Local attorney Whitaker dies at 73, remembered for big personality and courtroom skills

Mar. 30—A notable local attorney has passed away at age 73.

Larry Whitaker, a defense attorney, passed away on Thursday, March 28. Whitaker was known as much for his big personality as his acumen in the courtroom, including his performance in a rock music video "I Know the Law," which has earned over 18,600 views since November of 2013.

Born in Hazard, Ky., Whitaker spent his early years becoming well traveled thanks to his father's service in the U.S. Air Force, including living in Germany, Libya, and military bases around the United States.

A 1968 graduate of Somerset High School, Whitaker would go on to attend the University of Kentucky, and then attain his law degree from Salmon P. Chase College of Law, which is affiliated with Northern Kentucky University. He would be honored as a Kentucky Colonel during the course of his 42-year law career in this area.

Gregory Ousley of Ousley & Wiese, PLLC, was a legal peer of Whitaker's who came to know him well.

"I got to see Larry as a defense attorney for a lot of years," said Ousley of his early days as a prosecutor, "and then here in the last six or seven years, while I've been doing criminal defense work, we were colleagues.

"As a prosecutor, what I always tried to do was to watch defense attorneys and see the things I liked and the things I didn't like, and when I became a defense attorney, there were a lot of things that I liked about Larry that I wanted to emulate," he added. "He dressed very sharp, always immaculate (in) his appearance. He just had a lot of charisma.

"A lot of people behind his back would call him 'Rod Stewart,'" continued Ousley, noting Whitaker's resemblance to the rock music icon, "but I'd call him that to his face. He'd just laugh. He was always laughing and cutting up."

Despite that sense of humor, Whitaker was fearless about actually going into the courtroom and trying cases, noted Ousley.

"He would take a case to a jury trial, which is very, very rare in the criminal justice system," he said. "... That means prosecutors too. There are a lot of prosecutors that I know will not try a case if they think they will lose at all."

Once as an assistant county attorney, Ousley went up against Whitaker in two jury trials on the same day.

"The first case, I knew I was going to get a conviction — and he got an acquittal," said Ousley of Whitaker. "He kind of confused the jury. He told me, if he can't convince the jury, (he'd) confuse them. He was able to do that before I could straighten it all out."

In the next trial, Ousley got his conviction, even though he thought he had a good chance of losing the case, bringing his one-day courtroom doubleheader against Whitaker to a draw.

Another thing Ousley recalled about Whitaker — and was inspired by — was his love of sporty automobiles, such as Porsches and Hellcats.

"In the legal community, we were fishing at the same pond," said Ousley of the time that he and Whitaker both spent as criminal defense attorneys. "I'd be in the jails and I'd hear defendants and people talk about 'that defense attorney with the Hellcat.' So I went out and did everything I could and found the slickest Corvette I could find and made a Defendmobile. For the first couple years I was in private practice, I'd put (the Corvette) on Facebook and whatnot ... and our clientele (would say), 'Ousley has that Corvette and Whitaker has that Hellcat. Get one of those guys.'"

Judge Katie Slone, 28th Judicial District Division 2, had Whitaker in her courtroom at times, and remembered him as being "kind to everybody" — and as possessing a razor-sharp mind.

"One thing that really impressed me about Larry always was his memory," said Slone. "He would carry his calendar but he never, ever had to open his calendar to schedule things because he knew in his head where he had to be and what court he had to be in. He was one of those people with just a dynamic memory. He could remember figures, he could remember dates. I don't even know why he carried the calendar."

Slone also remembered that Whitaker was "phenomenal in front of a jury." She added that he would be missed dearly.

Division 1 District Judge B.J. Hardy is newer to the bench and never got to have Whitaker in his courtroom before he stepped back to concentrate on his health. As an attorney, however, he recalled that Whitaker was "always positive and happy and a pleasure to be around."

Likewise, Whitaker was someone who "was always there for his client," and always ready to represent someone "eagerly and zealously," said Hardy.

"He was always just a pleasure to be around," added Hardy. "... You knew that you could just carry on a conversation with him. ... Being a younger attorney, I'd heard stories about Larry back in the day, representing his clients and being in the courtroom. (It was) always funny stories with Larry."

Local attorney Bruce Singleton noted that he practiced law for decades along with Whitaker, and the two things that always stood out about Whitaker were his flamboyant style of dress and and his persuasive approach in court.

"He seemed to be saying, 'Go ahead, underestimate me,'" said Singleton. "More often than not, he would take a position that I would not even touch and it turned into a win."

Much as Ousley noted, Singleton acknowledged the rock star resemblance that Whitaker possessed.

"Once back in the old courthouse, Larry and I were up in front of the bar before the judge got there," said Singleton. "The courtroom was full of people, kind of watching us, and getting ready for their own courts. I turned to the crowd and said, 'Yeah, I think he looks like Rod Stewart too.' I'm going to miss my good friend."

See Whitaker's obituary on Page A3 of the Tuesday, April 2 edition of the Commonwealth Journal.