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Q&A with Sanibel attorney Jason Maughan

By Staff | Apr 9, 2009

Jason Maughan and his family have been a part of the islands for generations.

We detect a smooth brogue. Where did you grow up?

You are correct about my accent and I was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland.

What brought you to Sanibel?

Well, that’s a longer story. My family first came to the Island in 1960 when my Aunt Joan and Uncle Ferenc came to the Island by ferry. They have always been avid shellers and lived in Cuba until the communists took control. Most people in those days went to the east coast as it was far more “civilized”, but my Aunt and Uncle, being the adventurous sort, came up the west coast instead. By and by they informed the rest of the family in Ireland about how beautiful Sanibel was and how the shelling and natural habitat was as beautiful as Cuba. Over the years various members of my family came to Sanibel from Ireland and each reported how beautiful it was. I personally first came here in 1976 as a boy to see America and visit Washington, D.C. during the bicentennial. After that my father and mother brought my two brothers and I to Sanibel for summer and Christmas holidays. This would be up to three months at a time and eventually my parents bought a house beside Bert Jenks on Pine Tree Drive at the west end. My father then built the first house on White Heron Lane where we eventually emigrated to over a period of three years. This was done as my brother and I were in boarding school. There is actually quite an enclave of Irish that have been on the Island since my family first arrived all of whom are my relations. I have five sets of Aunts and Uncles that are living or lived on the Island and my family has numerous cousins, friends and business partners who also came here. All of those lived at the west end near Blind Pass and that has always been are stomping ground. I often joke with Jimmy Jordan at the City, whose Gavin family (an Irish name) have been here for far longer than mine, that we were put down that end like the scene in Blazing Saddles where the townsfolk say that they will accept everybody into the community, “but we’re not taking the Irish!”

What do you like most about living on Sanibel?

Actually, my wife and I are currently living at a different Island. Tidewater Island, in Estero Bay. This was between the hurricane years as I had back surgery twice and we were also trying to start a family. While watching my offices being shut down annually, we needed an onshore abode. However, after a very difficult pregnancy for my dear wife (not to mention my horrid disks) we are returning, so my two year old son Ronan Patrick can start at the Learning Center and then move to the Sanibel School. We also own three properties on the Island, a law firm and an art gallery, so we’re certainly invested in the community. Living on the Island is a great gift and something to be enjoyed every day, not two weeks during the Season. My wife and I are avid boaters and campers and appreciate the wildlife and seclusion we can find on the Island every day. I have always felt that people on the Island are friendlier and more concerned and caring than most places I have traveled and only a fool avoids embracing that welcome. The attitude here towards Island life is very reminiscent of the Irish character and makes me feel at home. The phrase “It’ll get done” explains it all the absence of when being the island part. I suppose you could say I have traded one Island for another.

We know you are a prominent lawyer on Sanibel. What kind of law do you practice? What made you decide to become a lawyer?

I Well, I like to think of myself as an Island lawyer and maintain that candid attitude when dealing with my clients. I have worked in large corporate-style law firms, handled federal cases al over the country, but I was too restricted in the areas that I could practice by internal policies. The areas of law of practice are primarily real estate, construction and commercial litigation, the enforcement of contracts and collection of debts. As you can tell, my phone usually doesn’t ring unless something bad has happened, but I am happy to be there to put things in perspective, get the issue identified and drive home a resolution. As I wanted to make my parents proud, I decided that either medicine or law would be my profession of choice. After studying mathematics I realized that I did not have what it took for the chemistry to go with medicine and opted for law. I have law degrees in the United States and the European Union. The other reason I decided to be a lawyer was that when I traveled to American from Ireland, the INS were very mean to my brother Kevin and I. Maybe they thought it was funny, but we were taught to respect authority and being routinely harassed and questioned about whether we were junior terrorists or something frightened me. Now it bears remembering that these were more dangerous days in Ireland than now stands. The lesson I learned then was that the way to succeed in life is to know more about the law than the government does. To simplify, a bad public officials badge can only be trumped by a good lawyer’s license. They can have the first day and then I get the rest. And in a country that holds freedom so highly, it was the appropriate career to pursue.

Also liked Perry Mason, so take your pick.

You recently opened the Arts In The Tree Tops Gallery. So curious minds want to know what would make a lawyer buy an art gallery?

