Colleagues and friends remember Charles Harvey Jr., who died on Feb. 18 of pancreatic cancer.
April 1, 2009

There are lawyers who excel on tactics, on strategy and on a deep understanding of complex legal theories.

There are others who excel on the keen ability to see the human stories behind every court document.

Charles Harvey Jr., known affectionately by friends simply as "Chuck," was that rare example of both.

"He had insight into the human spirit, and a great intellect," said a close friend, Elizabeth Swain.

"The combination of warmth and humor and all of those other attributes is just part of what made Chuck a wonderful friend, lawyer, husband and father."

Harvey, a 59-year-old resident of South Portland, died Feb. 18, two months after doctors diagnosed his pancreatic cancer. Ten days before his death, Maine's trial judges presented Harvey with the 2009 Vincent L. McKusick Award, given annually to a person who has made lasting contributions to the administration of justice in this state.

On Tuesday night, more than 200 people gathered for a dinner at the Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland to honor the man described by many as one of the top trial lawyers and civil mediators to practice in Maine in the past quarter-century.

Several judges on Maine's supreme and superior courts spoke to the crowd and presented a plaque to Harvey's wife, Whitney.

Harvey's colleagues said that his death leaves a void in the legal community, but that the lessons imparted by Harvey -- particularly during the last two months of his life -- remain with them.

"The joy that he found in savoring his personal relationships, as he approached death, was frankly a reminder to many of us that we are all approaching death," said William Kayatta, a partner at Pierce Atwood in Portland.

Kayatta said Harvey's honesty, humility, grace and sense of humor set him apart from other trial lawyers.

"He not only won his cases, he also won the respect and affection of the lawyers on the other side. That's pretty remarkable," Kayatta said.

Born in Massachusetts, Harvey earned a degree in philosophy from Assumption College before coming to the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. He went to work for one of the state's largest and most prestigious law firms, Verrill Dana, in 1975, and he stayed there for two decades.

He earned some national acclaim in 1979. Just five years out of law school, he was appointed associate chief counsel to President Carter's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island. The commission investigated the worst nuclear power plant accident in U.S. history.

In 1995, Harvey and friend Robert Frank established their own firm in Portland, where Harvey would practice for the rest of his life.

Harvey specialized in medical malpractice defense and in complex mediation, where he often brought parties to agreements before the cases ever got to court.

"He could craft solutions that were extraordinary," Frank said. "He knew how to get past all of the rancor, and to get people focused on a better future, rather than the past."

Harvey was one of only 19 Maine lawyers serving as fellows in the American College of Trial Lawyers. He sat on several boards and commissions in the field of law and was known as an expert on professional ethics.

Harvey also was a supporter of the arts in Maine, having served on the boards for the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Portland Stage Company and other groups.

More than 1,000 people -- including U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and former Maine Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. -- attended a memorial service for Harvey on Feb. 27 at St. Luke's Cathedral in Portland.

"It shows the respect that he had not only within the legal community, but also more broadly," said former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Vincent L. McKusick, the namesake of the award presented to Harvey last month.

Robert Frank, Harvey's longtime law partner, said his friend spent the last two months...

of his life "making other people feel better about his passing.

"He opened a door for a lot of us on how to live true to oneself, in the face of the absurdity of death," Frank said. "He remained Chuck all the way through, and that was a gift for me."

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at

Copyright 2009 by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. All rights reserved.