Published in 2023 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine
By Jerry Grillo on February 8, 2023
For a long time, whenever Hannibal Heredia introduced himself, he’d invariably get some variation on this response: “So … did you eat his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti?” Heredia would smile and nod, getting the joke for the umpteenth time.
Except, initially, he didn’t really get the joke. Yes, he knew about The Silence of the Lambs, but he hadn’t seen it yet, and he knew nothing of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Heredia was too busy with college, then law school, and his music career.
“When I finally saw the movie, I loved it,” says Heredia, managing partner at Hedgepeth Heredia in Atlanta. “Even now, whenever I come across it on TV, I’ll stop and watch. But for 20 years or so I’d get, ‘Oh, Dr. Lecter, please don’t eat me.’”
He’s noticed a change recently. Now people are more likely to say, “‘Is that like Hannibal and the African war elephants?’ Someone even said, ‘Like Hannibal, Missouri?’ And I’m like, ‘Wow, a Mark Twain reference.’ The Lecter stuff has slowly faded out.”
The key, he says, is this: “Eventually you make the name your own.”
Heredia has certainly done that. He is not only a top family law attorney and sought-after mediator, but he’s also known on local stages as the energetic lead singer and guitarist for Clashinista, a Clash cover band; as the bass player for Specific Deviations, a band of family lawyers with “Purple Rain” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in its repertoire. His new band, Vectralux, is focused on recording in the studio—for now.
Tain Kell, a retired superior court judge and lead singer of Specific Deviations, feels that such creative outlets make for better attorneys. “It’s a left brain, right brain thing,” he says. “It’s a great asset for a lawyer to have an artistic and creative outlet, because it challenges you to think outside the box, and Hannibal is very much that way.”
“He is definitely multitalented,” says Wendy Glasbrenner, managing attorney at Georgia Legal Services in Gainesville. “He’s got all of the attributes you want in an attorney. He’s meticulous about details, prepares thoroughly—that’s something we pride ourselves in at this office, something Hannibal picked up on. He’s also a good writer, he can be aggressive when he needs to be, and he’s very empathetic. Plus he’s a lot of fun.”
Heredia was named after his father, Dr. Anibal Heredia, who, with his wife, Maria Luisa, emigrated from Peru to Philadelphia in 1966. The move didn’t quite take. “My mother told my father, ‘Listen, we either move someplace warmer or we go back to Peru,’” he says. So in the early ’70s, Anibal, an internal medicine specialist, moved the family to Montgomery, Alabama.
Heredia describes it as “an interesting petri dish to grow up in.” He and his younger brother John were educated in a private school, which helped shield the boys from much of the racial tension that persisted in the city. He noticed it anyway. He remembers the time he was supposed to join some school friends at a country club and realized his family would not be allowed membership there. “They didn’t let Black people, Hispanic people or Jewish people become members, and I was like, ‘No way.’”
At the same time, he knew the advantages he had. “I was lucky and feel somewhat removed from the experience of people who had to really struggle and who came up a different way than I did,” he says. “But I also valued what my parents had gone through—to come to this country, to support me and my brother. My mother really learned English when they came here, and Dad, right up until the end, was never part of the Montgomery doctors’ in-crowd. … We were not your average Southern family.”
Despite this, or maybe because of it, Heredia developed an ability to get along with almost anyone, “a breadth of people, politically and personality-wise,” says Sarah McCormack, the founding partner of Hoelting & McCormack. “He’s able to find common ground with very different people with very
Though the two have squared off in the family law arena, Heredia is one of her go-to mediators. “I only use mediators who I think are good closers—who can get the case done,” McCormack says. “That’s Hannibal. He’s also humble, bright and funny. He manages to humanize himself and the entire process. That appeals to a broad gamut of people who are going through a difficult situation.”
Heredia never intended to get into family law. At Auburn University, he majored in psychology but was mainly interested in his band, The Idaho Trust. He played guitar, with John on drums, and with the vibe, he says, of the early Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was fun, but it wasn’t what was expected.
“Being the child of immigrants, it gets put in your head early on that you have to have a career, you have to be a professional,” Heredia says. “Originally, I thought I’d follow in my father’s footsteps. But I always loved music and finally figured that I’d like to get into entertainment law.”
That was the plan when he enrolled at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. But after meeting people who were involved in the practice, it felt too much like babysitting. “That’s why I’m so fortunate to have gotten the job with legal services,” he says.
Heredia joined Glasbrenner’s team in Gainesville and spent six years with Georgia Legal Services. He worked eviction cases, family law cases, anything that came along. “I absolutely loved the work, loved the people I worked with,” he says.
In 2000, the firm of Perrotta, Cahn & Prieto in Cartersville—the largest family law practice in Northwest Georgia—sought him out. They liked his family law experience and fluency in Spanish. He served at that firm as managing partner, then launched Hedgepeth Heredia in 2006.
In family law, says Neal Brunt, juvenile court judge of Bartow County, “You’re usually dealing with people when they’re at their worst; when they’re not thinking rationally and they’re being controlled by emotions. And I always felt like Hannibal was excellent at bringing his clients back to the center, not letting them get carried away by their emotions. Which is not to say that he isn’t a fighter—he advocates for his clients effectively and manages to do it without an overly aggressive manner. He does not play into his clients’ worst instincts.”