Well let’s get something out of the way first, I didn’t open it to lose money to be fair. I did open the art gallery as an opportunity to share my life’s good fortune with artists on the Island. Laura Meyer, the Gallery manager, was an assistant of mine at my law firm here on the Island. She went on sabbatical after her father became ill and picked up an art form which he did as a hobby. One day she was lamenting the fact that it was difficult for up-and-coming artists to find anywhere to hang their art or to find the funds to buy into an expensive Gallery. As I own several units on Periwinkle that were unoccupied, I gave her the keys and suggested she throw a one-day show with some friends for fun. She did so, and it was a great success. At that point I thought to myself, now how can we make this a win/win situation. I decided to gamble on the Island resource – beauty and artists to capture it. The other reason I opened the Gallery is also to reflect on my personal happiness. There is no depressing art allowed in that Gallery. In my professional life I am obliged to do many things which in a perfect world I would not desire to do. So I told my wife that if worse came to worse, I would at least have somewhere to sit and be surrounded by beautiful art to recharge my batteries during the day. If the Gallery continues in this manner, I hope my wife will be able to work on the Island beside me running the Gallery.

What is your favorite kind of art? Do you ever indulge in your creative

side?

My favorite kind of art is impressionism. I was fortunate enough to be issued with an imagination and many times my mind is free to find itself in the irregular outlines of shapes undefined. We have some lovely impressionist artists in the Gallery and I find myself looking at them the most. That is not to say that I don’t love many other forms of art, but in a pinch those are my favorite paintings. And, do I ever indulge my creative side every day in the practice of law. It allows me to take a set of operative facts and circumstances, apply them to the law and then present a picture tinted in my client’s favorite color. I consider that to be a very creative process.

What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?

My hobbies revolve around my family for the most part. My wife of 14 years, Barbara, and my son of two and a half years, Ronan, consume most of my recreational time. Fortunately, our hobbies coincide so we can all spend time together. My wife and I both love boating and camping on the Islands around here. I also hunt for a sport and meat as I love true free-range organic food, no store bought venison. I also have a great passion for the history of Sanibel, especially its role during World War II. I have to say that some of this interest is brought on by the people who used to live on Sanibel when my family first arrived here. Many of these were retired soldiers who had served in the South Pacific and enjoyed the warmth of Island life. These are the heroes that I looked up to.

What is your family life like?

Well, with the two year old flying around the place, my wife and I spend most of our time playing “where’s the baby”. I swear if your turn your back for a second, they are off like a gun shot. But outside of that, we spend a lot of time on the Island, as there is a certain beauty to three generations of the same family all living on the Island.

Can you share something that most people would be surprised to know about you?

I don’t talk about my hunting very much, but this past year I harpooned and harvested an 11-foot, 450-500 pound alligator 10 miles out in Lake Okeechobee. Scott Windler, an Island contractor and long time friend, and I have hunted alligators together for years in Scott’s airboat. WNow, there is no waste on any of these hunts. Either the meat is processed professionally, or Scott and I take it for our own use. It is important to keep a traditional South Florida sport alive. I love reading the accounts of Islanders supplementing their diets with alligator meat and utilizing the tanned hides for household products. That is a true balance in nature. I should mention that that was the largest alligator taken out of Lake Okeechobee for our hunting period.

What are your long/short term goals?

I think those two are both the same; to be a good father, to be a good husband, to be a good friend, to be a good lawyer, but above all to be a good man.

You appear to be a chipper, happy fellow. What is your secret to being happy?

There are a few important answers to that question that I have figures out over the years. The first way I remain happy is by judging myself only by

those who have less than I, instead of those with more. That is really a mind-set thing. I look at all I have and appreciate it for exactly what it is. I feel sorry for those who have less than I so I am constantly grateful for all I have accomplished and for the people who care about me. I don’t judge myself by those who have more, as that would reinforce everyday how, in my own estimation of myself, I was lesser than somebody else. And to be quite frank, my ego wouldn’t let me do that any way so it all works out in the end. The second reason is my chosen profession. In the last ten years I have seen true pain, financial ruin and real stress through cases and trials. When you have seen people put out of their home and you are the one responsible for it, you realize what real arguments and depression are all about. Therefore, I did not invite or allow that sort of anger into my personal life. By remaining affirmatively happy and optimistic, while professionally ruthless. The last reason I am a happy man and one might say moderately charming, is because I am a shadow of my father who brought us to the Island. Kevin Patrick Maughan, and my mother, Judith, are my heroes in life (I should also add that John Wayne is too) and I have tried to be a worthy son to his memory. I find it gives one a positive direction in life and gets me away from the current “find yourself” and “it’s all about me” attitude, which is becoming painfully pervasive. To me, doing it for myself never meant as much as doing it for my family.