Attorneys of the Month, Candess Hunter, Isabel Humphrey & Randy Yavitz

Enjoying The Practice Of Law

By Vicki Hogue-Davies

“We really enjoy the practice of law,” says Candess Hunter, partner at Phoenix law firm Hunter, Humphrey & Yavitz, PLC. “It is a great life. The three of us have a lot of fun together, brainstorming, strategizing and bouncing ideas off each other. We are as different as night and day. Politically we are a Republican, a Democrat and an Independent. We are a Christian, a Jew and an agnostic. Our backgrounds are completely different, yet the combination of the three of us works.”

The three partners, who include Hunter, Isabel Humphrey and Randy Yavitz, opened their firm in 2003. Working together since 1997, the three left Sacks Tierney, P.A. to branch out on their own.

“We worked together on many cases, enjoyed it and decided we wanted to make that more permanent, so we started our own firm,” Yavitz says.

The trio of partners hasn’t looked back. The special working style they have developed over the years, the bonds that they share as good friends and their strong desire to help their clientele by taking on some of the area’s toughest cases, makes coming to the office something that they honestly look forward to. Hunter practices mainly in probate, trust law and estate planning. Humphrey focuses primarily in business litigation and federal and state appeals in a variety of areas. Yavitz is a litigator on a wide variety of cases and also advises hospitals and doctors on health care matters and business disputes. The three work together in all of these areas to ensure the best results for clients.

“When we formed the firm we had some discussion about whether we should have a motto. Eventually, we came up with one: Creative Approaches, Solid Results,” Humphrey says. “The idea behind it is that we believe we’re very good at thinking outside the box and coming up with comprehensive, creative strategies for our clients.”

“We have some really interesting cases that come along, where our creative strategies make the difference between a win and a loss for our clients,” she adds.

“Because we have a penchant for unusual and complex matters, we try to limit our caseload to just a handful of significant cases at any time,” Yavitz says. “We have fewer cases than many firms so the ones we have we can really concentrate on.”

“Most of our business comes from referrals,” he continues. “We view ourselves as kind of the lawyers of last resort. If there is a problematic situation that seems impossible to take care of or is extremely difficult, other lawyers will sometimes come to us because they know we are unhurried and thoughtful. Sometimes we can make sense out of the kinds of things that in a busy practice of law are just too daunting to tackle along with everything else.”

One of the complex cases Hunter, Humphrey & Yavitz recently completed included successfully representing an attorney, who was the sole beneficiary of a sizable estate. He had drafted the will.

Attorney Frederick “Fritz” Aspey, a former State Bar of Arizona president, weighs in on the case in which he was involved as a neutral party, noting he often consults with Hunter on contested probate matters. “They represented a lawyer, who was alleged to have used undue influence to convince an elderly gentleman to name the attorney as his sole beneficiary to the exclusion of his extended family,” Aspey says.

During the four-day trial that ensued, the family’s lawyers brought in two high-powered experts, a psychiatrist and a law professor, he recounts. The cross-examination of the experts by the Hunter, Humphrey & Yavitz attorneys was so devastating that the trial judge noted that the testimony of one of the witnesses was a complete waste of time, and disregarded the other. Aspey adds that the judge later regaled seminar participants for 30 minutes with lessons to be learned from HHY’s trial practice. “HHY is among the best boutique litigation firms I have encountered, and Isabel is the best writer and legal analyst I’ve ever known,” Aspey says.

The team also provided pro bono representation to Marie Long in a “well-publicized case of an unfortunate elderly woman whose fortune was squandered by fiduciaries and probate attorneys, with the blessing of an ethically compromised probate commissioner,” Yavitz says. “Also, many people in Phoenix will recall the Fogelman case and the Rick Chance divorce and estate cases. We represented the Fogelman family and we were close friends and advisors of Rick Chance, who was murdered in 2002.”

As Chance’s attorneys, Hunter and Yavitz were featured on episodes of “Dateline” and “Inside Edition,” and recently Yavitz was featured on an episode of the ID Network show “Pretty Bad Girls,” about the Rick Chance murder. Chance was the wealthy founder of a Tempe, Ariz., automobile glass company who was killed as part of a plot by two strippers to steal money and jewelry. Both individuals are now in prison.

Humphrey has also gained visibility in a high-profile case.

