While new in its corporate existence in 2000, Kozloff Stoudt traces its history back to 1936, the year of founding of the law firm which became Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley, and to 1975, when the predecessor of Kozloff, Diener, Payne & Fegley was established. When the firm’s current office building was constructed in 1986, it was the only law firm, save for a few solo or two person firms, to locate its practice in the once-rural expanse of Spring Township, eschewing the traditional model of locating a law practice “in the shadow of the court house.”
The Development of Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley
In 1936, three young lawyers from rural Berks County roots, formed a partnership for the practice of law under the name of Body, Muth & Rhoda. Dawson H. Muth, from Western Berks, Ralph C. Body from Boyertown, and John S. Rhoda from the Oley Valley, apparently had a sense of the importance of geographical diversity in building the client base of a law firm.
In a few years, prior to World War II, James W. Stoudt joined the firm as an associate, developed a reputation as one of the most talented courtroom advocates of his time and eventually became a partner with the firm, leading to a change in its name to Body, Muth, Rhoda & Stoudt. The firm’s office was located at 541 Court Street in Reading. After the war, John C. Bradley became associated with the firm.
Political activity was part and parcel of the development of the firm’s practice, leading to development of a diverse and well-established municipal law practice. In 1957, one of the partners, Dawson Muth was elected to a seat on the Orphans’ Court of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas, a position he held until his retirement in 1978. With his departure, the firm name was changed to Body, Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley following the entry of John C. Bradley into the partnership.
A second judicial departure occurred in 1959, when Ralph C. Body was elected to serve a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, where he served until 1962, when he was nominated and confirmed to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. With his departure, the firm name became Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley.
Other lawyers, either employed as associates or becoming members of the partnership, during the post-war period, and during succeeding fifteen years after the departure of Ralph Body, included Frederick Edenharter, later to be appointed and then elected to the Berks County Court, Geoffrey M. Stoudt, son of James W. Stoudt, David M. Kozloff, and Norman E. Dettra, Jr. Dettra was seen by some to be the dean of the Berks County Municipal Law Bar.
In 1990, Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley moved from its long-time location at 519 Walnut Street to a suite of offices on the sixth floor of the Berkshire Building at Fifth and Washington Streets in Reading. The firm also maintained part-time offices in Boyertown and Birdsboro.
When James W. Stoudt retired from Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley in 1999, a legal team of 10 partners, 7 associates, and 26 support staff members remained.
The Development of Kozloff, Diener, Payne & Fegley
When George R. Eves, a prominent trial lawyer specializing in insurance defense matters died prematurely in 1974, his son G. Christopher Eves found himself with an extensive roster of insurance company clients. Having been admitted to the bar only weeks earlier, Eves realized that he lacked the trial experience necessary to properly serve his clients. Christopher Eves approached David Kozloff to join him in an effort to preserve that client base, and Kozloff resigned his partnership at Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley, and joined Eves in the partnership of Eves & Kozloff on January 1, 1975.
Walter M. Diener, Jr. joined the partnership in 1977. Jestyn G. Payne joined Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley in 1974, withdrew from that firm, and joined with Kozloff and Diener to form a professional corporation known as Kozloff, Diener & Payne on June 16, 1980. In order to accommodate the growing staff, a residential property at 1136 Penn Avenue, Wyomissing was purchased and renovated to house the new firm. Dramatic changes occurred in the next few years, including the addition of James R. Fegley in 1984 and a change in the firm name to Kozloff, Diener, Payne & Fegley.
In less than six years, the building at 1136 Penn Avenue was found to be insufficient as the firm’s massive file cabinets and equipment were believed to be a safety threat to the structural integrity of the vintage 1904 building. Along with Dr. John R. Bower, M.D., members of the firm purchased a tract of land along State Hill Road, Spring Township in 1986 and constructed a new office building in an area which was soon to become the commercial and professional hub of Berks County, known as Spring Ridge. The firm moved into the new building in early 1987.
The growth of Kozloff, Diener, Payne & Fegley had not abated with the move. By year-end 1999, Kozloff, Diener, Payne & Fegley had a staff of 10 shareholders, six associates, and 26 support staff employees.
The imminence of the millennial change seemed to be an opportune time for two law firms of similar size, some common background, comparable practice profiles and shared challenges for future development, to consider joining forces. Not to be ignored was the fact that within the Kozloff Diener Payne & Fegley group, five of the lawyers had previously been partners or associates at Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley, including Kozloff and Payne.
The merger of the two firms into Kozloff Stoudt Professional Corporation was consummated on January 1, 2000, with a roster of 19 shareholders and 8 associates. It was the largest law firm merger in Berks County history. Initially, the firm maintained two offices, one at the Berkshire Building in downtown Reading, and the second at 2640 Westview Drive.
The reduced size of the professional staff, along with accompanying support staff shrinkage, made it possible to close the Berkshire Building office suite, and to consolidate the practice at the 2640 Westview Drive location after the acquisition of some additional space within that building.