Hamilton Herald Masthead Attorneys Insurance Mutual of the South

Editorial


Front Page - Friday, January 12, 2018

‘Three heads are better than one’


Best Hayduk Brock combines the efforts of former competitors



Garth Best, left, Andrea Hayduk and Matt Brock formed Best Hayduk Brock in September to leverage their diverse strengths. - Photograph by David Laprad

As Nada Smith sat at the defendant’s table in Judge Tom Greenholtz’s courtroom listening to the closing arguments in her criminal case, her life as she knew it hung in the balance.

If the jury found Smith guilty of the charges against her, she’d go to prison. Accused of driving under the influence, as well as failing to maintain her lane, she’d also lose her job and home.

A single mother, Smith would lose her young son, as well – at least for a time. The thought of being separated from him crushed her spirit.

Smith was familiar with the weight but not used to it. It first pressed down on her the morning of Sept. 12, 2015, as she sat in the back of a Chattanooga police vehicle, her wrists shackled, her eyes wet with tears, her life dissolving in the pulsating wash of blue lights.

For the next two years, the weight of what was coming and what could happen never left her. And it was still with her as she waited for the district attorney to finish nailing the lid to her coffin.

Smith scribbled a note and handed it to the attorney seated next to her, Andrea Hayduk. “How are things going?” it read. “It’s too soon to tell,” came the reply.

After the DA was finished, the attorney seated next to Hayduk stood and buttoned his suit jacket. He took a visible breath, as if he were clearing every thought but the necessary ones from his mind, and stepped forward to deliver his closing argument.

Smith first spotted Matt Brock during an early visit to Criminal Court. While waiting for her name to be called, she watched him beat a drug case and decided she needed him to be her attorney.

When the judge asked Smith if she wanted a public defender, she said no and went and grabbed Brock. Although she obtained only his card that day, she secured his services the next time they met.

Brock had been candid with Smith from the start: Tennessee has some of the strictest rules in the country regarding DUIs, he told her, and she would have, at best, a 50-50 shot at winning. But Smith insisted on going to trial. She said she believed in her innocence – and said she believed in Brock.

During the trial, Smith had listened and watched as every detail of the fateful evening was retold and replayed. She listened as the DA laid the groundwork for the state’s case against her, telling the jurors they would see her lose control in an alcoholic haze in dashboard video captured by the arresting officer. She listened as Hayduk assured the jurors there were logical explanations for her actions that night – and none of them involved alcohol or anything else illegal.

And she watched the video the DA said condemned her and Brock claimed was her salvation.

During jury selection earlier that day, Brock’s delivery has been rough around the edges as he labored to gain his footing. He’d found it during the trial, and for his closing argument, delivered an articulate deconstruction of the DA’s case and an impassioned plea to the common sense of the jurors.

His final volley against the prosecution put a lid on over two years of work: “There are a lot of ways to prove these charges. The state hasn’t shown any of them today.”

As Brock returned to his seat, Smith looked at Hayduk and, with her eyes, repeated the question she’d asked earlier. Hayduk’s answer was no more reassuring than before: “All we can do now is wait.”

Best Hayduk Brock

During Brock’s closing argument, a third private practice attorney slipped into the courtroom and took a seat in the audience section: Garth Best. Like Hayduk and Brock, Best is a criminal defense attorney, although his focus is on federal work rather than DUIs. He came to watch his law partners apply the finishing touches to their long-gestating case.

Now all three are seated together at their newly launched practice on Broad Street downtown: Best Hayduk Brock. Like the rest of the building, which contained Mom’s Italian Villa until 2015, the conference room in which they’ve assembled has been given a make-over that not only brings it up to date with elegant modern furnishings, coats of fresh paint and eye-pleasing artwork but also leverages walls of exposed, original brick to give it a touch of old Chattanooga.

It’s a popular look throughout the city among small start-ups. But there’s nothing common about the practice they started on Sept. 1, 2017. Criminal defense lawyers tend to be a solitary breed and rarely surround themselves with their own kind. Not only are they in competition for clients, but as trial attorneys, they tend to have strong personalities and resolutely say they believe in the correctness of their own opinions.

