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Commemoration of Kent & Crawford’s Merger with Marks Gray

by | Aug 25, 2023 | Announcement, News

On August 1, 2023, we marked a memorable milestone—the 20th anniversary of Kent & Crawford’s merger with Marks Gray!  That merger revitalized the combined law firm and propelled the firm into the 21st century with expanded areas of practice, incorporation of new technologies and a renewed commitment to both its diversified client base and the Jacksonville community.

Both Marks Gray and Kent Crawford have a long and interesting history as two of Jacksonville’s most prominent law firms.  Shortly after the merger, attorneys John B. Kent and John R. Crawford dined with attorney and former Circuit Judge William L. Durden to exploit William Durden’s encyclopedic knowledge of law firm history in Jacksonville and to piece together the provenance of the Kent & Crawford law firm. The result of that meeting was a memo dated August 25, 2003 which set forth the timeline beginning with Fred H Kent Sr.’s association in 1926 with the Cooper, Knight, Adair, Copper and Osborne law firm in Jacksonville. That timeline is reproduced below:

1926               Fred Kent, Sr. began practicing law in Jacksonville with the Cooper, Knight, Adair, Cooper and Osborne firm.

1942-1945     Mr. Kent, Sr. served as a Lieutenant Commander Gunnery Officer on the US Ticonderoga in the Pacific Theater.

1949               Fred Kent, Sr., became General Counsel for Florida State Theatres which owned virtually all of the motion picture theaters in Florida.  Mr. Kent remained a partner at what had become the Adair, Ulmer, Murchison, Kent, Ashby and Ball firm, which represented the Alfred I. duPont estate, including St. Joe Paper Company in Florida, Florida National Banks and the Florida East Coast Railway, Edward Ball and Jesse Ball duPont individually, Westinghouse, Ford Motor Company, St. Regis Paper Company, The Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theater Owners of Florida.

1969               The Kent family split off from the Ulmer firm to form Kent & Kent.  Fred Kent, Sr., Fred Kent, Jr., and John Kent and several associates including Rob Hiday (who later was briefly with the Marks Gray firm) and Don Braddock.

1970               Bill Durden came off the bench to serve as General Counsel of the new Consolidated Government of Jacksonville in 1968.  He had been the Judge who ruled favorably on the Duval County taxpayers suit represented by Pat Conroy against Tax Assessor Walters represented by Charlie Towers, creating market value as the value of statutory “just” value for property tax assessment, which was a prime impetus toward creation of the consolidated government because residential property owners began to pay taxes for the first time in 1967.  Judge Durden was a highly respected Circuit Judge, able to command the respect of the politicians during the tumultuous days of putting the consolidated government together.  He had intended to join the Kent firm when he left the bench in 1968 but delayed it for two years in order to serve as the first General Counsel of the new consolidated City of Jacksonville.  Jim Rinaman took his place as General Counsel in 1970 for 1 1/2 years on leave of absence from Marks Gray in order to allow Ed Austin to complete his term as State Attorney before becoming General Counsel.

1960               Kent & Kent, P.A.

1970               Kent, Durden & Kent

1975               Kent, Sears, Durden & Kent with George Ridge as an associate

1977               Kent, Durden, & Kent

1980               Kent, Watts & Durden, the result of a merger with Jennings, Watts, Clarke & Hamilton, including Bob Mickler as an additional partner, and John Crawford as an associate, and Olin E. Watts, of counsel

1981               Kent, Watts, Durden, Kent, Nichols & Mickler after Bob Nichols joined the firm

1983               Kent, Watts & Durden, with Nichols, Mickler, Crawford and Ridge as partners and a total of 28 lawyers

1986               Merger with Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith, Cutler & Kent, P.A. with Fred Kent, Sr., Bob Nichols, Fred Kent, Jr., and Fred Kent, III and John Kent.  Bill Durden left the firm to become General Counsel of Florida National Bank and John Crawford, George Ridge and Allison Kennedy formed the firm of Ridge and Crawford, P.A.

1988               Kent, Ridge & Crawford composed of Fred Kent, Sr., Fred Kent, III, John Kent, John Crawford, George Ridge and Allison Kennedy

1993               David Gooding joined the firm

1999               Ridge dropped out of the firm and the firm became Kent, Crawford & Gooding

2002               David Gooding was elected Circuit Judge and the firm name became Kent & Crawford, in December 2002

2003               Kent & Crawford joins Marks Gray in August 2003

Upon the merger in 2003, John B. Kent, Fred Kent III and John R. Crawford became shareholders of Marks Gray, and in 2016 Fred Kent III became president of the firm.  The merger has proven to be a near perfect union of the primary litigation practice of Marks Gray with the primarily business practice of Kent & Crawford.  The result is a full-service law firm that is one of Northeast Florida’s leading business law firms with a long history of client satisfaction and community service and a unique trademark of “Lawyers for Enterprise”.

While the business landscape has shifted and the law firm has adapted to new challenges, the decision to hold onto the founders’ names[1] speaks volumes about the organization’s commitment to its roots, values and mission of guiding clients through the legal maze with skill, experience, innovation and tenacity.

As we celebrate this milestone and the enduring presence of “Marks Gray” for nearly 125 years, we look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead. Our hard work and experience will continue to carry us into the future as we navigate new challenges, embrace new ideas and technologies, and forge ahead with the same spirit of determination that revitalized this firm in 2003.

[1]              Richard P. Marks (1876-1942) was a United States Attorney, a founder of Florida Title and Trust Co., and owner of the only Duval County real estate records that survived the 1901 fire which destroyed most of downtown Jacksonville.  In 1905, he closed America’s largest land sale after the Louisiana Purchase, the Hamilton Disston purchase of six million acres in Central Florida.

Sam Marks (1885-1973) helped organize and served as General Counsel for Winn Dixie enterprises and was executor of the Estate of Charles E. Merrill, a founder of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc.

Harry Gray (1890-1975) was a leading commercial and tort defense trial lawyer.  He drafted Florida’s first workmans’ compensation law in the early 1930’s and was General Counsel for the Florida Board of Architecture and the Florida Medical Association for nearly 50 years.  He was President of the Jacksonville Bar in l935, the Association of Insurance Attorneys in 1963, and was a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.



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