Longtime East Texas attorney Clifton L. “Scrappy” Holmes lived a life worth living, a colleague of more than a dozen years said Monday. Holmes, 81, of Diana, died Friday surrounded by family in his home.
David Moore, a partner with Holmes at their law firm Holmes, Moore, Waldron, & Parrish, worked with Holmes at the firm for 15 years and for even longer outside the firm.
“Scrappy is obviously one of the best lawyers I’ve ever known in my life,” Moore said.
He said the two of them worked together on cases across the region that involved suspected misdemeanors to murder suspects.
“He is a legend in the legal community and deservedly so,” Moore said. “One of the things that people don’t realize is that in addition to being a great lawyer, he invested a lot of his life in organizations that train other lawyers around the state.”
Holmes was director of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association from 1978 to 1984 and served as president from 1984 to 1985, according to his obituary. He was named to the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Hall of Fame in 2007. Holmes also helped found the Criminal Defense Law Project.
“Both of those organizations spend a lot of time training lawyers around the state, trying to raise the bar of representation for the citizen accused,” Moore said. “Scrappy poured much of his life into those organizations, in trying to help lawyers be better at their craft and represent clients. We lost a true titan of the criminal defense community, not just for East Texas but for the state of Texas.”
Holmes was born Feb. 17, 1939 in Kilgore. He graduated from George Washington University National Law Center in 1966 and began his career in law.
“As a young student, he and his wife Edwina scrimped and saved so that he would be able to get through law school while still managing their small family,” his obituary said. “After Edwina’s untimely passing, Scrappy doubled down to provide for their four children.”
Moore added that Holmes loved his family — his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“And for as great a lawyer as he was, he was an even better granddaddy,” he said. “I’m really sorry for their loss. He certainly lived a life worth living.”
Holmes spent much of his career “seeking to right injustices, and to protect those wrongfully injured or accused,” according to his obituary.
He argued cases big and small, but perhaps his most famous was when Holmes defended Bernie Tiede, a Carthage assistant funeral director who was accused and later convicted of the 1996 murder of wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent.
The case gained national attention in 2012 with the release of the movie “Bernie,” starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey.
“He was a lawyer for 50 years, and he loved every minute of what he did — he believed in what he did,” Moore said. “Some people, I think, look at it just as an occupation or a job, unfortunately. Really, his heart was in the cases that he was involved in, and he cared about his clients — cared about the people in general.”
When Moore first met Holmes, they worked on opposite sides.
“Scrappy and I tried cases against each other when I was a prosecutor in the ‘80s,” Moore said.
They developed a friendship and became law partners in 2004, he said.
“He was always the life of the party,” Moore said. “He took total command of the room. The stories that he could tell, I mean he could regale you for hours on end. He was a renaissance man, extremely intelligent and just would light up any room he was in.”
Moore said Holmes will be dearly missed.
“He was beloved throughout the state of Texas, and there are so many young lawyers, or younger lawyers, today that are better lawyers because of Scrappy,” Moore said. “It’s just a tremendous loss to the community at large and the legal community specifically.”
A celebration of life is set for 2 p.m. today in the chapel at Rader Funeral Home in Kilgore. A private interment will follow the service.