But Best, Hayduk and Brock, who have competed against each other for years, not only like each other as people, they complement each other professionally. Where there is soil for conflict, the three of them have instead grown a cooperative practice that draws on the unique strengths of each attorney.

Best, for example, likes to be in court, whereas Hayduk enjoys research and writing. When Best has a case that requires heavy duty digging, he calls on Hayduk for help.

In the same manner, Hayduk tends to become frazzled during negotiations, so she’ll bring in Best, an excellent negotiator who remains calm under pressure.

“And Mr. Social here is great with clients, judges and DAs,” Hayduk notes, looking at Brock. “He’s good in front of a jury as well.”

“Local competitors and attorneys around the state who are known for DUI say we’re crazy,” says Brock, the youngest of the three at 35. “But we kept going up against each other, and now we can help each other. We believe three heads are better than one.”

As an example of the benefits of their synergy, Hayduk cites the night she and Brock worked together on behalf of an immigrant whose bond hearing was scheduled for the following day. “Matt and I were trying to come up with a creative way to undo a prior conviction and get her out of detention,” she recounts. “We kicked around ideas and then pulled Garth in. Matt started typing up the motion and I finished it off.”

“We might not have achieved the same result without bouncing ideas off each other,” Brock adds. “Having someone invested in your case makes a huge difference. Even if you don’t like what they say and go with something else, you’ve at least heard other options.”

“By combining resources, we’re able to provide a better product,” Hayduk adds. “That was one of the first things we discussed. We can be better than everybody else if we team up.”

“We’re all ruthlessly aggressive in our defense styles,” Best offers. “We saw that in each other and said, ‘Why work against each other when we can work together and get the best results for our clients?’”

The only test of the team’s united front came when it was time to hire staff for their office. Best wanted to bring in people with whom he’d previously worked, but those individuals were female, which made Hayduk balk.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. You want me to be managing partner but she’s used to running the show?’” Hayduk says. “It took a minute to get personnel under us that work well with all of us.”

Brock says the keys to working through their disagreements are candor and sincerity.

“Starting a new business can be difficult, so we have to be honest with each other, and if there’s a situation, address it,” he says. “Having been in business with friends, I’ve learned that if you let something fester, it’ll eventually explode and you’ll be pissed off like a bad roommate. But being honest with each other opens the door to communication.”

It also fosters trust, says Hayduk, who’s been taking cases she previously would have turned away. “I can accept more cases at this firm because I have partners who can serve those clients well,” she points out. “It’s nice to be able to do that.”

Working with Hayduk and Brock has also had a softening effect on Best, who admits to having trust issues with lawyers in the past. “I’ve sometimes been paranoid about working around attorneys I didn’t trust as much as I do Matt and Andrea,” he says. “But if I’m in court when a client stops by with an emergency question, I won’t think twice about them letting them handle it. Having someone who has your back when you’re busy is reassuring.”

As Best, Hayduk and Brock complement each other and tout the benefits of their partnership, they sound like newlyweds caught up in the excitement of their nuptials. But while some outsiders might be skeptical about the threesome making it past their honeymoon phase, a glimpse at the history of each attorney suggests their coming together was not an unlikely occurrence after all.

Best

A native of Cleveland, Tennessee, Best expected to be living and practicing far from Chattanooga after he became a lawyer.

As an undergraduate at Virginia Military Institute, he focused on international studies with a concentration in Arabic. His studies took him to Cairo, Egypt, where he lived for about a year, and Morocco, where he spent a short summer. Upon graduating, he set his sights on law school and a legal career with the military.

While taking classes at Nashville School of Law, however, Best landed an internship with the public defender’s office in Chattanooga. As he worked 20 to 30 hours a week for free on a provisional license, Best gained valuable experience in Criminal and General Sessions Court. By the time he graduated from law school, he’d done close to 100 preliminary hearings – including a murder prelim he didn’t hesitate to brag about in class.

Best found that criminal defense work suited him.