“Recently, I was instrumental in obtaining computer records from Casey Anthony’s criminal file and analyzing those records to prove that someone at Casey Anthony’s home Googled ‘foolproof suffocation’ within minutes after the last time her child was seen alive and after both of her parents had left for work,” Humphrey says, referring to the case in which Casey Anthony was tried for first-degree murder and acquitted in the 2008 death of her young daughter. “This evidence was missed by the prosecutors. I was inspired to assist a friend of mine, a computer forensics expert, and a Florida reporter, who had been trying to obtain the records for years, because I was bothered by statements made by Casey Anthony’s lawyers blaming the grandfather for the child’s death and insisting that the (unreleased) computer evidence supported this theory. I wanted to get this evidence out to the public, so that the truth of these statements could be checked by anyone with the skill and desire to do so.”

Legal commentator and television show host Nancy Grace featured Humphrey on an episode and commented on the show: “I just wish that Isabel Humphrey had been part of the prosecution team.”

Relaxed Office Culture
In contrast to many of the cases they are involved with, the atmosphere at Hunter, Humphrey & Yavitz is decidedly relaxed. “Our office is friendly, quiet and casual,” Yavitz says. “That unhurried and relaxed atmosphere gives us the opportunity to think.”

“We get an opportunity to think and when we get together, we laugh a lot,” Hunter adds. “We throw out kooky ideas that eventually get distilled down into good, functioning working ideas.”

“A lot of my drive in practicing law comes from the family concept,” she continues. “All of our clients feel like family to me. My partners feel like family. That is what really drives me the most.”

Humphrey concurs, pointing out that the relaxed and friendly atmosphere leads to the creativity that is so important to the attorneys. “There is an open door feeling in expressing crazy thoughts in the hope that one of them will turn out to be the creative thought that breaks the case,” she says.

In addition to the three partners, Stacey Mosbrucker brings her expertise as a paralegal to the firm. She worked closely with the partners at Sacks Tierney and worked with Yavitz before that.

“Stacey has been with me since she was 19 years old,” Yavitz says. “We’ve been together for 27 years. We appreciate her on so many different levels. And her photographic memory doesn’t hurt a thing.”

“It is just the three of us and Stacey at the firm,” Humphrey says. “We have people who help with administrative tasks from time to time, but we have not employed secretaries since the first couple of years because we didn’t have very successful results with them, as they just slowed us down. We decided we all did better without that extra help.”

The office, which features a kitchen and other creature comforts, is intentionally homey. “We spend a lot of time at the office so we might as well enjoy and appreciate our surroundings,” Hunter says.

Sustainable Environment
Appreciating their surroundings extends to a strong awareness of the impacts they make on the earth. Leaving a light footprint is very important to all three attorneys, and the firm goes a step beyond merely recycling plastic bottles and reducing the amount of paper used. Four years ago, the partners spearheaded a million dollar project in the firm’s office building to make everything high efficiency. The project added solar panels on the building’s roof and included the replacement of 75 air conditioners and all the lighting in the building.

“The project is designed to pay for itself over a period of seven years,” Yavitz says. “So far everything is going to plan.”

“Environmental and sustainability issues have been a focus for us for a long time,” Hunter adds. “We all also have solar paneling on our roofs at home. We drive electric cars.” Both Hunter and Yavitz have Nissan Leafs, which they point out can go 90 miles on a charge. “It’s all electric,” Hunter says. “It’s like driving a computer.”

Practicing sustainability continues into their law practice, where the attorneys have helped clients seeking to become greener, including representing clients putting up solar arrays.

“We have worked on a few projects with clients,” Yavitz says. “Our rooftop solar panel system is 109 kilowatts. In comparison, we’ve guided clients through projects that are 500 kilowatts. We’re even working on a 1 megawatt project right now. We also deal with water law, which is a sustainability issue.”

Choosing Law
What drew the attorneys to the practice of law?

Hunter didn’t go into law initially. Prior to law school, she spent 18 years working in research and development at Hormel, first in microbiology, then in new product development. She decided to make the career switch because she wanted to help people directly.

“I wanted to fix things for people,” she says. “I love that.”

While she didn’t go into law right away, the law has become a big part of her family. Both her daughter and son-in-law, as well as other extended family members are lawyers. “We have a lot of law in the family,” she says. “It is the family business for sure.”

Drawing Humphrey to the practice of law are the analytical and writing skills the profession requires. “I just really enjoy analysis and writing and thinking through arguments,” she says. “I decided to be a lawyer when I was about 9 years old.”

Humphrey also has law in the family. She notes that her parents, who were originally philosophy professors, decided to go to law school themselves when Humphrey was 11 years old.

“The top thing I love about my job is that I learn so much about so many different areas of life through my representation of clients,” she adds. “Rather than applying life lessons to my work as an attorney, I feel much more that I apply lessons learned from the practice of law to other aspects of life.”

