Meet the York County lawyers who lunch

Originally published on Page A1 of the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Monday, July 18, 2011.

By LAUREN BOYER 
Daily Record/Sunday News

They come in different flavors — civil, criminal, family.

A slightly sweaty Judge Harry Ness stops by Central Market for a sandwich. To stay active, he spends three lunch breaks a week walking four miles on the York County Rail Trail with Judge Thomas Kelly. DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - LAUREN BOYER

One of them goes by “your honor.”

But when the clock strikes noon five days a week, they clutch menus around a York city lunch table, in the name of empty stomachs and colorful conversation.

Even after 15 years, the witty banter, jokes and idea-sharing remains as hearty as their appetites.

“We have networking and comraderie that you can’t get sitting at your desk,” said attorney Kathleen Prendergast, munching on a salad in Central Market recently.

Some might consider it a luxury in an age of shrinking lunch hours.

The average lunch break is 20 to 40 minutes, according to a CareerBuilder survey that also found 32 percent of workers taking less than a half-hour for lunch.

About 10 percent of workers don’t take a lunch break, the study said, while 18 percent are desk eaters — living a  life of lunchtime loneliness.

But a few York County lawyers don’t play games when it comes to food-fueled power hours.

Sometimes it’s South George Street for Marcello’s Pizza or Asian food at Keo.

Tuesdays and Thursdays it’s usually Central Market.

Other days, it’s Bistro 19 or the White Rose Bar & Grill.

This Thursday, like adult children in a school cafeteria, the characters trickled into the seating area outside outside Mezzogiorno at the market.

First came John Moran andFarley Holt, both busy men with the messy workspaces to prove it.

“I couldn’t eat at my desk,” Holt said. “You can’t even see the wood.”

Like all things, a mid-day powwow oozes with hidden perks. For one hour a day, Holt, himself, is hidden, dodging calls and unscheduled visits to his North Queen Street firm.

“If I ate there, I’d never get a chance to put a bite in my mouth. The phone is always ringing,” he said. “There’s also a better chance your clients are going to stop by unannounced during lunch, because they’re also at lunch.”

With a forehead-full of sweat, the next diner grabs a metal chair next to attorney Andrew Brown.

He’s ready for the gym, not the courtroom — seemingly an outsider amongst the shirts, ties and other lawyerly garb circling the table.

But make no mistake. He’s more important than he looks.

“Theoretically, I could wear this under my robe,” said Judge Harry Ness, clad in jogging shorts and t-shirt, “but I don’t.”

For Ness, everyday is about tough decisions.

Thursday, he ruled in favor of a  ham and  swiss sandwich with diet coke.

At age 61, he remembers when the attorneys — the “Street Lawyers Group” — first found each other at the former R & D’s restaurant on North Duke Street, a popular courthouse hangout.

These days, Ness doesn’t chow down as often as he used to.

After court recesses at noon, he joins Judge Thomas Kelly three days a week for a four-mile walk on the York County Rail Trail. It’s “the first time I’ve worked out in 61 years,” he said.

He’s battling the pounds he attributes to new job stress and breaking a cigar smoking habit.

“My job is so sedentary. I drive to the courthouse. I walk 90 steps to my courtroom. I sit there all day,” he said. “When I was a defense attorney, I was running all over the county.”

It all changed two years ago, when Ness, a Republican and 35-year veteran attorney, beat Prendergast, a Democrat, in the race for his Court of Common Pleas post.

“People are so used to partisanship, yet we were running for the same office in different parties and still having lunch together everyday,” she said.

And they continue to do just that.

It’s less about the food, and more about the friendships.

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