“I liked helping people that couldn’t help themselves,” he acknowledges. “A lot of those people might have had attorneys who didn’t try, or they didn’t know they needed an attorney, or there was an issue with their search or stop. Having a good set of eyes on those things probably kept a lot of people from having criminal records. That appealed to me.”

After law school, Best took a job at the same public defender’s office. Two years later, he went into private practice, where he continued to concentrate mostly on criminal defense. In time, he began doing federal work and secured a spot on the panel to take federally appointed cases.

Along the way, Best encountered and befriended Hayduk, who wound up sending him cases when she took a break from the practice of law after having her third baby.

Today, Best, who’s 37, is fully focused on criminal defense. The same, however, does not hold true for Hayduk.

Hayduk

Although Hayduk was born in Michigan, her father built nuclear power plants for a living and moved to new sites on a regular basis. After attending 12 schools in 12 years, she finally landed in Cleveland, Tennessee at the age of 16.

College took Hayduk away again, first to Memphis, then to England and finally to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she polished off her literature degree. As she began to study law, also at UTK, she knew one thing: she didn’t want to practice criminal defense.

“Who wants to defend criminals? It’s not honorable,” Hayduk says. “Now I can’t think of anything more honorable. At 22, I couldn’t imagine myself doing this; now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Hayduk’s resolve to avoid criminal defense was intact as she moved to Maryland and took the state bar exam in a bid to “try the east coast.” But her circumstances trumped her reservations when her first mentor turned out to be a criminal defense attorney. As he taught her how to try a case and be a good trial attorney, she fell in love with the work.

“We tried two or three cases a week, and did more misdemeanors and DUIs than anything. I experienced the thrill of going to trial and honed those skills without having to prepare for weeks on end,” Hayduk adds. “I also loved being in the courtroom. I loved the thrill of the game. I loved winning.”

Hayduk also learned to handle – but not love – defeat.

One of Hayduk’s first plea offers involved a client who was charged with driving on a suspended license. She told the young man if she entered a plea, he’d be okay. When Hayduk pled him guilty, the judge gave him 60 days in jail.

“His fiancé was hysterical as they hauled him off,” Hayduk recalls. “From that moment on, I have never, never, never told anyone they’re going to be fine. I always tell them things could go south.”

Or that it’s too soon to tell how things will turn out.

In time, Hayduk found herself married, living and working in Washington, D.C., and raising two babies. Both she and her husband, Adam Barford, had demanding jobs in their respective fields and were putting in “crazy hours” when they decided to move closer to family and adopt a slower-paced lifestyle.

The beauty of the Chattanooga won out over the rolling landscapes of Temple Terrace, Florida, where Barford’s family lived, and in 2008, the couple made Signal Mountain their home.

Once settled in, Hayduk hit the pavement in search of a job. Through that process, she met her first partner – Jerry Farinash, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee. She planned to build a criminal defense practice at his firm, but when the economy imploded in 2008, she was pulled into bankruptcy work. Hayduk liked that area of the law as well.

Hayduk eventually met Brock, one of her competitors in the DUI arena, and the two developed a professional relationship based on mutual respect.

Today, Hayduk, who’s 40, has a dual practice focused on criminal defense and her newly appointed work as a Chapter 7 trustee for the Eastern District of Tennessee U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Brock, however, is fully focused on DUI.

Brock

Although Brock is the youngest attorney at Best Hayduk Brock, he’s had the most diverse career path of the three of them.

After growing up in Chattanooga and earning a political science degree at UT, Brock returned home to scratch an entrepreneurial itch, both as a Realtor at Prudential Realty Center and as co-owner of an e-commerce business that sold teeth whitening supplies.

Brock had bigger ambitions in the business world, though, including doing mergers and acquisitions. Believing law school would be the stepping stone that would take him there, he specialized in international business law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.

When Brock returned to Chattanooga in 2012 armed with a Juris Doctor and ready to take on the world of big business, he found a deflated job market waiting for him. Reaching out to firms in Hong Kong and elsewhere – which he describes as a pipe dream – yielded nothing as well.