Yavitz describes himself as “one of those folks who go into law because they have no other skills.”

“It just turned out to be very fortunate because I found it very energizing and rewarding,” he says. “I felt very lucky when I became a summer clerk at a big firm in Los Angeles in 1978 and realized that practicing law was fantastic. I just loved it from day one.”

“We feel like we are living the American dream,” he continues. “Both Candess and I are the first in our families to finish higher education. We know how privileged we are. Candess went to Harvard. I ended up at Stanford. Isabel, who moved to Phoenix at 14, was second in her class at ASU.”

“Everything Candess touches turns out beautifully,” he says. “It is too consistent to be called coincidence. And Isabel clerked for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Tom Zlaket, who told us when we were recruiting her to Sacks Tierney that she was the finest clerk he ever had.”

“The fact that these brilliant women asked me to join them in this firm is a source of great joy to me,” he says. “At this firm we have no politics. The only things we really have are a lot of hilarity and success.”

Yavitz also receives accolades for his work. “Randy is one of the best lawyers in the state, very intelligent and very knowledgeable of the law,” says retired Judge Michael Flournoy, who has referred clients to the firm. “He is fearless to the point where he really scares the opposing party. He is caring and really understands the client and what they are going through.”

Loving the Challenges
The attorneys enjoy all aspects of their work in law, including its particular challenges. For Hunter, one of her biggest challenges is cleaning up cases in the probate court system.

“We’ve had a lot of issues in our probate court in the last couple of years, and several of the most egregious cases were aired on the front page of the Arizona Republic,” she says. “I have become involved in several of those high-profile cases, to help remedy situations for people who were injured by the system. It is very rewarding work.”

A major concern of Humphrey’s is the “professionalism issue.” She worked for 15 years with the Arizona State Bar professionalism committee and chaired the committee during her final two years of service.

“The committee implemented the state bar professionalism course that all attorneys have to take,” she says. “We also rewrote the creed, oath and professionalism principles and provided recommendations to the state bar board of governors about how to increase professionalism in the practice of law.”

Yavitz notes that with the time allowed by a lower caseload and the firm’s successful reputation, they can take on the cases that speak to ethics. “We believe in professionalism and good government and people getting a fair shake with the judiciary. We’ve taken on a lot of pro bono cases in Candess’ area of probate,” he says. “We will even cross the blue line now and then and take on cases where we sue attorneys for malpractice in an effort to clean up the profession. We have had cases where we take on the sheriff. We enjoy challenging the establishment. We look forward to it.”

Outside the Law
Living full and complete lives is important to the lawyers.

“None of us keeps a killer lawyer schedule,” Yavitz says. “We love our families, our causes, we love to travel. We try to live full and complete lives and we are always involved in one thing or another. We realize how privileged we are and how important it is to give back.”

Yavitz’s interests include his family and two grandchildren, who he says he has a lot of fun with. He is active in leadership with Phoenix’s Valley Permaculture Alliance, a nonprofit educational organization with the mission of promoting sustainable living. An avid organic fruit and vegetable grower with a small farm in the Biltmore area, Yavitz supplies Whole Foods with squash, citrus and other produce. He donates whatever doesn’t go to Whole Foods to local food banks and says that over the years he has probably donated a million pounds of food. He is also a member of the Arizona Rare Fruit Growers Association and gives classes and seminars about growing citrus and fruit trees.

“I also have two fabulous grandchildren,” Hunter says. In addition to her practice of law and spending time with her family, she worked with the county bar on the domestic violence committee, and fundraises for the various shelters that house domestic violence victims. Her current passion is microfinance, making small loans to impoverished people around the world. “You can make loans on the Internet, and help change a life in Africa. How amazing is that?”

“And I love to travel,” she adds. “This year I went to Italy for three weeks, and have taken up snorkeling. I also traveled to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador for a great adventure.”

Humphrey has provided pro bono services to Maricopa County’s foster care review board for several years and has been a chair of one of the review boards. “Every six months the boards review the cases of children in foster care and whether a return to the family is appropriate and what kind of services would be needed to accomplish that goal,” she says.

What does the future hold for the firm of Hunter, Humphrey and Yavitz?

“We have no plans to change the way we work or the firm,” Hunter says. “We like it the way it is. It seems so selfish that we get to practice with our very best friends, but when it comes to the practice of law, we found a great formula. Why would we change it?”

“We celebrated the firm’s 10th anniversary in September 2013 with a dinner out at Wrigley Mansion,” Yavitz says. “We promised ourselves we would do it again for our 20th anniversary.”

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