Sometimes the work means you’ve got to wear different hats, Heredia says. “You have to manage people, and we’re not trained to do that—therapists are. We kind of learn it on the job. You need compassion and you need empathy and there are boundaries.” He recalls a tough case from last year. His client kept telling Heredia to show more emotion and Heredia kept reminding his client, “that would only get in the way of me doing the best job for you.”
The perfect case for Heredia never reaches a courtroom. It’s calmly hashed out between the spouses and their lawyers. That’s how his own divorce went. He and his wife had good lawyers, and everyone got along. Not to say it was easy. It never is when children are involved; his daughter Annabel was 16 at the time.
As a result, he says, “I am a lot more empathetic now, especially toward kids and what a divorce means to them—they’re the victims in a divorce. I remember when I was going through it, a wise, older attorney told me, ‘You’re going to bring that perspective to your cases from now on.’ He was right.”
Following the COVID pandemic shutdown, as the world is getting back to something resembling normal, Heredia and his peers are seeing an uptick in business.
“We’re talking about more divorces,” says Heredia, who has since remarried to fellow family lawyer Ashley Heredia and now has another baby daughter. “You want to be the gladiator for your clients, you want to be the litigator, but you’ve got to be smart. These are not widgets and you’re not just dealing with blind dollars. You’re dealing with people. You’re dealing with children.”
As a result, Heredia is expert at keeping a low profile for his cases and himself. But two events did thrust him into the news. One was professional; the other was very, very personal.
Heredia jamming with his daughter, a few years before she helped break a criminal case.
In 2007, shortly after Eric Mongerson came out as gay, he and his wife Sandy divorced, and the court system wound up making things more contentious than necessary. During proceedings, a Fayette County Superior Court judge issued a blanket order banning the father from “exposing the children to his homosexual partners and friends.” Heredia represented the father during the appeal, when it went before the Georgia Supreme Court.
“It was emotional and bitter, but the original ruling went against established case law,” Heredia says.
Without any evidence that the kids would suffer harm from contact with gay people, Georgia’s highest court unanimously overturned the superior court ruling. The case made national headlines.
The other news item, the personal one, was more traumatic.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2010, Heredia was gardening in his backyard when a car stopped in the alley, two men leapt out, and one of them waved a gun in Heredia’s face and pushed him inside, where he, his wife, and their 9-year-old daughter were ordered to lie face down on the floor.
Then the men ransacked the place. They stole wedding rings, TVs and other items, and were in the process of stowing the stolen goods in the family car when the Heredias escaped to a neighbor’s house. The attackers sped off. A small army of police arrived at the Heredia home, and when they asked him if he had GPS on the car, Annabel reminded him he’d just installed a new ‘find my phone’ app on his smartphone.
“That app broke the case,” Heredia says. “They followed it and found one of the three guys. From that, they took the makeshift gang down.”
This gang had perpetrated a deadly crime spree in the Southeast Atlanta neighborhood, including assault, rape and murder. “I always believed in living your days to your fullest, but after the robbery I really believed it,” he says. “I am sure it affected me in ways I didn’t realize. But I do relish life even more.”
Family law requires him to stay cool even though emotional stress is built into the job description. But after the robbery, whenever he went to court or any other place of conflict, he’d think, “I almost got killed and survived. What can these people do to me?”
That’s exactly the kind of outlook his friend and fellow musician Tain Kell would expect from Heredia.
“For as long as I’ve known him, Hannibal has been a guy who can look at a situation from all the angles and come up with a unique perspective on it,” says Kell. “That is an extremely valuable skill set, and it has served Hannibal very well—in the courtroom and onstage.”
He’s With the Bands
You could say Hannibal Heredia practices law in part to support his rock ‘n’ roll habit. Here’s a chronological list of his bands over the years. “I mostly always play guitar and sing,” he says, “although I have also played keys, mandolin and the bass.”
The Idaho Trust: “Punk/funk, a la early Red Hot Chili Peppers. My brother John Heredia was in tow.”
Atticus Flinch: “When we got signed to a record label we rebranded as The Flinch, John was still foolishly following me. We were power pop/punk, a chaotic, more hyper Weezer. After the label experience, I have played for fun.”
Stovall: “Americana/alt-country. These guys are still my brothers. We lasted 10 years. I moved to this genre because playing punk-influenced music in your 30s when you have nothing to bitch about is silly.”
The Starling Family: “Straight-up ’90s indie rock. Think Pavement, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr. John had moved and I decided that my saying above [about not playing punk music] was silly and I needed a more energetic style of music.”
Clashinista: “I hatched the Clash tribute band because playing original music as you get older makes it harder to draw people in to see you at a venue. My favorite band, along with the Beatles, is The Clash.”
Specific Deviations: “For a run of 10 years I was the bass player, entertaining lawyers across Georgia at least once a year. Great guys to play with and learn from.”
Vectralux: “Writing songs is what I love and so I slowed down Clashinista (the pandemic helped) and have concentrated on Vectralux. It’s pop, which is what I strive to write.”
Heredia performing—and getting mobbed—at Candle Park Fall Festival with his band Clashinista. “My favorite band, along with the Beatles, is The Clash,” he says.
Photo by Emily Butler Photography
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