So, when a colleague suggested taking assigned cases in criminal court, Brock thought, “Why not?” Although he didn’t expect to like the work, he did. He continued to claw and scratch for clients, though, until the complexity of DUIs captured his interest.

To be able to represent his clients well, Brock immersed himself in the literature of his chosen field. He spent his days off reading and analyzing cases and earned certifications that gave him insight into the enforcement of impaired driving laws. The walls of his office in the back of a construction company were soon covered with framed certificates.

At the time, the DUI conviction rate in Tennessee was 88 percent. But Brock’s success rate was better than 12 percent, partly due to his knack for picking cases apart. “There are three steps to a DUI arrest, and each step is made up of several smaller steps,” Brock explains. “If someone has cues that suggest they were driving while impaired, I’ll show what they did well.”

Brock used this approach during the Smith trial, arguing that the driving cues that led the officer to pull his client over were not the result of an alcoholic fog but of her being lost in an unfamiliar part of the city with a dead phone.

When the DA said Smith failed the field sobriety tests, Brock pointed to her cognizant mindset and normal physical movements during other portions of the recording to suggest she was not impaired.

And when the prosecution said Smith’s speech was slurred and her eyes were bloodshot, Brock asked the jury if they heard or saw evidence of either of those claims in the video. “She was close to the camera. Did you see bloodshot eyes? I saw the whites of them,” he said.

Representing DUI clients not only gave Brock a niche in which to work, it also taught him something surprising about himself – he enjoys helping people.

“In criminal law, you’ll often represent a client who was a victim of his circumstances,” he adds. “He’s a good person, he just didn’t know a better way. I find it gratifying to help people like that.”

As Brock’s professional association with Hayduk continued, the seeds of Best Hayduk Brock took root in his mind. “Andrea was one of the few people in town who knew enough about DUI that I could go to her with an issue and know I’d get the right answer,” he explains. “I respected her. I knew if I was ever able to start a firm, she’d be one of the first persons I’d approach.”

Those roots deepened when Brock got to know Best and the two wound up sharing office space. “Garth has a great work ethic, and we found that our personalities worked well together,” he says. “We’d flirt with the idea of starting a firm, but as a solo practitioner, you’re always afraid to step outside your comfort zone.”

When Brock and Best eventually took that step, they both talked with Hayduk individually about joining them. The rest, as they say, is the brief history of Best Hayduk Brock.

What lies ahead, however, might present them with the biggest challenges of their careers.

DUI dilemma

As Brock and Hayduk develop the DUI side of their firm’s practice, they face several challenges, not the least of which is the State’s tightening grip on probable cause.

“DUIs are being prosecuted more zealously than ever before across the country and in our local courts,” Hayduk notes. “If we don’t stay on top of the newest case law that’s coming out not only in Tennessee but across the U.S., and if we don’t stay up to date on the latest training and technology, then we won’t be as effective.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been a particularly powerful force in making DUI laws more punitive, particularly in Tennessee, Hayduk says, where DAs have more wiggle room in a first-degree murder case than a first offense DUI. “Their hands are tied,” Hayduk adds. “They can’t plead them down.”

In response, defense lawyers have banded together into organizations that are providing training that enables attorneys to attack charges based on scientific evidence. Brock and Hayduk have both been to Axion Analytical Labs in Chicago, where the owner is teaching lawyers the science of gas chromatography, which the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation uses to test drawn blood.

“Matt and I have both been trained on how these machines work so we can pull the data, look at it and point out the errors,” she points out. “We’re working hard to stay on top of the next thing because we have to vigorously fight these charges.”

Brock and Hayduk are also encountering more mandatory blood draws. This has led the state to begin prosecuting people whose blood alcohol level was within a legal limit but who also had prescription drugs in their system.

“Say a guy had two beers and his blood came back an .04. Most of the time, he wouldn’t be guilty,” Hayduk says. “But the state will rerun the blood for drugs, and if that guy took his prescription Xanax like he was supposed to before he drank his beers, then DAs are going to argue the synergistic effect of those drugs impaired him.”

