Eugene Annis, a trial lawyer who enjoyed the challenge of persuading juries to side with his clients, made his mark on Spokane in the 1970s when he partnered with a tax attorney to create one of the largest law firms in the region.
Annis, who practiced law for more than 50 years and served on the boards of several local charitable organizations, died on Oct. 8. He was 84 and had been receiving hospice care, according to an obituary. A colleague said he had congestive heart disease.
Annis founded Lukins & Annis in 1972 with Scott Lukins, who died in 2010 at age 81. The firm, headquartered on the 16th floor of the Washington Trust Financial Center, once had more than 50 attorneys in four offices in Washington and Idaho.
“Gene was certainly a great lawyer, but he was a great person beyond that,” said Michael Maurer, the firm’s president. “He cared passionately about the social justice aspect of law, and was a great friend and mentor to hundreds of lawyers throughout his career.”
Maurer started at the firm as an intern while in law school in 1989, a time when many more civil cases went to trial, instead of lawyers settling out of court. He said Annis showed him how the job was done.
“Gene had this remarkable talent: He could cross-examine a witness and literally eviscerate that witness, but have the witness laughing at him the whole time,” Maurer said.
“He would just say, ‘Now, you recognize, sir, that what you’re saying is quite ridiculous.’ And they’d chuckle and go, ‘Well, I guess you’re right, Mr. Annis.’ ”
Annis was born in Shelby, Montana, and after high school moved to Spokane to attend Gonzaga University.
He graduated from Gonzaga’s School of Law in 1959, spent two years working at a local firm, then left to form his own partnership with George Shields and Eldon Reiley.
After Shields left, the firm brought on a new partner, Smithmoore “Smitty” Myers, whose career included stints as a U.S. attorney, federal magistrate and dean of Gonzaga’s law school.
In 1972, as their business partners left or retired, Annis and Lukins decided to merge their litigation and tax practices.
“They wanted to be an all-purpose firm that would cover both business and litigation,” said attorney James Black, who joined the firm in 1974 and served as its chief financial officer.
“Gene was really the leader of the firm,” Black said. “I mean, Scott was also, but Gene was more up-front. Scott was kind of in the back room. Gene was always kind of the public figure for the law firm for a long, long time.”
Another colleague and friend, Jed Morris, said Annis “was always very, very happy to assist young lawyers and get them going on the right track.”
According to a 1979 profile in The Spokesman-Review, Annis specialized in many types of civil litigation, including personal injury, antitrust, consumer protection, product liability and medical malpractice defense.
His favorite part of a trial, he said, was delivering a closing argument.
“While I have made eye contact with each juror during the trial, it’s now that I get to talk to each juror almost on a one-to-one basis,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s hard for anyone to not pay attention to what you’re saying when you are looking him in the eye.”
In the early 1990s, Annis took on a case involving insurance issues and a landfill in north Spokane – a case that shifted his focus as a lawyer, said Maurer.
“He had been practicing over 30 years, but he developed a real passion for environmental law,” Maurer said.
So, as he neared an age when many lawyers would start thinking about retirement, Annis took a sabbatical to earn an advanced degree in environmental law from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland.
In addition to leading the law firm, Annis served on the boards of Catholic Charities, the Ronald McDonald House, Holy Family Hospital and Fort Wright College, which closed its Spokane campus in 1987. He aided some local political campaigns early in his career, and served as president of the Spokane County Bar Association.
Toward the end of his career, Annis stopped trying cases but continued working as a mediator and arbitrator. He retired in 2011.
Two of Annis’ colleagues recalled meeting him on a basketball court at the Spokane Club in the 1970s. He continued playing in a recreational league until he was 60. He was also an avid runner and golfer.
Annis is survived by his wife of 44 years, Carol, as well as nine children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, according to an obituary. The family plans to hold a memorial service at the Davenport Hotel on Nov. 2.
In the 1979 profile, which described him as dedicated and hard-working, Annis called the legal profession a “jealous mistress” that took up much of his time. But he found it rewarding.
“Would I do it all again, take up law? Yes, without a doubt,” he said.
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