attended college at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he majored in mathematics. At Ohio Wesleyan he met his future wife Mary Rickey, daughter of the baseball general manager Branch Rickey, also a member of the Ohio Wesleyan family. From Ohio Wesleyan, John went on to the University of Chicago Law School, where he was an outstanding student and an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review, graduating in 1938. John loved the University of Chicago, and enjoyed a close relationship with many of the members of the faculty throughout his career.
During the summers, John worked in various jobs for the baseball teams with which Mr. Rickey was associated, notably the St. Louis Cardinals. He enjoyed a close relationship with a number of the baseball players, including Jackie Robinson and his wife. He started his law practice with a distinguished firm in Chicago, but his practice was interrupted by World War II. John joined the United States Navy and became the commander of a sub chaser in the South Pacific.
Upon his discharge from the Navy, John and his wife decided to return to Ohio. John had heard that John Bricker had formed a new firm, and he approached Messrs. Bricker, et al. about the opportunity to come to work for them. He joined the firm in 1946. In 1948, Bricker was elected to the United States Senate, taking John Eckler to Washington with him as his executive assistant. John thoroughly enjoyed the Washington experience; however, after two years, he opted for a legal career, returning to Columbus and beginning the remarkably successful law career that provided much impetus for the future growth of the firm.
John also was very active in community affairs. He was president of the Columbus Bar Association in 1958 and was active in both the Ohio State Bar Association and the American Bar Association. He was a bar examiner for the Supreme Court of Ohio, and one of his most treasured accomplishments was his service as president of the American Association of Bar Examiners, where he played a key role in developing the multi-state bar examination. John remained active in the firm through its move to the Old, Old Post Office and died in 1994.
In the mid 1950s, Richard P. Niehoff joined the firm, which then became Bricker, Evatt, Barton, Eckler & Niehoff. As the chief Ohio fund-raiser for the Republican party, Dick Niehoff had statewide political influence. Dick Niehoff was followed to the firm in January 1955 by Dick Pickett, who had forsaken an accounting career to attend law school and was signed up following graduation. Eventually, Dick concentrated his practice in real estate financing and urban renewal law. A licensed pilot with an instrument rating, Dick flew his own plane extensively in his law practice.
By the mid-1960s, Bill Chadeayne and John Selby had joined the firm to do bond work, Bill Leighner joined the firm to do tax work, and Clayton Hoskins left his position as house counsel at Industrial Nucleonics Corporation to develop a securities practice. Bill Leighner served for years as the firm's administrative partner and was one of the committee of four who were the firm’s contacts with the architects and engineers who refurbished the Old, Old Post Office in 1984-86.
The early years of the firm's existence were dominated by the original founders and lawyers who went directly from law school to the firm. Russell Leach joined the firm in 1966 after stepping down from his position as municipal court judge. Russ had been appointed an assistant city attorney in 1951, and was appointed Columbus city attorney in 1957. He was appointed to the municipal bench in 1963 and was elected to the post the same year. Russ was the son of Common Pleas Court judge Charles A. Leach. Russ’s brother, Bob, was also a lawyer and served for a time as a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. Russ was elected president of the Columbus Bar Association for 1973. He was chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party for several years. In 1983, he received the Columbus Bar Association Bar Service Medal, the highest award the Columbus Bar Association could bestow on one of its members. After retirement from the firm and until his death in 2002, Russ sat by Ohio Supreme Court appointment as a judge on the Ohio Court of Claims.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the firm began a period of steady growth. In 1972, having practiced for 31 years at another Columbus firm, Bruce Lynn joined Bricker & Eckler as a partner and brought with him a successful trial practice in corporate and malpractice defense law. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1941, following his undergraduate work at Ohio State. At Ohio State he was a member of the honoraries of each class: Romophos; Bucket and Dipper; and Sphinx, and he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta social fraternity. Bruce was president of the Columbus Bar Association in 1956, a member of the Ohio State Bar Association House of Delegates from 1957 to 1966, and a member of the Bar Association’s Executive Committee from 1966 to 1969. He was also a Regent of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
In addition to his legal talents, Bruce was well known as a photographer, specializing in travel pictures. He published four color picture books on the Caribbean and furnished the photographs for four Caribbean travel supplements of the New York Times. His pictures appeared in the Yachting and Motor Boating and Sailing magazines. In 1974, when Grenada received its independence from Great Britain, he was the official government photographer for the week-long celebration. Later, a picture he had taken of a yacht in the harbor at St. Georges was reproduced on a 75¢ Grenada postage stamp. A few years later, the government of St. Vincent chose an aerial photo of Young Island, St. Vincent, which he had taken, for a reproduction on a 65¢ postage stamp. Many of his photographs are displayed at the firm, in his office and on the walls of several conference rooms.
