e was a practicing attorney for more than six decades.
He spent World War II as an attorney in the Army’s judge advocate general corps.
He worked as a bottle washer at the Ale-8-One plant in the 1930s making 15 cents an hour.
He helped finance, found and sell numerous companies including a cable company in the 1980s.
He has tried thousands of cases, and won many of them.
He argued a case before the Supreme Court of the United States.
For Michael Rowady, it’s a life he wouldn’t have imagined for himself.
Rowady, who will turn 99 in November, recently reflected on his career and life while sitting in the conference room of his son’s law office in Winchester.
A lifelong Winchester resident, Rowady said people told him to leave for other opportunities. On a couple occasions, he was unemployed and nearly broke when opportunities opened, thanks to people he knew around town.
Rowady, the son of Lebanese immigrants and cousin of famed White House reporter Helen Thomas, said he decided early in life he wanted to be a lawyer.
“Judge John M. Stevenson owned the building my father rented,” he said. “Everyone respected him. I said, ‘I like people to look up to me.’”
So Rowady decided to go to law school. He planned on going to the University of Michigan, but life dictated a change.
“My father died. I didn’t have the money, and I went to UK,” he said
In a previous interview with The Sun, Rowady said he was working at Ale-8-One while he was going to UK, making about $9 a week. Tuition for a semester was $39, including football tickets, he said.
“You could buy a lot for a quarter during those hard times,” he said. “I was awfully grateful for the job.”
Rowady graduated, returned to Winchester and the rest is legal history.
Earlier this year, the University of Kentucky Law School honored Rowady with a Legacy award as an alumnus.
His legal career, though, took a while to get going.
Serving his country
Rowady opened his law practice in 1941. Not long afterward, he was called to join the war effort and his legal career was put on hold. Rowady enlisted with the Army Air Corps and eventually spent 44 months overseas.
His start, though, was not particularly glorious. While working as a garbage collector on a military base, he passed the judge advocate general’s office.
“I just walked in and asked for a job,” he said. After passing the required tests and checks, he became a sergeant major.
For the rest of his tour, he traveled the world prosecuting cases and serving on the line of duty death review board.
“We tried them for everything,” he said. Aside from court, Rowady also helped soldiers with legal documents, including preparing wills.
When the war ended and he was discharged, Rowady returned to Winchester.
Taking the bench
Following the war, Rowady was looking for work when an unexpected position opened.
”I was out of the service and out of a job,” he said, when he was approached by city officials about being appointed to fill a vacant position of police judge. The position, which was abolished in the 1970s, was responsible for presiding over criminal matters within a city’s limits.
“I wasn’t sure I’d take it,” Rowady said. “Old Judge Hayes Smith said, “‘Take it boy, take it.’”
Rowady accepted and was appointed. After four years on the bench, he was defeated in an election. The job turned out to be a tremendous place to learn about practicing law.
“It helped because I learned these other lawyers that I was scared of weren’t any smarter than me,” he said. “I grew beyond what I ever thought I could.”
Though being police judge helped establish Rowady in Winchester, he was back on the street without a job again.
“I had no place to go and no job,” he said.
Alan Jackson had an office downtown and let him work there rent-free for two years to establish his practice.
The catch was the office space was on the ground level. At the time, Rowady said most attorneys had offices on the upper floors of the McEldowney building.
Rowady became the first attorney in town with a street-level office.
“He got me started in my practice,” he said.
Standards of time
As a law school graduate practicing law in Winchester, Rowady was in the minority.
“In 1941, there were 22 lawyers here. Half of them hadn’t been past the eighth grade. They’d read law in someone else’s office.”
Attorneys would be admitted to the bar after the judge read the role of the law, they would “have a drink of moonshine and the judge would slap the new attorney on the back,” Rowady said.
Starting as a lawyer meant starting with nothing and building. Often, he would ride the train to Stanton or other communities, just to try and drum up clients and business.
“When a lawyer started, you worked the first five years as a defense attorney. That’s how it was.”
Establishing his practice
Early in Rowady’s practice, Winchester was home to a number of construction companies, prior to new roads being built into the mountains of eastern Kentucky. For a time, Rowady said he kept an apartment in Pikeville to keep up with his clients there.
“I really liked becoming an expert in blasting cases,” he said. “I learned from the U.S. Bureau of Mines (about) the difference from concussion and vibration. We had really smart experts who could explain things well to the jury.”
Criminal law provided its own challenges.
“I liked criminal (work),” he said. “I got several acquittals in murder cases. They’re easier to win than stealing (cases) because people think you have to have a reason to kill someone.”
The highest court in the land
Rowady and several other local attorneys boarded the Chesapeake and Ohio for the trip to Washington D.C., which stopped outside the Supreme Court building. Earl Warren was the Chief Justice at the time.
“I’d already had a big victory,” he said of the case. “I had a $2 million judgment I’d whittled down to $200,000.”
The case centered on an oil deal, which was appealed all the way up the legal chain to the highest court in the land.
“It was a bunch of doctors suing over $2.5 million based on fraud over an oil deal,” Rowady said. “Mr. Carp (Rowady’s client) was very happy with me. They couldn’t locate where the gas was. They claimed he kept the good leases and gave them the bad ones.
“We had 245 days of bench trial. It lasted nine years.”
State of practicing law today
Taking a case to trial and the practice of arguing a case is almost a forgotten skill today, Rowady said.
“(Mediators) have ruined the trial process,” he said. “They want to settle everything. Not everything should be settled. We used to take a week or two to try a case.”
“I’ve lost cases where they didn’t have any evidence at all, but someone on the jury had something.”
Still proud to be from here
After spending nearly a century on this planet, Rowady said he is glad he never left. Some of his siblings moved to other locations, and he said they don’t have any friends. Here, the town has changed and grown, but he still feels at home, with his friends and his memories. §