Login | September 16, 2019

Longtime medical malpractice attorney passes away

Legal News Reporter

Published: November 8, 2018

Former Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell medical malpractice defense attorney Eldon “Bud” Stearns Wright III believed it was important for lawyers to understand the world in which their clients operated, said Reminger Co. of counsel Shirley Christian.

She said when Wright took on a case he not only immersed himself in the facts, he also became an expert on the client’s business and extensively researched the medical and/or technical information pertaining to the matter.

“Bud was a real professional,” said Christian, who began working at the firm now known as Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell in 1986 after being hired by Wright. “He knew everything there was to know before he ever met the client.

“He was an important mentor in my career and I never forgot the lessons he taught me, especially the importance of understanding the client’s world,” she said. “He was a great guy and a preeminent medical malpractice attorney.”

Christian is one of the many lawyers Wright mentored during his more than 50-year legal career, which was marked by many wins and efforts to give back to the profession and the community.

On Oct. 4, Wright passed away at the age of 94.

“My dad was someone everyone looked up to,” said his son Joel E. Wright, a shareholder at the law firm Lee Smart P.S. Inc. in Seattle, who focuses on defending professional liability tort claims. “He was an ethical and fair-minded guy.

“Whenever me or my siblings got in trouble, dad would always focus on figuring out how to fix whatever was wrong first before he figured out how mad he was,” said Joel. “When we got older we all called him for advice.”

A native of Youngstown, Wright was born on Nov. 28, 1923 and was the oldest of three boys born to Mildred B. and Eldon Stearns Wright II.

After graduating from Rayen High School in 1942, Wright served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945 as a radio operator/aerial gunnery and spotter on submarine patrol over the United States Atlantic coastline.

Not long after being honorably discharged, Wright married Beverly Evans. They had four children.

Joel said his parents first met while walking home from Harding Elementary School.

“They lived on the same street,” said Joel. “My mom taught kindergarten before she had children.”

In 1947, Wright received a bachelor’s degree in economics from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. He obtained his juris doctor from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1950.

While he began as a sole practitioner, Wright spent the majority of his career at the firm now known as Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell, where he was a partner.

“My dad represented a lot of doctors in malpractice cases and he also represented the railroads and contractors,” said Joel. “He was able to travel to some exotic places during his career because of the clients he represented, which was pretty neat.”

Former Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell partner Frederick (“Fritz”) Coombs III, said Wright taught him how to try a case.

“Bud was a consummate trial lawyer and while I did not focus on medical malpractice I learned a great deal from him by watching and assisting him,” said Coombs. “I sat second chair to him on a number of his cases.

“Bud believed that every lawyer needed to know how to try a case, even corporate attorneys. Trying cases was his forte. I would say he was the best personal injury defense lawyer in northeastern Ohio.”

Although the two practiced together for 29 years, Coombs first got to know Wright because their families lived up the street from one another.

“His son Joel was about a year younger than I am and we would play together from time to time. We also went to the same school and our families went to First Presbyterian Church,” said Coombs.

“When Bud moved his family to Liberty Township, we still saw one another at church,” he said.

Retired plaintiff personal injury and domestic relations attorney Daniel L. Rossi said Wright was a very worthy opponent.

“Early in my career I had several cases against him,” said Rossi. “Bud was an extremely intelligent and competent attorney and he was always well prepared. He was someone you would prefer to have on your side, but even if he wasn’t on your team you could always count on him to be a gentleman.

“He and I worked on the same case one time,” Rossi said. “It was a highly contested divorce case. I was the trial court attorney and he handled the appeal. We did very well.”

Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas Judge R. Scott Krichbaum first met Wright while serving as a bailiff for the late Judge Clyde Osborne.

“Bud was a renowned and revered trial lawyer and a frequent litigator in the courts,” said Judge Krichbaum. “After I became a judge, he appeared before me.

“He was wonderfully bright and articulate and he also exhibited great professionalism,” he said. “Bud was a true advocate for every client he represented. He was a role model for all of us in the legal profession.”

Wright retired from Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell in 2004, but his son Joel said he continued to do pro bono work, volunteering for a program run by The Mahoning County Bar Association that helped people set up businesses.

The oldest member of The Mahoning County Bar Association, Wright served on the Memorial Committee and was an American College of Trial Lawyers fellow. He was also a member of the Ohio State Bar Association, the National Association of Railroad Trial Counsel, the International Association of Defense Counsel, the Defense Research Institute, the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Association of Civil Trial Attorneys.

In 2010, Wright received The Mahoning County Bar Association’s Professionalism Award.

Outside of the legal profession, Wright was a founding member of the Logan Swim and Tennis Club and served as a key board member for several organizations, including the board of education in Liberty Township, the YMCA’s Camp Fitch, the Lucy R. Buechner Hall dormitory at Youngstown State University, the Marion G. Resch Foundation and Youngstown’s Park & Recreation Commission.

He is a former president of the Belmont Park Cemetery Association and served as a deacon and elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown.

Wright enjoyed swimming, golfing, handball, boating, scuba diving, playing his trumpet and beating everyone at Cribbage and chess, said Joel.

“My dad lived a great life and he stayed active until the last year or so,” said Joel. “We had a special bond because we could both discuss the practice of law. He really enjoyed the law and his mind was sharp until the end, which allowed us to continue to argue our points of view.”

A memorial service was held at First Presbyterian Church on Oct. 20. Wright has been laid to rest at Belmont Park Cemetery.

Wright is survived by his brother Richmond Wright of Omaha, Nebraska; sister-in-law Ellen Wright of Gurnee, Illinois; sons Joel E. Wright (wife Kari Wright) of Bainbridge Island, Washington and Robert E. Wright (wife Jenny Meyer Wright) of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania; daughters Susan Wright Cwik (husband James Cwik) of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania and Martha Wright Gustafson (husband Mark Gustafson) of West Hartford, Connecticut and grandchildren Evan Wright, Mac Wright, Jennifer Cwik, Ryan Cwik, Samantha Jo Wright, Tyler Wright, Alex Gustafson, Molly Gustafson and Kate Gustafson.

His wife Beverly Evans Wright, parents, Eldon Stearns Wright II and Mildred B. Wright and his brother John S. Wright all preceded him in death.