Written by KYLE MUNSON’S IOWA, Des Moines Register
Des Moines attorney Brent “Chris” Green has eagerly placed his faith and his fate in the hands of an Iowa jury for decades.
He implicitly trusts the collective wisdom and common sense of fellow Iowans.
“To me, there’s nothing more intelligent than a jury,” Green enthused. “I love the jury system.”
Green has built his 47-year law career — defending fellow attorneys, waging massive antitrust cases — on decisions reached methodically through argument and analysis.
So if the 71-year-old attorney’s fate was in the hands of a jury this time, he might rest easy.
But this grim verdict has been handed down by the expertise of oncologists in three different states.
And cancer doesn’t yield to justice.
Green was diagnosed with stage 3A lung cancer 2½ years ago, but you wouldn’t know it to meet him today. His firm handshake and steady gaze betray no signs of terminal cancer.
But then the occasional deep, gurgling cough rattles his torso and interrupts his conversation — the side effects of bronchial damage from radiation treatment.
Part of Green’s right lung was removed, and initially he had beaten back the cancer. But a brain tumor was discovered in July as an “ominous development” with a six-month lifespan from doctors.
Yet Green continues to defy the odds, working full-time on cases and going fishing and duck hunting.
“Chris likes a fight, and Chris likes a challenge, and he likes working toward goals,” said Mari Culver, the former first lady of Iowa who is in Green’s firm — Duncan, Green, Brown & Langeness — and whom Green hired out of law school.
Green’s daughter Casey, 37, one of three children with his wife, Nancy, moved back from Portland, Ore., to spend more time with her father. She’s repeatedly heard him threaten retirement — unconvincingly.
“His will to live and work and still be a functional part of society I think helps his survival,” Casey said.
Green does intend to “take time off in chunks,” including a trip to Florida in February.
But he has one final and very personal case to argue, concerning Casey.
And he’s waging this argument outside the courtroom, aimed at Iowa lawmakers.
“I’m going to make sure naturopaths get licensed in the state of Iowa,” Green declared.
Casey is a naturopath — an alternative branch of medicine grounded in four years of postgraduate Western medical school training so that its practitioners can essentially operate as primary care physicians with a holistic approach embracing nutrition and botanical remedies.
Naturopathy is more prevalent in the Northwest where Casey was schooled, and licensure in Iowa so far has been blocked by the mainstream medical community.
“Frankly, it just comes down to turf protection,” Green said of naturopathy’s opposition. He’s far less enamored with lobbyists and legislative politics than his beloved jury system.
This is not the column to settle once and for all this particular debate on medical philosophy.
And the array of factions involved confuses matters.
The Iowa Board of Medicine has a decade-old policy statement that deems naturopathy unlawful. Executive Director Mark Bowden said that his board simply is focused on public safety and peer-reviewed science.
Bowden agrees with Jessica Curcio, president of the Iowa Naturopathic Physicians Association, that the more formally trained naturopaths such as Casey are sandwiched between two forces: mainstream doctors and the more liberal wing of naturopathy that objects to any sort of licensure that would resemble traditional medicine.
Jeff Danielson, the Democratic state senator from Cedar Falls who chaired the committee in which a naturopathy bill was debated the last two years, believes there’s growing consumer demand for physicians such as Casey.
“We came as close as we ever have to working out some differences with stakeholders, but we weren’t able to get it done,” he said.
Danielson wouldn’t even begin to handicap the bill’s prospects for next year’s session.
So while Green also faces an uncertain diagnosis for his pet cause, this fight is as personal as it gets for him — grounded in his love for his daughter, plus the fact that Casey has helped alleviate some of his cancer treatment side effects with her remedies.
It all began for Green in northwest Iowa on Green Acres, his parents’ farm established in 1938 (nearly two decades before the TV show of the same name) along a mile of shoreline at the west end of Emerson Bay on Lake Okoboji.
He probably fell in love with the law there when his mother won control of Green Acres in his parents’ divorce with help from a local attorney.
Thus the single mom who raised him and his two brothers was provided a solid financial foundation; some of the steadily appreciating lakefront property was sold off to help educate the Green boys. (Green also became “Little Chris” in Okoboji, nicknamed after the grandfather who helped raise him, Nels Christensen.)
Green earned his law degree at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and became “the Iowa kid” at Richard Nixon’s Ivy League-dominated law firm in New York City.
He tried court-martial cases as an Army captain in Vietnam.
He returned to Iowa to work at the Gamble law firm, where his first big “David vs. Goliath” case to make headlines was an antitrust suit won against Monsanto seed company in 1972. He co-founded his current firm 20 years ago.
“His success is explained by his personality,” said longtime friend and hunting buddy Jim Cownie, the Des Moines entrepreneur. “He hits it off with everybody.”
The two are among a circle of friends who decades ago would “stay up late together and do some dreaming.” The former Pancake House on Hickman Road was one of their favorite after-hours haunts.
“I remember (Green) telling me he wanted to be the best lawyer in Iowa,” Cownie said.
Many of Green’s friends and fellow attorneys say he’s achieved that lofty goal he set for himself years ago at the Pancake House. I could have filled this column just with the names of people who wanted to pay tribute to Green.
Unfortunately, Green isn’t distinguished as the only lawyer in his firm currently battling cancer. One of his law partners and closest friends, Randy Duncan, also known as a celebrated Iowa Hawkeyes football quarterback from the 1950s, was diagnosed with brain cancer (glioblastoma) in January after he suddenly realized one day in the office that he couldn’t spell. Duncan has endured his own chemotherapy and other treatments throughout the year.
“It’s all positive,” Duncan said of the frank conversations that he and Green have shared about their conditions. “All positive.”
Green said that while a six-month prognosis “weighs on your mind,” he’s “still going to fight it.”
It would be too easy to sum up Green as the diehard attorney willing to fight cancer to the bitter end, willing to fight on behalf of his daughter.
But on Christmas Eve he won’t be standing in front of one of his beloved juries. Green will stand in front of his beloved family and fulfill a sublime tradition by reading Rudyard Kipling poems at dinner.
Life is about moments, not arguments.