John E. Shamberg
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John Elliott Shamberg, a veteran Kansas trial lawyer whose legal career extended over a period of more than sixty years, died on the 9th day of July, 2009. He lived in Prairie Village, Kansas.
John Shamberg was a trial lawyer who devoted the greater part of his practice to the representation of persons sustaining severe personal injury or property damage as the result of negligent acts committed by others. He engaged in some groundbreaking cases during his legal career. Among the more notable is the case which abolished governmental immunity in Kansas--the concept of immunity that placed a protective barrier around the state from suit in cases in which an agency of the state, when acting in a negligent manner, caused injury to others. This ancient theory, existing before Kansas became a state in 1869, had existed for centuries, dating back to some ill-conceived idea regarding the infallibility of the state and its immunity from suit by the inhabitants thereof. As a result of this decision, the state of Kansas and the subdivisions of the state are now required to answer in damages to those who sustain injury as a result of the state's negligence.
He participated in a wide range of cases involving defective consumer products the use of which resulted in injury to persons using them. In this category were cases in which injury was caused to small children who used them--defective products such as flammable nightwear, defective toys, games and sports equipment, negligently designed or manufactured. Notable in this category was a widely-used liquid drain cleaner, consisting primarily of liquid lye, which frequently fell into the hands of small children in the household environment. To small children, the product was mistakenly thought to be a liquid drink and was accidentally consumed, tragically causing severe injury. Throughout his long professional career in the practice of law, his main concern was that area of litigation representing the rights of the disadvantaged and the underprivileged.
He was born in Fremont, Nebraska on July 15, 1913, the son of Bernard (Barney) and Matilda (Tillie) Shamberg. At an early age, he moved with the family to Hutchinson, Kansas where he was raised. He attended the public school system there and then attended Washburn College and law school in Topeka on scholarship. He graduated from Washburn Law School, graduating in June 1937 with an LL.B. Degree, later converted to a J.D. Degree. He was president of the law school student body during his senior year. He often commented that one of his proudest achievements was being on the first squad of the champion Hutchinson High School Salthawks, winner of the 1930 Arkansas Valley football championship.
Following graduation from law school in 1937, he engaged in private practice for a short time. In June 1939, the Honorable Walter A. Huxman, governor of Kansas from 1936-1938, was appointed a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and selected John Shamberg as his first law clerk--a position he held from June 1939 until he was drafted into the United States Army in March 1942.
He served four years in the armed forces during World War II, including a year and seven months overseas. Following basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he attended officer candidate school at Fort Belvoir, Virginia in the Corps of Engineers, completing that training in September 1942, when he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He was assigned to the staff of the Commanding General of the 2nd U.S. Army. In June 1944, the new Eighth U.S. Army was formed, and he was transferred to that Command and went overseas to New Guinea. He served overseas for 19 months in the Pacific Theater. He participated in the planning of the strategic invasion campaigns of the Philippine Islands, resulting in the liberation of those islands which had been seized by the Japanese. He remained in the Philippine Islands with the Eighth U.S. Army Command until Japan surrendered in August 1944, and thereafter served in the Eighth Army Command participating in the supervision of reconstruction of the Japanese economy.
During his wartime service in World War II, he rose to the rank of major. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service in the Pacific Theater. He also was awarded the following decorations: World War II Victory Medal, Air Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal, and American Service Medal.
After serving in the armed forces in World War II and following a refresher course at Harvard Law School, he resumed the practice of law in Kansas City, Kansas in 1949. In 1966, he reorganized the firm in which he was practicing under the firm name of Schnider, Shamberg and May. In 1995, the firm was again reorganized and the firm name was changed to Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, Chtd., the name under which the firm continues to practice today with offices in Kansas City, Missouri and Overland Park, Kansas.
John Shamberg was personal counsel to the two-term Democratic governor of Kansas in the 1970's, Robert B. Docking, whose father had preceded him as the governor of Kansas. In that capacity, he defeated an attempt by leaders of the opposing political party who had obtained an indictment against colleagues of the governor, charging them with a conspiracy to bribe the state architect to obtain the $65 million contract for the remodeling program of the University of Kansas Medical Center. He succeeded in obtaining the dismissal of these charges, which included an indictment against the governor's relative, as totally without merit.
He was one of the designated lead counsel in the litigation of claims for the victims of the 1981 catastrophic collapse of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel skywalks; a tragedy resulting in the death or serious injury of 350 people.
He was a lawyer member of the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission from 1985 to 1993--a constitutionally-created body chosen to select judicial candidates to fill the vacancies occurring on the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals--nominees from whom the governor of Kansas selects the appointees. He was the first Kansas-based lawyer to be selected by the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association--of which he was a member-- to receive that organization's Dean of the Trial Bar Award in 1997. He served on the Board of Governors of the Kansas Bar Association from 1969 to 1972 and from 1980 to 1990. For his service to the legal profession, the Kansas Bar Association honored him in 1989 by conferring on him its most prestigious award, the Distinguished Service Award. In 2006, he received the Phil Lewis Medal of Distinction. He represented the Kansas Bar Association in the house of delegates of the American Bar Association from 1970 to 1972 and from 1980 to 1990. He was a member of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association (now Kansas Association for Justice) and served on its Board of Governors. In 1989, he was its first recipient of the Arthur G. Hodgson Distinguished Service Award and in 2005, he received the Humanitarian Award. In 1995, the Leavenworth County Bar Association presented him with the Smiling Bull Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the state of Kansas. In 2000, the Johnson County (Kansas) Bar Association conferred its coveted Justinian Award on him for professional excellence, the highest honor granted by the association. He was a member of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (now The American Association for Justice) and served on its Board of Governors. He was a fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, a select body of trial lawyers limited to 500 members in which membership is by invitation only. He was a member of the Wyandotte County (Kansas) Bar Association. He was listed in the plaintiff's trial lawyer section of the highly selective The Best Lawyers in America legal directory from the time that directory was first published in 1983, through the year for 2000.
As an alumnus of his law school, he was elected president of the Washburn Law School Association for two terms from 1965 to 1970, and in June 1966, he headed the campaign to raise funds with which to build a new Washburn Law School Center, the old Washburn campus including the law school building having been destroyed by a tornado on June 8, 1966. For his service as the leader of the Washburn Law School Association, the association's Distinguished Service Award was conferred on him in 1970. In 1984, Washburn University conferred an honorary Doctor of Law degree on him. He was a generous benefactor of the Washburn Law School.
He belonged to Temple B'nai Jehudah, Kansas City, and served on its Board of Trustees from 1968 to 1971. He was also a member of Temple Beth Torah in Overland Park, Kansas.
He was a member of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish men's service organization.