The toughest part of these cases, Hayduk adds, is that they typically involve regular citizens – not drug dealers, bank robbers or rapists. “They’re you, me, our brothers and sisters and our neighbors. They had three beers before they drove home. But the penalty is the same at an .08 as a .19.”

The current DUI climate places a heavy burden on attorneys, but Brock says he and Andrea can never allow themselves to take that burden off their backs. “The weight we carry home at the end of the day is part of the job,” he says. “If you don’t feel it, then you’re not trying.”

Hayduk acknowledges the drive for justice compels her to shoulder the weight and press forward.

“When I sit in this room with someone who’s been charged with something they did during a two-hour period one night, I want to know where they went to high school, where they work, how many kids they have and if they’re married. I want to know who they are and what their story is,” she says.

“No one is defined by what they did during a couple hours one night. In a lot of cases, there’s addiction or abuse. Everybody has a reason. And part of this job is to try to find justice when they make a mistake.

“Justice isn’t always walking them away scot free. But they’re not criminals. They stumbled once and you want to put their life back on track and not let this destroy them.”

Advice from an old salt

Although Best, Hayduk and Brock have their naysayers, at least one Chattanooga criminal defense attorney says they’ll succeed and is looking forward to watching it happen.

Veteran criminal defense attorney Lee Davis, partner at Davis & Hoss, has counseled many young lawyers over the years as they’ve launched their own firms. Time and again, he’s admonished attorneys to gain enough experience to weather the first few years.

“A law practice isn’t a six-month or one-year endeavor. It’s a three- to five-year commitment to see if you even have a practice,” he says. “But Garth, Andrea and Matt all have significant legal experience. They also have excellent reputations in the courts. And they’re well-known and respected by judges and prosecutors.”

Davis also says he believes their complementary practices will attract business, eliminating the need to compete for clients. “They’re putting together a practice in an area of the law in which clients will appreciate having three people to talk with. Maybe one person will be better suited for a particular client than another or one will have relevant experience no one else does,” he says. “I can only see them becoming stronger as they combine their talents.”

Finally, Davis brushes questions about egos and personality conflicts. “Their personalities mesh well, which will help them as they get through the first few bumpy years,” he continues. “Every law firm has ups and downs, and to be working with people they trust and are committed to will help them through it.”

Ultimately, Davis expects Best Hayduk Brock will prove their naysayers wrong. “All three do an excellent job. They’re the kind of lawyers you want doing this work. They’re dedicated compassionate, smart and hardworking.”

The fate of Nada Smith

Although Davis has only kind words to say about Best, Hayduk and Brock, even his praise would be drowned by that of Smith, who credits Brock and Hayduk with securing her freedom.

After a three and a-half hour wait, the jury found Smith not guilty on both charges.

Ironically, the jurors decided Smith was innocent of the DUI charge within the first 15 minutes; they spent the rest of the time discussing the failure to maintain lane charge.

“I felt like my heart was going to pop out of my chest when they said, ‘not guilty,’ on both counts. I was ecstatic. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” Smith recalls.

If anyone was relieved half as much as Smith, it was Brock, who’d spent the evening second-guessing his performance. “There’s always room for improvement,” he says. “The moment you’re satisfied with your performance is the moment you’ve become complacent and probably need to find something else to do.”

The trial was Brock’s second. Although he’d done everything he could to identify the weaknesses in the case, he walked away determined to achieve an even greater level of preparation for his next case. “The Hamilton County’s DA office is staffed with excellent attorneys,” he says. “Anytime we’re facing one another, we have to bring our A game.”

Although Smith wanted to celebrate when she heard the verdicts, Hayduk had told her to contain herself while in the presence of the judge, the jury and the DA. But while they were saying goodbye, they shared tears and a hug.

“It felt good to send Nada home to her son free of this burden,” Hayduk says. “My heart broke for her when she told me she couldn’t be away from her 3-year-old boy for four months, so freeing her of that fear and anxiety was the best part of the win.”

“They saved my life,” Smith adds, tearing up again. “I was in awe as I watched them defend me, and I could not be more grateful. My life was on the line. And they fought like it, too.”