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Fair Play

Allan H. Zerman went to bat for free agency        

Published in 2008 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine

Professional baseball superstars should send thank-you cards to Allan H. Zerman. The St. Louis attorney worked on a case in the late ’60s that paved the way for free agency and the jaw-dropping salaries that eventually followed.

The story begins with a star St. Louis Cardinals outfielder named Curt Flood. In 1969, he was traded to Philadelphia and didn’t want to make the move. But the league’s reserve clause, which gave a player’s team complete control over his career, left Flood with few options: go or quit. “They owned you,” says Zerman, now a partner at Zerman & Mogerman, a family law firm in Clayton. “You either played for them or where they told you to play.”

Flood made a personal appeal to the commissioner of baseball, but when it was unsuccessful, he filed an antitrust lawsuit against Major League Baseball. The players’ association provided legal backing, and Zerman served as Flood’s personal attorney.

The case made it to the Supreme Court in 1972 when Zerman was just 35. “I don’t know if I fully appreciated the magnitude of it at the time,” he says. “I was too young, too inexperienced.” One of the highlights of the case was watching legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson testify on Flood’s side. But even with such all-star supporters, he lost in a 5-3 decision. This defeat, however, is widely credited with leading to free agency, and Zerman has been interviewed about the case by ESPN Classic and several book authors.

Today, Zerman’s career includes enough impressive credentials to fill the back of his own baseball card. He’s a longtime fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a diplomate of the American College of Family Trial Lawyers. The latter includes only 100 attorneys.

Zerman’s current focus on divorce cases lies far from any sports field, and its origins trace back to a Missouri law change in 1974. It gave divorce courts new and expanded jurisdiction over property division and made divorce cases require a greater degree of legal expertise. “In corporate law, two plus two equals four,” Zerman says. “In divorce law, reasonable minds can disagree on whether it’s two or three, and whether you should subtract or multiply rather than add.”

While there’s no typical day at the office for Zerman, one constant in his work is that he deals with people during difficult times in their lives. In fact, about half his clients didn’t make the decision to initiate divorce. “We do everything that can and should be done and we do it as well as possible,” he says. His 14-person firm includes eight lawyers and has been around for more than a decade.

Zerman deals with a fair number of pre-nuptial agreements, and he finds it satisfying to help a non-moneyed partner get a fair shake when he or she walks into his office with a lopsided agreement drawn up by a richer spouse-to-be. It might seem like an unlikely path from baseball to divorce law, but Zerman is still an umpire of sorts who makes sure everybody plays fair.        


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