Firm History

The law firm now known as Whitty, McDaniel, Bodkin & Combs, LLP, located at 444 N. 4th Street in Coos Bay, was started by Joseph W. Bennett in 1880. The firm is one of Oregon's oldest. Joseph Bennett was an amazing man, with a variety of skills. His talents and character are perhaps best summarized by this quote from his front page obituary in the Evening Record of September 15, 1916, which begins by saying that, on his death, "there was called, likely, taking men as men are, the biggest man of this section of Oregon. Joseph William Bennett was all man. He had his frailties, but, oh, he had so many, many virtues."

J. W. Bennett was born in Ireland in 1855, and came to Oregon in 1873. After a period as a rancher, he became involved in private banking, and engaged in the study of law under an older lawyer. Mr. Bennett took and passed the bar examination, and was admitted to the bar in 1880.

J. W. continued his banking business while practicing law, but the two careers grew too fast for him; so, in 1889 he took a partner in the banking business, and established the Flanagan & Bennett Bank, the first bank in Coos and Curry Counties. He was known as "J.W." in legal circles, but close friends called him "Joe."

In 1898 J.W. took in an associate, his cousin, T. G. Bennett Swanton, who worked in the office as a clerk, studying law, from October of 1894 until he became a lawyer in June, 1898.

Mr. Bennett became involved in the activities of the Coos County Bar Association, which was formed as an organization at a meeting held December 13, 1908. He was not in attendance at the first meeting "on account of illness and absence from the state," but was honored by a resolution passed by the bar describing him as the "Nestor of the Coos County Bar." He was elected president of the association in 1910.

Mr. Bennett became involved in the activities of the Coos County Bar Association, which was formed as an organization at a meeting held December 13, 1908. He was not in attendance at the first meeting "on account of illness and absence from the state," but was honored by a resolution passed by the bar describing him as the "Nestor of the Coos County Bar." He was elected president of the association in 1910.

In 1910 T.G. Bennett Swanton, and Mr. Bennettís son Thomas T. Tankerville Bennett, who had recently been admitted to the bar, became partners in the firm, which was thereafter known as Bennett and Swanton, and then as Bennett, Swanton & Bennett.

After the death of J.W. Bennett in 1916, the firm was continued by his son, Thomas T. Bennett, and his cousin, Bennett Swanton. The firm name was Bennett & Swanton. The firm's law practice during its first 36 years was a general practice, with much emphasis on trial work. T. T. Bennett continued his father's active trial practice, but in 1929, he died of complications from an illness contracted while trying a case in Portland.

Within weeks of the death of T. T. Bennett, his place in the law firm was filled by Lawrence A. Liljeqvist, a seasoned lawyer and former district attorney for Coos County. Mr. Liljeqvist had been practicing in Portland for the preceding nine years, after spending the first fourteen years of his legal career in Coos County. L. A. Liljeqvist was a very active trial lawyer. His skills as a capable and experienced trial attorney were recognized statewide, and he was asked to handle many cases arising outside Coos County. In 30 years of law practice, he appeared as a lawyer in approximately 100 cases decided by the Oregon Supreme Court.

After Mr. Liljeqvist joined the law firm, the name became Liljeqvist & Swanton. In 1932, the two partners were joined by Joseph McKeown, the grandson of the firm's founder, who had graduated from the University of Oregon in the spring of that year with a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. Joe was born July 15, 1907, in Marshfield (now Coos Bay, as the result of a name change). He attended Marshfield High School, where he was student body president, graduating in 1925. Joe then entered the University of Oregon, where he became a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, and again was elected student body president. While at the university, Joe was chosen as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and of Friars, senior men's honorary. Like his predecessors, soon after joining the firm, Joe was engaged in a busy trial practice.

"Lil" Liljeqvist died at age 58 on June 2, 1938, from a heart attack. On the day of his death, the Coos Bay Times published an editorial stating that "Mr. Liljeqvist had one of the keenest minds in the state, his opinions were heard with interest in every assembly of lawyers, in legislative halls, or in the governor's office at the capital building."

On December 18, 1938, Andrew J. Newhouse joined the firm as an associate. Shortly thereafter Bennett Swanton retired from the firm, moving to a smaller office where he continued to practice on a reduced basis. Andy Newhouse had been selected Phi Beta Kappa, and also to Senior Six during his pre-law years at the University of Oregon.

Andy Newhouse was born June 23, 1914, in Kalispell, Montana. He grew up in the Myrtle Point area in Coos County. He went to school in Myrtle Point, graduating from Myrtle Point High School in 1932. Andy then entered the University of Oregon, where he was selected to Phi Beta Kappa and Senior Six, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1936. He then completed his education at the University of Oregon Law School, graduating in 1938.

When World War II intervened, both Joe and Andy entered military service. However, Joe kept the law office open during the entire time he was gone, with a secretary on hand. He handled the firm's business and estate affairs by correspondence, with the assistance of an older lawyer, Judge Kendall, who came in from time to time to deal with urgent problems. When both Joe and Andy were released from the service after the end of the war, they resumed the practice as partners.