The Later Years
The firm's first offices were first located in the A.I.U. Building, better known today as the LeVeque Tower, at 50 West Broad Street. Much of the initial furniture was purchased used. Although well-worn, it was sturdy and serviceable, as evidenced by the fact that some pieces survived to the move to the Old, Old Post Office and still can be found in the building today.
In 1964, the firm had outgrown the space in the "Tower" and the firm moved to John Galbreath's new headquarters building at 100 East Broad Street. During this period the law firm grew to approximately 60 lawyers and changed its name to Bricker & Eckler (January 1, 1978). Finally, in 1986, the firm moved to the Old, Old Post Office at 100 South Third Street.
Moving to the Old, Old Post Office
Bricker & Eckler's history became intertwined with an important Columbus landmark in 1983. That year, the firm first approached the city of Columbus to discuss acquisition of the Old, Old Post Office.
The site for the first United States Courthouse and Post Office, on the southeast corner of State and Third Streets, was originally purchased by the federal government in 1882. A contract for the foundation was awarded on November 14, 1883, and the cornerstone was laid on October 21, 1884 during an elaborate ceremony conducted by the Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons. The Mayor of Columbus, city dignitaries, the postmaster, and the building's architect, John T. Harris, were all present at the ceremony. Construction of the building continued and, finally, the post office, federal courts, and other federal agencies moved in on October 1, 1887.
As the first federal building in Columbus, this was a symbol of the city's growing influence. Federal offices had outgrown the building by the early 1900s, resulting in the 1912 addition which more than doubled the size of the building. President William Howard Taft, a native of Ohio, came to Columbus to dedicate the newly expanded building.
One of the few remaining structures in downtown Columbus that dates back to the 19th century, the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But by the early 1980s, the building that once confirmed the capital city's importance as a busy commercial center was a deteriorating structure without purpose. It had lost many of its federal functions to newer United States post offices and courthouses.
Bricker & Eckler was determined to save the building and restore it to its original grandeur. In 1984, using an innovative and complex financing structure entirely funded by Bricker & Eckler, the city purchased the building from the U.S. General Services Administration and leased it to the firm for an extended period.
The firm appointed four of its partners to work with the architect and engineers. They were Bruce Lynn, Bill Leighner, Ed Moore and Rich Simpson. In addition, the firm hired experts in stone masonry, carpenters, architects, and historic preservation specialists to take it through the restoration process. Bricker & Eckler attorneys solved the intricate legal and financing problems posed by the project.
Much of the restoration work focused on undoing the unfortunate modernization of the building undertaken by the federal government in previous years. Valuable ornamentation discovered during this process was restored, preserving the historic flavor of the building.
The first gala in 1985 was to mark the beginning of the restoration of the Old, Old Post Office. The day after the celebration, workmen moved in to start the job of dismantling much of the interior. Refreshments were served from rough boards thrown across saw horses. Champagne was kept cold in wheelbarrows filled with ice.
A second gala held in 1986 celebrated completion of the restoration. Speeches were delivered from the front steps and those present included such dignitaries as former President Gerald Ford, Federal District Judge Joseph Kinneary, John Galbreath, and Ohio State University's legendary coach Woody Hayes. Russ Leach, as master of ceremonies, presented Ford with an OSU Buckeyes jacket and scarlet and gray cap that was immediately refused by that loyal alumnus of the University of Michigan.
We have seen many changes in the practice of law since the firm's founding in 1945 and will see many more in the years ahead. What started out as a four attorney firm, today, is a law firm of over 100 attorneys with diverse backgrounds and expertise. We have seen our firm grow from being a Columbus firm to a regionally and nationally recognized firm with major offices in Cleveland, West Chester and Marietta, Ohio.
Although change has been, and will continue to be, a certainty — some things haven’t changed. We are proud of our cultural diversity. We have a history of hiring the first minority partner in Columbus, of retaining our minority and women attorneys through partnership, and electing women and minorities to leadership positions within firm management so that the firm, from top to bottom, is reflective of the communities we serve. The firm’s democratic tradition is an equally important part of our culture. Our philosophy is that each of us is one among equals. With the immense presence of our founders, especially John Eckler, who is still a powerful influence within the firm, our goal is to maintain for our successors the cultural and philosophical legacy left to us by those who have preceded us as part of this firm.