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'Lion Of The Maine Bar' Ralph Lancaster Remembered Fondly By Friends And Colleagues


A Maine man who is considered one of the nation's top trial attorneys has died. In a career that spanned nearly 60 years, Ralph Lancaster practiced civil and criminal law and worked on cases that went before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Hague. Friends and colleagues say the passing of Lancaster signals the end of an era.

In the decades that Lancaster practiced law, Maine Chief Justice Leigh Saufley says he was a role model for countless attorneys.

"Ralph Lancaster was a lion of the Maine bar."

Not just for his sharp mind, Saufley says, but for his civility, even in court.

"He would win the legal point and never make anybody else seem demeaned in the process,” Saufley says. “That is becoming a lost art."

Lancaster was born in Bangor in 1930, and was raised by his great aunt and uncle after his mother died during childbirth when he was three. Lancaster ultimately graduated from Harvard Law School and worked for the Portland law firm that is now known as Pierce Atwood.

While there, he became a mentor to Bill Kayatta, who is now a federal judge on the First District Court of Appeals.

"You know, he rose from humble beginnings in Bangor, Maine to end up dining with the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, and in the White House, and working for the Supreme Court and, yet, treated everyone the same,” Kayatta says.

The U.S. Supreme Court tapped Lancaster four times to make recommendations on cases as a special master. Lancaster represented the United States in a Georges Bank water boundary dispute case in front of the International Court of Justice in the Hague. He served as independent counsel to investigate charges against a cabinet member under president Bill Clinton. Lancaster also became President of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

"What separated him from so many of the rest of us, was he was terrifically smart, had an unsurpassed and almost intimidating work ethic," says David Barry, a managing partner of Pierce Atwood.

Barry says one of the keys to Lancaster's success was his drive to outwork his adversaries. Both Barry and Kayatta say that as a person, Lancaster was noted for his kindness and humility.

"For someone who achieved such respect and such success in so many venues, in so many positions of great responsibility and leadership, he was remarkably self-effacing and seemed to not look for what some other people may have seen as the enjoyments of the spotlight," Kayatta says.

Lancaster even shunned the spotlight in death. He wrote his own obituary and mentions his law career only once, explaining that he omitted his professional accomplishments to "emphasize that material matters pale into insignificance when compared to the love of family and friends."

Lancaster died Tuesday in Falmouth at the age of 88. He leaves behind his wife, six children and several grand- and great-grandchildren.

Originally published 4:35 p.m. Jan. 25, 2018