"Giving Something Back" by Marques G. Harper
"Before the clients arrive, Bernard Walter, the 53-year-old lawyer from California, parks his snow-white Lexus on a side street, enters the side door of a Shavertown church overlooking a lush green slope covered in tombstones and sits in a metal folding chair behind a wooden table in a room with padded walls. Some Friday nights attendance is spotty. Other nights, it's downright overwhelming. Still, there are times when a dozen people come to the Roman Catholic church for answers, both heavenly and not so. And, Walter tries fishing for answers to the needs presented.
'Law is an expensive and often slow, frustrating approach to solving problems,' says Walter, wearing his favorite tie, a dark suit, and a crisp white dress shirt. 'There's a beginning, and there's an end. And there are steps in between. Practicing law is about the search for justice.' It is here at the Free Back Mountain Medical and Legal Clinic that a team of doctors and lawyers meets in the basement of St. Therese's Church to offer services to the needy.
These people, rich and poor, come hoping for speedy solutions to legal and non-emergency medical problems. Dozens of residents and business owners have come to the weekly clinic since it opened in 1995. Dr. Fred Bloom and church officials started the medical clinic as a community outreach, and the legal portion was added in 1996. Walter and three local lawyers rotate Friday nights working at the law clinic.
'There are medical clinics around the area,' says Erik Dingle, one of the volunteer lawyers. 'There are no free legal clinics from what I know. It has turned into a service. It's nice that the legal clinic can give something back. It's a wonderful experience.'
Creating the law clinic is just one example of how Walter — a quiet, thoughtful man — is giving back to the region. Asked about starting the clinic, Walter says: 'You don't have to call an expensive downtown law office. Make an appointment. Dread what the fees are going to be. Sit in a waiting room. Pay for parking. And deal with that estrangement.'
Giving & Getting
Even though Walter and his wife, Roberta, fit the slim percentage of people who are statistically considered to be well-to-do, they aren't spending their time hiding behind that image. However, they hold an air of privacy and intrigue. And they are quick to say they aren't attention-seekers.
'I left family and home, office, clients, schools, theater, clubs, yachting, opera — a lot of things that are very dear to me because I love my wife. And Roberta is a fabulous person,' Walter says. 'Living here is a challenge and I have found wonderful people here. It was just a choice about making my life as beautiful as possible,' he says. His voice is a blend of melodic, Zen-filled undertones. He speaks in metaphors and other artful language.
During a normal week, Walter jets off to other offices in other cities. Sometimes he stays here. His current roster of clients includes dot-coms in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and Japanese trading companies in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Orlando, Florida.
The trips remind Walter of his other friends and adventures — those left behind on the West Coast and beyond. The life left behind helped create his beliefs about ethics and how law should be practiced. Walter finished law school by 1978 and was hired by the San Francisco District Attorney's office. There he had an eight-year tenure prosecuting notorious porno kings and pimps. One of his cases involved the Mitchell brothers, whose porn empire was depicted in Showtime's 'Rated X,' starring Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
It was in California where he met his wife in 1989. Roberta Walter is a Wyoming Valley native who returned here from the West Coast for medical care. She has many years of experience in the local business community. She is the owner of Dallas Design that buys, renovates, and sells local properties. Decades ago, she and then-husband Robert Costello, owned Mr. B's, a chain of local clothing stores (in Dallas, Tunkhannock, Dickson City, and Edwardsville).
But Bernard Walter, who has a Shavertown office and others in Las Vegas and San Francisco, is a relative newcomer to the ways and traditions of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The couple moved to Dallas in 1994.
Nevertheless, the Walters have been quietly attempting through volunteering, charity, and businesses ventures to be cheerleaders for a region often looked down upon as being light years behind the rest of the world.