Never an imposing man, Scott Reed has nonetheless transformed his appearance into a mountain of trouble for opponents on scores of environmental issues.
The 84-year-old lawyer came to Coeur d’Alene to argue those causes before he had case law of the Environmental Protection Act to back him up. He’s been a thorn in the side of homeowners who would deprive the public the use of Sanders Beach, and he’s written a book about the preservation of one of Coeur d’Alene’s greatest features, Tubbs Hill.
“Environmental law is some of the more constant work and least paying work,” said Reed, who first was admitted to the Idaho bar in 1956. “When somebody wants to stop something they come to see me. We try our best. Mostly I’m not paid much. The recession has done a hell of a lot more to stop development than I ever did.”
It’s those decades of service that earned him the Distinguished Lawyer Award last month from the Idaho State Bar. The annual award is given to one or more attorneys who have distinguished the profession through exemplary conduct and many years of dedicated service, bar spokesman Dan Black said.
In his nomination letter, Ausey “Rusty” Robnett wrote that he could think of no better example for young lawyers to emulate than Reed.
“He is highly skilled at representing his clients, unfailingly courteous to opposing counsel and always willing to mentor a less-experienced practitioner,” Robnett wrote.
As for Reed, he scoffs at the praise, saying he earned the award “because I hung around so long.”
Time has degraded his physical skills – he uses a cane to get around – but Reed credits the legal battles with keeping his mind sharp.
“I don’t have any retirement skills,” he said. “I don’t play golf, don’t fish, I can’t walk around that much anymore. But I can sit at my desk and cause trouble.”
In 1976, he began representing residents hoping to keep Sanders Beach open to the public.
Original city leaders had laid out a street that split private, lakefront parcels. While homeowners owned the land on both sides of the street, the public had been allowed to use the beach in an uneasy partnership that ended in 2006 when homeowners won a decades-long legal battle.
The case was settled through negotiation in 2011 in an agreement with the city that allowed the homeowners to build fences, but not boat docks. The public still has use of the beach when the lake level is below the normal high-water mark.
Opposite of Reed during most of that fight was Coeur d’Alene attorney John Magnuson.
“Scott and I have been involved in I can’t even tell you how many lawsuits in the last 20-plus years,” Magnuson said. “If all my colleagues were cut from the same cloth as Scott Reed, the world would be a better place.
“But he’s still on the wrong side most of the time,” Magnuson said with a laugh.
Reed isn’t the only one in his family who doesn’t shy away from a scrape.
His wife, Mary Lou Reed, served 12 years as a Democratic state senator from Coeur d’Alene and remains so active in politics that Scott Reed said he often has to set an appointment to see her for lunch.
Their son, Bruce Reed, serves as the chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden. Before that, Bruce Reed served eight years as domestic policy adviser for former President Bill Clinton, and he continues to serve as an adviser to President Barack Obama.
Scott Reed earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and his law degree from Stanford Law School. He moved after graduation to Coeur d’Alene and started working immediately after he passed the bar in 1956.
He plans to practice law “as long as I like the challenge,” Reed said. “I say the way to stay alert is to practice law. There are always new ways to make mistakes. It’s very interesting.”
But that sometimes drives his clients crazy, he said. “I say this is fun, but they say being brought into a lawsuit is no fun at all.”
One of the legal battles that best defined Reed came decades ago when Reed represented Silver Valley magnate Harry Magnuson, John Magnuson’s late father.
Harry Magnuson fought the plans to build Interstate 90 through historic downtown Wallace. He hired Reed, who won an injunction because the federal government had failed to obtain an environmental impact statement.
“That injunction stayed in place so many years, the proponents finally came to my dad and said, ‘Harry, where do you want it?’ ” John Magnuson recalled. “Scott did that. So, I guess he wasn’t always on the wrong side.”
Added Magnuson, “Whether you agree with him or not, Scott is a North Idaho treasure. He just keeps on going.”