Before he was the FBI director and before he was a target for criticism by the president, James Comey was a young lawyer sent to Wisconsin for a year to work on a case with a prominent Madison attorney.
In his new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” Comey, the embattled former FBI director, said he was shipped to Madison as a 25-year-old attorney in New York by his firm to “work on an incredibly complicated, and boring, insurance case,” where he worked with prominent local attorney Richard “Dick” Cates — a decision he called a “gift.”
While Comey said he can’t recall a specific lesson Cates taught him during the year or so he worked on the case in Madison in 1985, what he observed left an imprint on him for years.
“For a year, as a brand-new lawyer and soon-to-be husband, I sat at his side and watched him,” he wrote. “I watched him laugh at pretension and pressure. I watched him make commonsense decisions when big city lawyers were tied up in knots of overthinking and arrogance. I watched him light up at the mere mention of his wife and children and grandchildren.”
Cates was the “local counsel” working on the case, which was being litigated in Madison, Comey said.
Cates, who died in 2011, was a longtime attorney in Madison, former state lawmaker, Madison School Board member and Marine Corps veteran. He had five children and 18 grandchildren.
In 1973 and 1974, Cates advised a U.S. House Committee that investigated — and voted to impeach — former President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned before he could be impeached.
John Cates, one of Cates’ sons, said he remembers when Comey was in Madison working with his father and remembered him as a fun guy.
He said he was proud that people are still remembering how influential his father was for so many.
“When I read it I cried,” said John Cates, who was 32 when Comey worked in Madison. “It’s great that my father was still on peoples’ minds.”
John Cates, a founding partner at the law firm Gingras, Cates and Wachs, said Comey emailed him recently and told him he didn’t ask the family to write about Richard Cates because he wanted it to be a surprise for the family.
“He said he couldn’t write the book without talking about him because he had such an effect on his life,” John Cates said.
John Cates said he planned to talk with Comey during a phone call on Sunday and would thank him for including his father in his book.
Comey was fired as FBI director by President Donald Trump in May 2017. Comey has since made public appearances, testified before Congress about his firing and written the book about ethics, leadership and his time in public service. He has also criticized Trump.
In his autobiographical book, Comey said Richard Cates had good judgment and was balanced and an example of an excellent leader.
“I saw in Dick, kindness and toughness, confidence and humility,” Comey wrote. “It would take me decades to realize that those pairs were the bedrock of great leadership.”