Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 17, 2015

Hard work is its own reward

When Gerard Siciliano left his New Jersey home in 1970 to attend Seton Hall, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Instead, his motivations for going to college revolved around more immediate interests: getting out of the house, seeing the world, and meeting good looking women.  He accomplished all three. But college didn’t work for him.

“I wasn’t ready to be a student,” he says.

So Siciliano spent a couple of years doing a little bit of almost everything. Somewhere between plumbing, masonry, fencing, and painting in California, stints on a shrimp boat and a scallop boat in Florida, and a job on a salmon boat in Oregon, he found the motivation to return to school.

“It was good work. I enjoyed it. But I realized I wasn’t making enough money to support a family or buy a house,” he says. “I also knew my back was going to go out before I was 50.”

Siciliano returned to school older and more dedicated. In 1978, he graduated from Marshall University summa cum laude and then went directly to law school at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

“I don’t have the aptitude to be a scientist or a physician,” he says, “but I do enjoy meeting and interacting with people.”

Siciliano certainly met the right people. While in college, he became good friends with John Cavett of Chattanooga and his wife at the time, Terry. A year after Siciliano had graduated from law school, the couple invited him to sleep on their couch while he looked for a job in the Scenic City. He eventually found work at the Hamilton County Juvenile Court handling paternity and child support cases.

Siciliano worked for the court in the days before DNA testing, which gave him fodder for entertaining stories about establishing paternity. In one case, he attempted to associate a likeness between the putative father and the putative baby by having the mother sit in the front row of the courtroom with the child in question. The judge found Siciliano’s strategy objectionable, and ordered the infant removed. Fortunately, Siciliano was able to establish paternity through other means.

No story, however, tops Siciliano’s tale about proving paternity in a case that involved another young man and his easily identifiable backside.

“A girl saw her roommate and the putative father in the throes of passion nine months before the baby was born,” he says. “She didn’t recognize the boy’s face, but she had seen his posterior, and was able to positively ID it in the courtroom.”

Siciliano laughs at the memory of the case, producing the first display of emotion on his face.

His smile recedes as he talks about going to work for Luther Anderson in 1984 and spending the next five years assigned exclusively to Butcher Bank cases. Although the work was labor intensive and monotonous, he spent that time under the mentorship of good lawyers and gaining experience in high profile litigation.

Siciliano was also able to indulge his creative side. “We’d inundate an adverse witness with paper,” he says, his smile returning. “We’d bring in boxes and boxes of papers with his name on it, and we’d talk about pieces of paper for hours and hours. After two or three days of that, he’d be a little punch drunk and say, ‘Tell me what you want.’”

Siciliano eventually transitioned to a more diverse general civil litigation practice. While the cases haven’t been as high profile as his Butcher Bank work, he has appreciated the variety. Insurance defense cases make up the bulk of his practice, although between motor vehicle accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and slip-and-falls, he has room for other types of matters, some of which involve representing plaintiffs. His clients come in all sizes, too, from individuals to large chain stores. At any given time, Siciliano is working on about 140 active cases.

Although he touches some of those files only once a month, his work load is largely responsible for the long days he works, and the weeks with no beginning or end. “I try not to work seven days a week, but if I’m preparing for a trial, then I’m here every day, 16 to 18 hours a day,” he says.

It’s a good thing, then, that Siciliano likes practicing law.

“I have no regrets about becoming a lawyer. I’m sometimes in difficult situations, which I don’t like, especially when I don’t prevail in an argument or when I disappoint a client, but for the most part, I enjoy getting up each day and doing what I do,” he says. “It would be a shame if I were stuck in an office making twice as much money but was bored out of my mind. When you like your work, it’s not work.”

Siciliano doesn’t just like being a lawyer, he likes being a trial lawyer. What’s more, he believes he has the mind for it, although getting him to admit as much is difficult given his tendency for self-effacing humility.

“Every time I’m in court, someone shows me up,” he says. “Most lawyers are smarter than me, or have more innate intelligence, but a lot of them don’t have walking around sense, or they might not have the background information I do. I think I overcome some of my deficiencies by working hard.”

Siciliano isn’t kidding, although he does admit to underselling himself. “I don’t want to go around saying I’m the baddest attorney in town because someone will prove me wrong,” he says. “I’d rather be the underdog. I think I do a better job for my clients by having a low profile and outworking my adversaries. Plus, jurors appreciate humility. Most lawyers are cocky.”

Siciliano’s smile returns again as he says the last statement, even though he seems to be speaking sincerely. Still, his name isn’t on the front door at Luther Anderson simply because he works hard. After nearly 35 years of practicing law, he’s proven himself to be highly capable as well.

Siciliano grew up in an Italian American household on the Jersey Shore, which becomes evident when speaking with him due to his retention of the accent. He was the youngest of seven boys, and although he has plenty of stories to tell from those days, he doesn’t share any of them.  “We weren’t always good boys,” he says. “None of us are criminals or drug addicts, but we got into more mischief than we should have. My mother spent years praying for a girl.”

Siciliano says his mother, a devout Catholic, also prayed for her sons, and continues to do so. “We need her prayers,” he says. “We accept all of them.”

Although born and bred on the Jersey Shore, Siciliano doesn’t regret moving to Chattanooga. Instead, he says he now considers himself to be a Southerner - despite born and bred Tennesseeans like Cavett insisting he’s still “Yankeefied.”

No one can deny Siciliano has enjoyed raising a family in Chattanooga, though. He and his wife, Paula, met during his second year of law school, and to date have been married 35 years. They have two daughters, Christina and Kathleen, and enjoy life in their home just off the 18th hole at Black Creek.

Given Siciliano’s proximity to the game of golf, one might think he’d be good at it, but he says otherwise. Even so, he gets out on weekends and swings his clubs. “My wife is a golf widow,” he says. “But she knows it’s good for me to get out and play.”

If Siciliano had more free time, he’d get on the water, and do church and charity work, but his practice keeps him busy.

Not that he’s complaining. Rather, he says the law has been good to him.

Self-effacing humility aside, Siciliano has been good to the law in return. He’s proven the value of hard work and zealous representation within the rules, and has earned a reputation for always giving a case 100 percent of himself. When his colleagues look back on his career someday, they might not have any big money verdicts to recall, but they will likely say he always did his best, and was unfailingly honest and straightforward.

“Sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose,” he says,” but I hope my colleagues think we advocate fairly against one another.”