Joe was elected to the Board of Governors of the Oregon State Bar, where he served from 1946 to 1949. In 1949, he was chosen as one of three Oregon lawyers to serve on the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, a position which he held for the rest of his life. He was Secretary and a member of the Executive Committee of the Commission from 1964 through 1970.

In the fall of 1948, Wallace A. Johansen joined the firm as an associate. Wallace (Wally) Johansen was born in Astoria on August 26, 1917, and attended Astoria schools, where he starred on the basketball team. He attended the University of Oregon on a basketball scholarship, played as a starting guard on the basketball team, and was a member of the famous "Oregon Tall Firs" team that won the first NCAA basketball championship in 1939. He began law school at Oregon, but his education was interrupted by World War II.

After the war, Wally completed his law school education at the University of Oregon, graduating in 1948, and joined the firm promptly after taking the bar examination. As was the case with other members of the firm, much of Wally's early legal career involved the defense of insurance cases, beginning with property damage matters and then moving on to the more serious personal injury cases.

In 1955, the firm employed John Whitty as a law clerk, and when John graduated from law school in 1956, he was asked to join the firm as an associate for the months before he left to fulfill his military service commitment. When John Whitty entered the Air Force at the end of February in 1957, the firm looked for another young lawyer with an interest in trying lawsuits, and found John T. Foss, who became an associate with the firm in July of 1957.

John Foss was born in Inwood, Iowa, on May 5, 1929. He grew up in Iowa, and attended undergraduate school at Augustana College, where he earned a B. A. degree in 1951. John then served in combat with the U. S. Army in Korea. After completing his service obligation, John returned to attend law school at the University of Iowa, became an editor of the law review, and graduated in 1956 with a J.D. degree. He passed both the Iowa and Oregon bar examinations, and worked for one year under Sam Haley in the Legislative Counsel's office in Salem.

John Whitty rejoined the firm on April 1, 1959, after two years prosecuting and defending court-martial cases as a judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force. He was born in North Bend, Oregon, on January 18, 1933. John grew up in Coos Bay, attended Marshfield High School where he was student body president, then attended the University of Oregon, receiving a B.S. degree in 1954, and an L.L.B. degree in 1956. While in his first year of law school, he was selected as a member of Friars, senior men's honorary.

The three partners in McKeown, Newhouse & Johansen were held in high respect by their fellow lawyers and members of the community. They were always fair in their dealings, tenacious in pursuit of their clients' causes, and willing to spend the time and effort necessary to be prepared when taking a client's matter to court or to a negotiation. They were an excellent example to younger lawyers, and John Foss and John Whitty both took advantage of their experience.

The law firm in the 1950s and 1960s was heavily involved in trial work. Personal injury cases were far more prevalent in those years than in the present times of safer cars, seat belts, air bags, and greater emphasis on safe, sober driving. Insurance companies in those days tended to want to fight, rather than settle; and the absence of any means of compensating injured parties before liability was established caused most people injured in accident cases to seek lawyers.

In September of 1974, Jon R. Littlefield joined the firm as an associate. Jon was born in Oakland, California, on September 20, 1944. He grew up in Coos Bay, attended Marshfield High School, and graduated from Stanford University in 1967 with an A.B. degree. After graduating from Stanford, Jon served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and also was an intern for Senator Mark Hatfield in Washington D. C. Jon attended law school at Willamette University, receiving his J.D. degree and passing the bar in 1974. Jon became a partner in the firm in 1978.

William A. (Bill) McDaniel was added to the firm as an associate in 1976. Bill was born in Modesto, California, on February 12, 1950. He grew up in California and attended undergraduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving an A.B. degree in 1972. Bill attended the University of Oregon Law School, graduating in 1976 with a J.D. degree. Bill became a partner in the firm in 1980.

Michael N. Bodkin joined the firm as an associate in September, 1979. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on June 26, 1954. Mike grew up in Colorado and attended Denver University, receiving both B.S. and B.A. degrees in 1976. He went to law school at the University of Oregon, graduating in 1979 with a J.D. degree. Mike became a partner in the firm in 1983.

Andrew E. (Andy) Combs joined the firm as an associate in 2006. Andy grew up an hourís drive south and east of Coos Bay in the community of Dora. After graduating from high school in Myrtle Point, he attended the University of Oregon where he graduated cum laude with a B.S. in political science in 2000. He graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law in 2004 where he served as an editor on the Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation, a member of the Moot Court Board, and a representative for his class for two years in the law schoolís student government.

John Foss retired from the firm at the end of 2006, after 51 years of practice, 50 of which were spent as an associate or partner in the firm. During his years of practice, John was known as an excellent trial lawyer, and was selected as a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He died of an illness on May 21, 2008.

Today

The firm is healthy, with four lawyers with a great deal of experience in serving the needs of their clients, all still going strong and enjoying their working relationships. The firm is respected in legal circles, and also in the community generally. Members of the firm have always been active in the community, serving on local boards and commissions, participating in civic matters, and supporting local charitable causes. All members of the firm have supported the efforts of the others in performing community and statewide service, and that support has enabled the firm to help the area become a better place to live and work.

Whitty, McDaniel, Bodkin, & Combs, LLP looks back with thanks to the partners who preceded them since 1880, and looks forward to meet the challenges of the new century.