The O’Connell Legacy

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Two of Ciklin Lubitz & O’Connell’s attorneys, cousins Brian M. O’Connell and Phil D. O’Connell, Jr., come from a storied and influential Palm Beach County family. A generation before them, three O’Connell brothers—Philip, Sr., Stephen, and Andrew—all lawyers, had a tremendous impact not only on Palm Beach County, but on the entire state of Florida.

Phillip D. O’Connell, Sr.—Brian’s uncle and Phil, Jr.’s father—was born in 1907 in Macon, GA. After coming to Florida, he worked in construction and did office work to help pay for college at the University of Florida. While at college, he boxed as a student-athlete, later turning professional to help pay for law school at the university.

A newly minted lawyer, Phillip returned to West Palm Beach in 1931 to open a law practice. The following year, at the age of 23, he was elected municipal judge. Special dispensation had to be made for him, as the minimum age requirement until then had been 25.

Two years later, Phillip was elected State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit. At the time, the 15th Circuit encompassed both Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Phillip served as State Attorney for 28 years while also maintaining a private law practice. During this time period, Phillip also served with the U.S. Army in the European theater during World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in the war.

Phil O'Connell Sr. Statue Palm Beach County State Attorney BuildingPhillip participated in almost 2,500 jury trials during his career. Assuming each lasted only half a day, as trials during this time often did, he had spent almost three and a half years in front of a jury! In recognition of Phillip’s extraordinary career, the State Attorney facility at the West Palm Beach Courthouse is named after him, and his bust is on a plinth in the front of the building.

Phillip’s most noteworthy trial was his successful prosecution of Municipal Judge Joseph Peel for the 1955 murders of Circuit Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife Marjorie. Peel feared, rightly so, that Judge Chillingworth was going to turn him in for his involvement in illegal Boleta gambling rings in the area. The trial, conducted in Ft. Pierce, was an early cause célèbre in Palm Beach County. After the conviction, Phillip attended every Peel parole hearing to speak against his release. Terminally ill, Peel was released in 1982 and died 9 days later.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Phillip was heavily involved in the community. He was an active participant in, and benefactor to, many organizations, including the Rotary Club, the Boy Scouts, the Knights of Columbus, and St. Mary’s Hospital. He was a founding director of Flagler National Bank. Phillip died in West Palm Beach in 1987 at the age of 79. He was of counsel to Ciklin Lubitz & O’Connell at the time of his death. Three years later, his widow established the Phillip D. O’Connell, Sr. Memorial Scholarship, awarded annually to a deserving local high school graduate.

The O'Connell Brothers: Stephen, Andrew and Phil Sr.

The O’Connell Brothers: Stephen, Andrew and Phil Sr.

Middle brother Stephen followed very much in his older brother’s footsteps. He attended college at the University of Florida, boxed as a student-athlete there, and graduated from the university’s law school. After graduation, he moved to Fort Lauderdale and opened his own practice. He served in the Pacific in World War II, returning to his law practice after the war.

In 1955, Stephen was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by then-Governor LeRoy Collins. He served on the supreme court until 1967, when he left to become President of the University of Florida. He retired from the university in 1973 and returned to the practice of law. In 1981, the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, which houses UF’s basketball, swimming, and gymnastics facilities, was named after him. Stephen died in 2001 at the age of 85.

Youngest brother Andrew–Brian O’Connell’s father and Phil, Jr.’s uncle–attended the University of Miami where, like his brothers before him, he boxed as a student-athlete. Andrew served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, returning home to open a law practice in West Palm Beach. He eventually partnered with his brother Phillip and nephew Phil, Jr.

Andrew was actively involved in Catholic Charities for many years. He was instrumental in establishing the comprehensive guardianship services run by the Catholic Charities’ Elder Affairs division. For the past 20 years, an award has been given by Catholic Charities in Andrew’s name to a local individual or organization that has worked to benefit the elderly in Palm Beach County. Andrew died in West Palm Beach in 1985 at the age of 72.

Both Brian and Phil, Jr. have carried on the family tradition of community service. Phil, Jr. has a long history of service to Hospice of Palm Beach County. Brian has been involved for many years in various leadership roles in the Diocese of Palm Beach and related organizations. He is also Trustee Emeritus of the Board of Trustees for the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law.