How a legendary local lawyer helped a young man in need, who then paid him back 60 years later

December 11, 2019 | 11:00 am


Over its 85-year history, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has seen and heard countless inspirational stories from the people of Kern County, who visit the law office for assistance during what is typically their time of greatest need.

The story of Kenneth Cannon is no different. Back in 2015, 87-year-old Cannon visited the law office and shared his story of how Morris Chain helped him 60 years before:

At that time, Cannon, of Wasco, was in his prime. But he ended up in a fight with a neighbor that landed him in court facing a lawsuit.

“I punched him,” Cannon said. “It was the wrong thing to do, but that’s what happened.”

His neighbor had broken a bone and was suing him for $10,000. So, he went to the legendary local lawyer Morris Chain to defend him. Chain heard him out and told Cannon he would have done the same thing to his neighbor.

In 1955, Morris Chain had been practicing law in Bakersfield for more than 20 years already, and he had formed a formidable team around him including secretary Helen Banducci, and lawyers Albert Noriega and Milton Younger. Investigator Leonard Winters also worked directly with Chain for more than three decades. In fact, by the 1960s, Chain had achieved a state-wide reputation for being flamboyant in the courtroom while being dramatic, witty, entertaining and exciting to watch. But his performance always was firmly anchored to the logic of the law. He would be called “the Rembrandt of the courtroom,” and even served as a lawyer in the infamous Spade Cooley murder trial.

Back to Cannon, Chain had ultimately managed to get his fine reduced from $10,000 to $1,500, still a hefty fine back in those days. Morris’ fee was $100, but Cannon was working in the potato fields and so he promised to pay Chain over time. Chain told him: “Once you get on your feet, you pay me.”

Fast forward 60 years, Kenneth — an Air Force veteran who served in the Korean War — noticed in the newspaper that the law firm moved offices from the Bank of America building to Chester Avenue and 18th. He walked into the lobby with a new $100 bill he took out from the bank stuffed inside of a small yellow envelope, and asked for David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“I know Morris died in the 1970s, but since you still have Chain’s name at your firm, I felt I should give the money to you.” Cannon told Cohn. “It’s been on my mind this whole time. I had quite a guilty conscience about it all. I was obligated to pay back my debt. I should have done it long ago.”

Cohn accepted the $100 bill on behalf of Chain. He later sent Cannon a photo of Morris Chain and a $100 check as a token of appreciation for sharing his story. Cannon later wrote back that he had framed the check and hung it inside of his home.

Local columnist Richard Beene made a mention of this tale in his blog, and called it “a sweet story of honesty, forgiveness and faith that will send you into the weekend with a smile.”

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.