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Fireworks lawyers help clients with flying colors

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Muncie attorney John H. Brooke has a flair for providing hands-on help to his clients in the fireworks business. Say someone’s unavailable at the last minute to fire off a town’s Fourth of July display. Brooke can handle that.

“That’s a unique service we have,” Brooke said with a laugh.

And if Brooke is not in the office, Brooke Law attorney John M. Stevens can help.
 

fireworks-bp-1col.jpg Richmond attorney David Lynch will light up the night sky for an Ohio town’s July 4 celebration. (Photo Courtesy of Stephen Lynch)

“I still shoot a few shows a year,” he said. Stevens worked his way through school putting on professional displays, and now he works at Brooke’s firm where more than 70 percent of the business is fireworks related.

“I did not really see these two merging,” Stevens said of his summers lighting up the skies and his subsequent pursuit of the law degree he attained in 2008. First admitted to practice in Iowa and Illinois, when he had the opportunity to team up with Brooke, Stevens said, “It occurred to me I had these two skills that weren’t mutually exclusive.”

Brooke will be at the controls for the Independence Day fireworks show in his hometown of Albany, Ind., as he has been for 10 years.

But he plans no holiday. “The Fourth of July is a work day for my office,” he said.

Attorney David P. Lynch also will work on July 4. He’ll be launching fireworks for the celebration in Mariemont, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb. “It’s at a really beautiful park there,” he said, and the fireworks are synchronized with bells. “It’s one of my favorite shows. It’s a small show, but the community is really excited about it.”

An attorney with Amy Noe Law in Richmond, Lynch grew up with uncles who got into the business in the 1980s with a retail fireworks stand. Now, Cincinnati-based Lynch Imports supplies wholesale fireworks for about 2,500 professional shows a year, including displays arranged and produced through the family business.

Lynch sees direct parallels between how his family got into the business and how many of his clients do. “It’s almost always very family centered, typically a couple of guys or a couple of girls sometimes, who are really excited about it, and some other family members who are just going along for the ride.”

Leave it to the pros

Brooke has worked with some of the first families of fireworks such as the Zambellis and the Gruccis, not to mention the Lynches. He also serves as corporate attorney for Pyrotechnics Guild International, an organization of amateur and professional fireworks enthusiasts. Brooke said his firm has clients in 48 states and 22 countries.

But his leadership in a legal niche began as so many things do, with a chance meeting at a watering hole. After a July 4 holiday in the mid-1980s, an acquaintance who owned a Muncie fireworks stand complained to Brooke about all the bad checks he received. Brooke said he was just out of law school with bills to pay.

“It was, ‘I’ll do anything for food’ – that sort of thing,” Brooke said, recalling he took 50 of those checks and collected on 48. The client later invited him to a fireworks convention in Chicago, and as Brooke spoke with people in the industry, he saw opportunity.

“They said, ‘We use lawyers … our biggest gripe about lawyers is we spend half our time teaching them about the business,’” Brooke said. He committed to learn from the ground up, eventually shooting his own shows, making his own shells and helping Indiana lawmakers and policymakers craft rules and regulations that have created what he said is the most robust fireworks industry in the region.

The work is rife with opportunities for travel to destinations such as China and Brazil, and Brooke reckons he sees 40 to 50 fireworks shows a year, including demonstrations.

But he also has learned lessons that he says are too frequently repeated. “I’ve been on enough accident sites and seen enough real carnage where people take fireworks for granted,” Brooke said. “In 2009, I was sitting in my office on the Fourth of July when one of my clients had an explosion and people were killed.

“They say familiarity breeds contempt and that happens a lot in the fireworks business,” he said. “Every time I shoot a shot, every time I mix my own powder, I’ve got to have that level of concentration.”

Don’t try this at home

Lynch has helped or advised hundreds of people who’ve considered making the transition from backyard hobbyist to pro. Without some expert guidance, “They end up violating lots of things they certainly didn’t intend to violate,” he said.

Attorneys say compliance begins with a permit for display fireworks from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The bureau will conduct an interview and, if approved, you’ll receive a display permit that allows purchase of what ATF classifies as 1.3G explosives. Then you’ll need an ATF-approved site for storage.

Transporting shells requires a commercial driver’s license with a hazmat endorsement, a visible placard and liability insurance of at least $5 million. Safety plans are required for all shows. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other federal regulations also may apply, as will multiple and varying state laws, local ordinances and fire department regulations.

“The minute that you get paid, or are considered in commerce by the Department of Transportation, then you’ve graduated to the big leagues,” said Phil Ramsey, owner of Ramsey Pyrotechnics in Frankfort and a client of Brooke’s. Ramsey puts on displays for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Conner Prairie, the Indianapolis Indians and others. “You open yourself up to massive amounts, millions of dollars of lawsuits, if you don’t adhere to these safety regulations.”

Ramsey said ATF also monitors displays and checks against permits to ensure the display fireworks are used in the shows for which the permit was issued.

“Folks who think they can do it on the side with a minimum of effort frequently run into trouble,” Lynch said. “The display of fireworks is an inherently hazardous thing to do, and everybody who gets involved with it does well to keep that in mind.

“I like the regulators, and I’m glad they’re there,” he said. “Ultimately, I think if folks can’t navigate this regulatory sea, maybe they shouldn’t be doing fireworks displays in commerce.”

 

brooke Brooke

Even among hobbyists, Indiana has become something of a leader in the regulation of retail fireworks even as it made explosive varieties below 1.3G widely available. The state imposes a 5 percent fire safety fee on retail fireworks sales, and the few million dollars collected annually fund firefighter training, Brooke explained. Neighboring states such as Kentucky and Michigan adopted that model as they followed Indiana’s lead in easing retail fireworks restrictions.

Brooke said there’s already evidence that sales in those states will dent Indiana’s retail sales. Before last summer’s drought, Indiana retail fireworks sales were about $100 million to $150 million a year, Brooke estimated.

More bang for the buck

Stevens, the attorney who works at Brooke’s firm, estimated he’s been part of 150 to 200 shows, from backyard shoots to the $150,000 riverfront extravaganza for the sesquicentennial of Omaha, Neb. That show involved choreographed fireworks digitally fired from three sites.

That background pays off for clients, he said, noting Brooke’s firm also does a fair amount of consulting work for other lawyers. Few lawyers are devoted to the niche full time, he explained, but some larger companies and retail chains do have in-house counsel.


stevens Stevens

“It’s a lot of fun, but it can be frustrating, too,” Stevens said, because the firm works with clients in so many states. “When you bounce between cases, the law can change dramatically. That’s also what’s really fun about the job, it’s always changing, and there’s always a new wrinkle or a new aspect to explore.”

Stevens is taking a break from launching fireworks this Fourth of July, and it appears deserved. In his short time with Brooke’s firm, he’s already subbed as a pyrotechnician, stepping in at the last minute to save the fireworks show at last season’s opening Ball State University football game. After all, the show must go on.

“Fireworks,” Lynch said, “almost all the time it’s so much work, it’s not really any fun until you start the show. While it’s going on and as soon as you’ve finished the show, you’re waiting to hear the crowd response, and when you do … it’s all worth it.”•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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