“He had probably the greatest legal mind of anyone I knew,” Anniston lawyer Bill Broome said Monday. “He was a legal scholar and probably mentored over 50 lawyers in this area.”
Paul Baker, Brooks' business partner, said he learned of his friend's death Sunday evening. Baker had been waiting, as usual, to play pool with Brooks.
The two pool aficionados had a habit of getting together for an informal game most Sunday nights. But Baker hadn’t heard from Brooks late in the afternoon when he got a phone call from his friend’s sister-in-law, and knew the worst.
Etowah County Deputy Coroner Michael Head said a preliminary autopsy was performed Monday and revealed Brooks died of accidental drowning. Brooks was found still wearing his scuba equipment, which will be tested for malfunctions.
Baker, a business owner, and Brooks, a Jacksonville native and Anniston attorney since the 1970s, had been friends for about 12 years after the two were introduced by mutual friend and Calhoun County Circuit Clerk Ted Hooks. The three men quickly bonded over their love of pool, and in 2007, Baker and Brooks went into business together and purchased a pool hall on Noble Street in downtown Anniston. It had become something of an informal ritual Sunday night to get together, talk business and shoot a game.
“It was just a habit for us,” Baker said. “We all had pool tables, and we’d always love to get together and play.”
Baker said Brooks played standard eight-ball and nine-ball pool, but his real passion was for a game called one-pocket.
“It’s like chess on a pool table,” Baker said of the game, which requires great skill and strategic thinking and often goes on for hours. “There aren’t a lot of one-pocket players in the area.”
And there weren’t a lot of lawyers like Brooks, according to his colleagues on the bar.
Brooks was a walking guide to the law for many young attorneys, Broome said.
Whenever a question came up in the courtroom, they knew Brooks would not only have the answer ready, he’d know exactly where to find it, too.
“It won’t just be Bill and I who will miss calling Randy,” said Tom Harmon, one of Brooks’ partners at Brooks, Harmon and Johnston Law Firm, which the two men established in Anniston in 1995.
“There was a hardly a day that went by when another lawyer wasn’t calling him about something criminal-justice related,” said Dave Johnston, Brooks’ other partner who joined the law firm in 2004. “He wouldn’t just answer the question, he knew the case and he’d bring it to you.”
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh said he’s one of the many who call Brooks a mentor. Brooks wasn’t just knowledgeable about the law, McVeigh said, but an honest man who treated everyone with respect in and outside of the courtroom.
“He had a brilliant legal mind, but he also knew how to leave all the adversarial parts of what we do in the courtroom," McVeigh said. “He taught that to me and that was one of the best lessons I ever learned.”
McVeigh said he heard the news of Brooks’ death Sunday afternoon, but was still “shocked” not to see Brooks at the courthouse on Monday, where the attorney was a popular figure. His colleagues said it’ll probably be a long time, if ever, they get used to not seeing him around.
“I’ll have his number on speed dial, and then I’ll remember he’s not there,” Broome said.
Brooks established his first law practice with his identical twin brother, Ralph, after the two finished law school. Ralph had attended the University of Alabama, while Randy went to Cumberland because they didn’t want to compete with each other, according to Broome. Ralph died of brain cancer in 1991, and in 1995, Brooks started another practice with Harmon.
Brooks used his sharp mind for pursuits outside of the courtroom as well. Friends and family recalled Brooks as a keen expert on snakes, an excellent diver and a world traveler.
“Vacation for him wasn’t getting a five-star hotel,” Harmon said. “It was sleeping under mosquito netting in the jungle, or out in nature hunting snakes.”
A regular companion of Brooks’ was his nephew, Lane Oswalt, who according to family was treated like Brook’s own kid. Oswalt’s mother and Brooks’ sister-in-law, Gina Musser, said Brooks paid Oswalt’s way through college at the University of Alabama, and was the “pillar that held the family together” throughout his life.
Oswalt was also going to be Brooks’ traveling partner on his upcoming diving trip to Mexico next week.
As much of a shock as the news of Brooks’ death brought, Broome said there is some comfort in knowing that his friend was doing something he loved when he died.
“There’s two ways Randy would have wanted to go,” Broome said. “The first way would have been being bit by an exotic snake, and the second would have been diving.”
He added, “the third would have been in the courtroom.”
Star Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star