The lawyers Moncier: Walking separate paths together

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Over the past 10 years, Adam Moncier has carved out a niche for himself in juvenile court, practicing family law away from his father’s long shadow.

“When he first came over here, I called him Little Herb,” said Richard Bean, superintendent of the Juvenile Service Center. “I quit doing it when I found out he thought I was making fun of him. But, hell I was bragging on him! I like Herb Moncier. And I like Adam, too. He does a good job. He’s a dandy!”

Adam knows that some wonder why he has chosen this career track instead of the high stakes, high reward criminal defense and civil litigation path blazed by his father, one of the best-known and most controversial attorneys in Tennessee. He has a well-reasoned explanation for anyone who might ask.

“When I came out of law school, the natural fit would have been criminal defense work, practicing with my father, and I came straight here. I was walking behind him. The first thing handed to me was a murder for hire trial. I walked into the office not even knowing how to say hello to a judge, and my dad comes in with a banker’s box full of records. Within 10 months I found myself sitting second chair in a first-degree murder for hire case, watching the process of picking a jury. It was like some incredibly complex mathematical equation.

“And at the end, the emotions of standing next to somebody whose life hinges on the next 10 seconds, after all the years of putting a case together, all the tears and sweat and the tension of watching the case be tried, the verdict came back not guilty. And I still didn’t know how to address the judge. Your honor? Sir? What am I supposed to say?”

That was when Adam decided that he wanted to do it on his own.

“You can’t have multiple captains on a ship, so I went out and hung my own shingle and began practicing family law in juvenile court. I learned that law, became knowledgeable and comfortable. There are not many areas where you can make a real difference, so being able to use my law degree is a rewarding experience second to none. To help somebody who’s voiceless – that’s where my passion is, and I don’t want to do anything else.”

Herb Moncier is proud of his son, but can’t help wonder about the effects of childhood trauma that began when Adam’s mother, Rachel, died by her own hand when Adam was 4 years old. She had recently given birth to Adam’s little brother, Nick, and suffered extreme post-partum depression. A News Sentinel story done after Herb returned to work showed a photo of him in the kitchen, juggling the two boys as he cooked supper.

“I’ve always wondered if he was attracted to that field because he had such a difficult  childhood,” he said, causing the younger Moncier (who, by the way, looks and sounds as much like his dad as any son, ever) to raise an objection:

“Wait a second. That’s MY childhood,” Adam said. “And here you go arguing a case on behalf of me. My difficulties came from unanticipated sources – that’s not a unique story. But was my childhood that difficult?”

Herb: “Yes!”

Adam ignored the interruption:

“People might think so – to have a father who works with the work ethic you have (Herb embraced technology early, and was known to file motions on his laptop as fast as he could draw them up, regardless of the hour).

“But I can remember having somebody get you out of a very serious seven-day trial because I didn’t have my lunch money or I was in trouble for flicking a kid in the back of the head with a rubber band. You drove to my school to bring me my lunch money. But difficult? You’ve been by my side every step of the way.

“So here I am, in a field that deals with parentage, children, families, and I think back to a father who built a pretty impressive law career while dealing with the grief of losing a wife and raising a handicapped infant (Nick is developmentally delayed) and a rambunctious 4-year-old…”

Adam, 41, is back with his dad in the office suite on the seventh floor of the Bank of America Building where he and Nick used to watch the Boomsday fireworks from the balcony overlooking the river. He and his wife, Paige, have three children, William McHenry, 15; Khaki, 11; and Jed Walker, 5.  And he is happy.

Herb is 73, and he is ailing. The old fire still burns – he’s suing Knox County Schools and Farragut High School administrators on behalf of the family of Will Bannister, a 16-year-old who committed suicide two years ago. The suit charges the school system with bullying and extreme indifference to Will’s mental state.

But the body’s not cooperating. He suffers from diabetes, neuropathy, macular degeneration and stage four prostate cancer. His longtime assistant, Carol Holbert, drives him around on trips of any length, and it is a comfort to have Adam nearby.

“The blood runs equally through our veins. We share each other’s personality, intellect, love of family, and it’s just as though we are two of one. We even share each other’s birthday, May 16. And now I’m sharing the fruits of those difficult years, and I’m proud as I absolutely can be. People go out of the way to contact me and tell me what a great job he does. I wish I could bottle what he’s accomplished and make an elixer for troubled kids,” he said.

The pride goes both ways. Of all his dad’s high profile cases and unlikely victories, there’s one that stands out most in Adam’s mind – the 2007 Black Wednesday lawsuit against Knox County Commission for violating the Sunshine Law, which was joined a few days later with a similar suit filed by the News Sentinel and ended up forcing the resignations of 12 appointed officeholders and ultimately led to a total reorganization of the commission.

“Of all the cases I’ve watched you try, the most powerful was your work on behalf of the citizens of the county, to give the people a voice,” Adam said.

Herb matter-of-factly accepted the compliment.

“I do believe, for the work and the effort I put into that case that Knox County is a better place to live. It impressed on our public officials that they could not do whatever they wanted to do… I’ll never forget when the jury answered those 19 questions we posed – “Did such-and-such occur…” – in the affirmative, one at a time.”

It had been a long day, and the lawyers Moncier were ready to wrap it up.

“I can’t tell you how comforting it is to have Adam in the office,” Herb said as he made his way to the elevator. “My future is limited by my medical condition, and it’s awful nice to have your son with you.”

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