Brookhaven attorney Fernald closing door on private practice

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, June 3, 2021

Brookhaven attorney Joe Fernald’s face displayed a smile as he walked through his South Railroad Avenue office, but also betrayed a hint of sadness.

After more than three decades in the law field, Fernald is closing his downtown office and leaving his trial practice behind. He started his professional career in banking, working for 20 years before going to law school to enhance his banking career — not to leave it. But he entered private practice in 1992 with Dick Stratton.

“I only worked with Dick Stratton for six months, but that was the best time I’ve ever had working,” Fernald said. “I bet we laughed every day.”

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In 1993, Fernald set up shop in the two-storey office he has been in ever since. The office is filled floorboards-to-rafters with historical memorabilia accumulated by the eclectic collector over the decades.

He has miniature lighthouses — about 30 large ones and more than 100 smaller models — and busts and paintings of famous figures like Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte. Scale models of famous monuments and military ships fill tables and shelves. Monticello and Mt. Vernon share space not far from Fenway Park, the U.S.S. Arizona and the Ironclad Merrimack.

Stained glass hangs in frames where the sunlight can enhance its beauty. Cigar store Indians advertise tobacco at cheap prices and three pipes sit on display in a rack built for six.

Copies of letters handwritten by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. Robert E. Lee are framed with each leader’s photograph. An authentic roster of Civil War soldiers from nearby Union Church is framed on one of the law office’s walls.

Everywhere there is history, but not just that of the nation or world, which Fernald loves to learn about and of which he is a walking storehouse of knowledge. Here there is the history of his life and work, and he knows he will miss it.

He is looking forward to the change, but packing things up to take home and arranging other items for sale in a July 16-17 estate tag sale is wearisome. “It’s like watching something die.”

He’s not taking on any new clients. He’ll finish the cases he’s already begun, with the last going to trial in December in Rankin County.

But he’s not leaving law altogether. Fernald has served 24 years as counsel for the city’s Board of Aldermen and he would like to keep going a while longer. Government law is what he went to school for, and he’s helped the city through such projects as annexation, getting the Walmart Distribution Center to locate in the city, and working for the establishment of the Mississippi School of the Arts on the old Whitworth College campus.

He’ll continue to work as long as he can, and enjoy his lifetime membership at the country club playing golf and spending time with his grandchildren — “The only way I can look beautiful is if they’re in a photo with me” — even as he continues to work. It’s bittersweet.

“But it’s over,” he said. “And I’m ready.”