Advertisement
  1. News

Epilogue: Beyond the courtroom, personal injury lawyer Richard Mulholland loved adventure

Richard Mulholland had a humble upbringing and was a self-made success, friends say.
Richard Mulholland had a humble upbringing and was a self-made success, friends say.
Published Jun. 2, 2016

Richard Mulholland was the king of legal advertising. He was among the first in Tampa Bay to promote his law firm with billboards and television spots.

"He was the John Morgan of his day way back in the 1970s and 1980s," said a friend of his, Zephyr­hills lawyer Drew Ben Hudgins.

But beyond his successful personal injury practice, Mulholland's friends and family knew him as a hard-working man with a humble family upbringing in Tampa and an edge for adventure, from judo training to piloting his own twin-engine plane to Canada.

Mr. Mulholland died Thursday, May 26, of cancer. He was 82.

Born during the Great Depression, Mr. Mulholland grew up in East Seminole Heights. He shined shoes for nickels and tended to his family's goats and chickens.

He was asthmatic as a child and took up playing the trumpet to control his breathing, said his son, Mason Mulholland. Music flourished into a passion, helping him land a scholarship to the University of Tampa, where he graduated in 1955. He also led a dance band that helped pay for his law school years at the University of Miami.

In 1960, Mr. Mulholland became a lawyer in Florida, opening his own personal injury law firm. During the early 1980s, Hudgins, who calls Mr. Mulholland a mentor, worked at the fast-paced downtown Tampa office of more than 70 employees.

The firm also had an airplane that was used to serve clients across the state, as well as a helicopter for aerial photographs.

"He was a success story," said his friend and former developer Wayne Litzau. "It's not like he inherited a business. He came from a humble background."

But what Mr. Mulholland loved most about his job was helping people, Hudgins said. He was among the first lawyers in Tampa Bay to use a fee process that didn't ask a client for money up front and instead allowed the lawyer to collect a percentage of the client's civil judgment.

"It didn't matter what walk of life you came from," Hudgins said. "He would take your case on and fight for you and make sure you got treated fairly in an era where that was a new concept."

Mr. Mulholland was also a pioneer in lawyer advertisements. He was one of three attorneys involved in a suit against the Florida Bar that challenged regulations restricting lawyers from using dramatizations or testimonials in ads.

"The only people who don't like legal advertising are other lawyers, WHO REPRESENT INSURANCE COMPANIES AND OTHER BIG BUSINESSES," Mr. Mulholland told the Tampa Bay Times in 1995 via fax. "Lawyers who represent the people have absolutely no objection to legal advertising."

Mr. Mulholland's law firm was also tangled in a legal battle that spanned several years. In 2005, he sued two former lawyers of his firm, accusing William Winters and Marc Yonker of telling his clients he was retiring, hacking his office's computers and making photocopies of his files.

A secretary who was fired from his office for having an affair with Winters later testified that she modified the phone numbers and addresses in Mr. Mulholland's client files to delay his staff from contacting people whom Winters and Yonker wanted to reach.

In 2008, Mr. Mulholland won a $2 million civil judgment, though an appeals court later ruled Winters did not have to pay him. Four years later, Winters and Yonker were suspended 91 days and 60 days, respectively, for "professional misconduct," the Times reported.

Despite all of his accomplishments, Mulholland remained quiet and unassuming, said former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, who grew up with him.

A successful career was important to him, Greco added, but "it wasn't his primary interest in life. He never really changed the way he was."

Outside of the courtroom and the office, Mr. Mulholland was an avid adventurer. He went fishing in Alaska, hunting in South Dakota, camping with his brothers, and scuba spearfishing in the Caribbean. After the age of 40, he took up judo and earned a black belt. He also learned to fly, taking his twin-engine plane across the country.

Mason, his son, said his father enjoyed the freedom of flying.

"It's a challenge," he said. "Not too many people will do that for fun."

"He had an incredibly full, rich life," Hudgins said.

Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.