I'll Probably Die in That Chair: Legendary St. Louis attorney Frank Anzalone can't envision a time when he'll no longer be practicing law

The opera star with his face painted white is singing an Italian aria about heartbreak. "Laugh, clown, laugh at the sadness that is poisoning your heart," his voice booms.

Through thick-frame glasses, Frank Anzalone watches the performance on this January evening, rummaging through the pockets of his gray suit pants in search of a peppermint. The 61-year-old Clayton attorney is in attendance because he insists Pagliacci is the only decent opera the nineteenth-century Italian composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo ever produced.

The show at the Missouri History Museum, says Anzalone, is worth getting home late for, noting that he's got to catch an early-morning flight to Las Vegas, where he plans to watch the Super Bowl with his son. An opera aficionado, Anzalone says the singing was satisfactory, but the staging too sparse. Besides, he adds, Pagliacci — the clown looking for revenge — is not at all convincing.

Frank Anzalone, attorney at law.
Jennifer Silverberg
Frank Anzalone, attorney at law.
Anzalone spent years vacationing with Stormy White, who works in his office; their son Anthony assists Anzalone with cases.
Jennifer Silverberg
Anzalone spent years vacationing with Stormy White, who works in his office; their son Anthony assists Anzalone with cases.

"He looked like too much of a wimp," Anzalone says in a soft voice, slipping into a large black jacket and putting on his black Kangol hat.

Earlier in the day, Anzalone is in a St. Louis County courtroom for a sentencing hearing. Decades of hard time hang in the balance. It's almost 11 a.m. when he arrives from his Clayton office on Bonhomme Avenue.

"Where's Frank?" Judge Maura B. McShane asks just before Anzalone shuttles in aboard a red electric scooter, which he's been riding the past two years because he won't take the time to get surgery on his damaged ankle.

"The idea of being out of commission would drive him crazy," explains Elizabeth Gilpin, Anzalone's legal assistant of eleven years.

Today's client is Conrad Dominicus, a man charged with shooting his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend on a winter day in 2006. The defendant drove from Los Angeles to St. Louis to find the boyfriend. He tracked him down to his St. Louis County apartment, put on a ski mask and crouched behind the bushes. When the boyfriend arrived, Dominicus shot him multiple times and fled. The shooting victim survived.

"He was shot five times," says Patrick Monahan, an assistant prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County. "He was shot in the upper chest area. You have to take everything into account."

"Wait a minute," Anzalone counters. "You can't say he was trying to kill him. That's like saying if someone was driving drunk and hit someone and killed them, they intended to do it."

"You know what, Frank, he came from California to shoot," Judge McShane says, staring at him.

"I honestly think twenty is what should happen with the case," concludes Monahan, folding his arms across his chest.

"He came from California to shoot this guy," Judge McShane repeats.

Leaning on his cane, Anzalone says in his usual rapid-fire delivery, "There was no gain. This man was shot but wasn't seriously hurt. I've shown that the defendant is a working man. Obviously, he reacted irrationally and emotionally. I would ask the court to consider a sentence significantly less than twenty years."

Judge McShane nods. "I've listened to what you've had to say, but I think, overall, the sentence I'm going to give is the appropriate sentence."

"I'll contact your mother," Anzalone says, shaking his client's hand after the judge metes out the twenty-year sentence. It is the harshest sentence a client has received from a guilty plea in fifteen years.

"See you, Pat," he says to Monahan.

"See you, Frank," Monahan says to Anzalone.

As he prepares to leave, Anzalone mumbles in the direction of the victim's family, "I'm sorry for what happened." Before they can respond, he's already out the door.

In all of his 38 years of practicing law, Frank Anzalone has never advertised. The drunks, the drug users, the pyros and the trigger-happy dads find him through word of mouth. He compares himself to a doctor, saying his job is to treat the condition and not obsess about the cause. In short, if you have some money, Anzalone will offer a patient an ear, though he won't mince words.

"I don't care why you're sick; I just want to try and make you better," he says.

As a rule, Anzalone prefers not to represent juveniles. They're too young and impressionable, he says. Nor does he like to defend people who don't pay child support, saying there's no defense for that.

"I'm much more selective in the cases I take now," Anzalone explains. "I feel bad about taking money from people other than the ones who are charged."

But the scale of justice, he says, doesn't always weigh the truth: "We're too quick to judge whether people do something legal or illegal. It's much worse to break someone's heart than steal their car."

Anzalone has lived alone for more than fifteen years in a small condo in Brentwood. His mercurial marriage to a St. Louis prosecutor ended in divorce in 1979. Anzalone recalls how she hated to get client calls at their home, and that sometimes he'd arrive at the residence only to find dent marks caused by her flinging the phone into the walls.

A certain sense of cynicism pervades Anzalone's view of the legal profession. "The biggest lie is that we provide a noble purpose," he says, sitting in his Clayton office. "I've never had someone who asks me to protect their rights."

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