For more then 20 years attorney William Scherer has been known as a behind-the-scenes guy. Although never an elected official, he was widely known in legal, political and governmental circles, and his name was often in the paper.
But like Wayne Huizenga, he built a reputation for years without becoming visible to the average Joe. That changed dramatically last year when Scherer was suddenly all over the news in two high-profile and highly charged incidents. In both, he came across as combative to the point of abrasiveness. In fact, during the hectic presidential ballot recount, when he was overseer for President George W. Bush’s campaign, he fought so hard for every Republican chad and against Democratic absentee votes that at one point the chairman of the recount has him banished from the room where the parties were recounting.
Not long after, he was in the middle of an acrimonious neighborhood fight when a new apartment complex in downtown Fort Lauderdale turned out to be much bigger then people-including the Fort Lauderdale City Commission-had expected. Scherer represented, and had a financial interest in, the development. In both the election and the development battles, he was on the winning side. Which has pretty much been his history since arriving in Florida from Indiana in 1972.
People who saw Scherer in those exposures did not get a behind-the-scenes look at the behind-the-scenes man. It did not display the side of him that has as much to do with his success as his aggressive style. He can also be charming, amusing and very helpful to people who seek him out. He and his wife, Anne (they met in the fifth grade), have also raised a leading Fort Lauderdale family and were among the first presidents of the St. Anthony Foundation for Education, which helped put St. Anthony, Broward County’s oldest Catholic School, on a solid financial foundation. Anne Scherer has a big, beautiful voice for such a petite woman and has been a soloist with the St. Anthony choir for many years.
The Scherers originate from Terre haute, Ind. His father was a brakeman on the Penn Central Railroad (and a Democrat); his mother was a beautician. He attended Franklin College, on whose board of trusties he now sits. After law school at the University of Indiana (magna cum laude), he clerked for an Indiana Supreme Court Justice, then came to Fort Lauderdale to clerk with U.S. District Judge Charles B. Fulton. The year was 1974. He came from a part of Indiana where the twang resembles a drawl, not a bad way to sound in the South.
“I fully intended to return to Indianapolis to practice law,” he says. But an event in Florida helped change his mind. “I was at the old federal courthouse in Miami, and I’m just a hick, new in town and I saw this striking, well-dressed black lawyer getting out of a beautiful car. I had heard stories about the South and I thought, hey, if a black man is making it in the South, maybe it’s a good place to be.”
The black lawyer was W. George Allen of Fort Lauderdale, and Scherer has joked with him ever since about that day when Allen changed a career.
“We lived in Miami first,” Scherer says, “and although we like South Florida, we really didn’t like Miami, but we did like Fort Lauderdale, so this is where I went into practice.”
In the beginning, Scherer took any case he could get, just to get into court, and for an outsider, he quickly found the combination to the inside room.
By 1980, he was a partner in Conrad Scherer & James, specializing in medical defense. Scherer was building his political friendships, among them longtime Broward power broker Hamilton Forman. That helped him get the lucrative contract as general counsel for the North Broward Hospital District in 1988, a position his firm hold to this day.
This prominent Republican fund-raiser maintained it even when Democrats took control of the governor’s office for eight years, possibly because Scherer brought in Ken Jenne as a partner in his firm. Jenne was then a powerful Democratic state senator. It was a classic example of his political resiliency.
From its origins representing insurance companies, Conrad & Scherer with 25 attorneys has broadened its practice to include the marine industry and homeowners in disputes with builders. The firm employs full-time experts in its specialties, including registered nurses or physicians-unusual staffing even among the largest firms.
In addition to his work for the GOP, Scherer has had many government duties, distinctions and awards. Among his current activities is the Judicial Nominating Commission, Fourth District Court of Appeal, and interim counsel for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. A recent kick was a reception at the White House late last year when President Bush gave him a “high-five” on the occasion of Scherer’s 55th birthday.
He began riding motorcycles as a teen-ager and has always fancied old cars. He likes to drive a classic ’73 Pontiac Trans Am and has an old truck and some motorcycles. He also owns a warehouse where on Saturday mornings a range of people come by to talk motorcycles.
Anne Scherer has a career of her own. She’s been in real estate for 25 years and is president of SMD Reality. The three children are not far from their father’s footprints. Oldest son Bill attended the University of Miami Law School and is with his father’s firm. He also carries on the family’s music side. He’s had his own band since high school. Liz also has a law degree from the University of Miami and is with the Broward State Attorney’s Office. John has a degree in construction from the University of Florida and is working in construction while attending Nova Southeastern’s law school.
Article by: Bernard McCormick
Photography by: Diane Bradford