Charley German’s talents are multitudinous. Take music: He plays guitar, mandolin and banjo. He’s been in various bands, belting out tunes in the rock, country and acoustic-Americana traditions. He has even become adept at recording and mixing, having built a professional-grade studio inside his house in Cass County, southeast of Kansas City.
German is an eclectic lawyer, too. Throughout his career, he has handled everything from white-collar defense to capital murder, from the federal takeover of banks to school desegregation, from the life sciences to tax cases to fighting homelessness — and he has handled it all with aplomb.
A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Law in 1977, German first clerked for a federal judge in Kansas City and then spent 14 years at Stinson Mag & Fizzell. While there, he joined a team of colleagues defending five suburban school districts in a complex desegregation trial that lasted the better part of a year. German described it as “mammoth litigation” involving millions of documents.
“We didn’t have artificial intelligence or computers,” he said. “We had rooms with boxes.” And German — who had just made partner — had to carry those boxes.
He also received a sobering lesson in these years about the court’s inability to always bring clarity and closure: German was appointed to represent death-row inmate Doyle Williams. For about 13 years he litigated on behalf of Williams, who maintained his innocence but was executed by Missouri officials in 1996.
“I saw the best and the worst of the court system,” he recalled. “The system is not perfect enough to have absolute certainty that the right decision was made. And when the result of the decision is the death penalty, you don’t get a second chance.”
By that time, German had developed a totally different expertise. In the wake of the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s, German became a specialist in defending banks against government seizure and the third-party liability cases that tended to result.
After he and Kirk T. May launched their own firm in 1992, his work in that area led to white-collar defense and internal investigations. To date, German has helped with more than 40 internal corporate investigations on matters ranging from audit issues and whistleblower complaints to regulatory and law enforcement inquiries. You haven’t heard of 99.9 percent of these investigations, German said. That means, of course, he did his job.
You may indeed have heard, however, of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City. German and his firm serve as outside, independent general counsel for the institute’s affiliated company, BioMed Valley Discoveries, a clinical-stage biotechnology business dedicated to meeting unmet patient needs in the areas of cancer, inflammation and infectious disease.
In the pro bono realm, German decided during his 2007 term as president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association that his fellow attorneys could volunteer to help various entities rushing to address homelessness, which had become acute from massive foreclosures.
“One thing I learned very early,” he recalled, “is that most homeless people were not drunks panhandling for quarters. Most homeless people were families with children.”
German was instrumental in setting up the Homelessness Task Force of Greater Kansas City. Its mission was to coordinate a multi-county system that would connect people with resources. He chaired the group from 2008 to 2012.
He did it because he knows everyone needs help at some point. In his own life and career, he, too, has needed it — and has gotten it from his wife, Jan.
Her “love and support,” he said, “has always kept me going.”