As a 19-year-old college student, John Agnew was
partying too much and feeling lost. So he went to
the Army recruiting office and asked, “What’s the
“The Rangers,” the recruiter replied. The enlist-
ment officer later tried to discourage him, noting that
Ranger duty is dangerous and doesn’t pay extra. But
the son of a Presbyterian minister was not dissuaded.
The highlight of his Army career, Agnew says,
was participating in three grueling Best Ranger
competitions. These 60-hour competitions involve
two-man teams typically covering more than 50
miles on foot with an 80-pound rucksack. Participants get little sleep and must excel at tasks including a parachute operation, long marches and
land navigation, marksmanship, obstacle courses
and demolitions. Most years, more than 40 teams
compete, and half don’t finish.
In his second competition in 1998, Agnew and
his partner placed third. His last “rodeo,” as he calls
it, came in 2006 when he was a National Guardsman, had just completed law school at University of
Kentucky, and at 31 was significantly older than the
other competitors. His team placed fifth.
“You’ve got the best of the best from every unit,”
he says. “If you’re a really competitive person, you
want to see how good you
are compared to everyone
else. Just finishing is a big
deal, and placing is a big-
ger deal still.”
Agnew’s most sober-
ing military duty came in
2003, as a squad leader in
the U.S. stabilization force
in Bosnia, near Srebrenica.
More than 8,000 Bosnian
Muslims had been killed
there in 1995. Mass graves
were still being discovered.
When President Bill Clinton
arrived to dedicate the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial,
Sgt. Agnew, as one of the
Army National Guard’s best
marksmen, was assigned to
sniper overwatch duty.
John D. Agnew
After 50-mile marches and parachute jumps, former U.S. Army Ranger
John Agnew may have been overprepared for courtroom combat BY HARRIS MEYER
“It was a crazy-type experience,” Agnew recalls.
Knowing how to handle that kind of stress more
than prepared him for the high stakes of business
litigation. “When I showed up as a newly minted
lawyer, I might not have known the nuances of the
law, but I knew how to read people, confidently
communicate with them and manage expectations,” says Agnew, 42, a partner at Henderson,
Franklin, Starnes & Holt in Fort Myers.
“His experience as an Army Ranger set him
apart from other young attorneys we’ve hired,”
adds Vicki Sproat, a partner at the firm who put
him to work soon after he joined in 2006, as
second-chair in a federal noncompete case. “I was
surprised by how fast he came around as an at-
torney. He’s unflappable.”
Just seven years after starting practice, he was
elected president of the Lee County Bar Association.
Last year, Agnew represented a family-owned
roofing company in a suit against the founders’
son, who had left, Agnew says, with most of the
firm’s 1 10 employees and 75 percent of its business. After an intensive discovery process, Agnew
got an early mediation that led to a settlement,
transferring the son’s 49 percent stock back to his
mother and sister.
“Thankfully, the family has been able to get the
company back on track, hired new employees and
salvaged many client relationships,” Agnew says.
David Mitchell, a plaintiff’s attorney at Maney
& Gordon in Tampa, brought a federal Telephone
Consumer Protections Act case against a client of
Agnew’s in 2014, and it settled the following year.
“I always thank him for his professionalism and
how easy he makes it to litigate a case,” Mitchell
says. “He knows his law and how to argue and
litigate a case. I know I won’t be dealing with un-
Agnew says his military experience gave him
an invaluable perspective: “Even though the case
you’re working on is the most important issue in
your client’s life, it’s about money. No one’s dying.
Everybody is going to bed safe at night.”
Telling their stories
Agnew, right, with Danny Page, both staff
sergeants on sniper duty in Bosnia, 2003.