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Charles Weiss- Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

Charlie Weiss, one of the state’s elite litigators, very nearly didn’t attend law school.

By 1965, he had other options. News reporting was one. He had just earned a journalism degree at the University of Missouri and spent summers writing for papers in his native Perry County.

Academia was another option. Weiss was still at MU finishing up a second degree — a bachelor’s in History — and already had a fellowship lined up elsewhere to pursue a doctorate in American History. At one point, he considered diplomacy and sat for the Foreign Service Officer Test.Charles Weiss

Then a chaplain at MU’s Newman Center urged Weiss to apply for a scholarship to Notre Dame Law School, which was recruiting public-university students. He did, and he won a full ride. He graduated with honors in 1968, clerked for Judge M.C. Matthes on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then took a job at Bryan, Cave, McPheeters & McRoberts in 1969.

When Weiss arrived at that firm, he was the 30th attorney in its sole office in St. Louis. Now the firm is called Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, with 32 offices in 11 countries staffed by 1,600 lawyers. Weiss is one of its most respected. A septuagenarian, Weiss retains a certain old-school sensibility: he is unfailingly courteous and still speaks aloud his legal arguments into a dictaphone for assistants to type up.

Weiss’s biggest case occurred somewhat early in his career. In 1979, Northrop sued McDonnell Douglas regarding the rights to be the prime contractor for foreign sales of the F-18 Hornet. Weiss became one of the lead attorneys for McDonnell Douglas and helped to secure those rights for his client in 1985 as part of a $50 million settlement. He went on to represent other large companies such as KV Pharmaceuticals, Savvis and Maritz.

During nearly 50 years practicing law, Weiss has tried approximately 100 civil cases and 20 criminal cases to judgment. He has been inducted into the selective American College of Trial Attorneys and served as president of The Missouri Bar and the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. He has engaged in numerous arbitrations and mediations, taken more than 1,200 depositions and appeared in cases in various federal district and appeals courts. In addition, Weiss has appeared in two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of criminal defendants and prevailed in both.

Weiss’s pro bono work for the wrongfully convicted at times has grabbed national headlines. In his first such case, Weiss and his colleague at Bryan Cave, Steven R. Snodgrass, freed Missouri inmate Josh Kezer after Kezer spent 16 years in prison for a homicide he didn’t commit. Kezer’s case filled an episode of 48 Hours and resulted in a $4 million settlement.

In 2012, Weiss and Snodgrass helped convince the Cole County Circuit Court to overturn the murder conviction of St. Louisan George Allen, who had spent 30 years in prison after police failed to disclose evidence of his innocence. That case resulted in a settlement of $13.8 million for Allen’s family.

Most recently, they advocated for David Robinson of southeast Missouri, claiming to have evidence that exonerated him of a murder in 2000. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, and on May 14 Robinson was released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center. Weiss and Snodgrass have teamed up with other attorneys on these and other innocence cases, some of which are still pending.

For now, Weiss has no post-retirement plans because he doesn’t want to retire.

“Working is good for your health,” he says. “For me, the practice of law is still fun.”

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