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Costine Law Marks a Century in Business

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank – John Costine and his son Judge Eric Costine are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Costine Law Office, started in 1920, this year. John’s other son, J. Mark Costine, also is involved with the practice but is not pictured.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Small business owners of all types are grateful for whatever successes they are able to achieve during the coronavirus pandemic, but one local law firm has 100 years of living and working in the community to be thankful for.

Three generations of attorneys have practiced at the same site for a century as the Costine Law Office marks 100 years of practice in Belmont County, now operated by John Costine and sons Eric and J. Mark Costine.

John Costine’s father, John Elwood Costine, founded the law firm in 1920. At that time there was a Pontiac dealership in the lower portion of the building.

“They sold cars in this building downstairs, and then my granddad would have started upstairs,” Eric Costine said.

John Elwood Costine practiced alone until 1951, when son John joined the firm. The elder John died in 1954.

John Costine followed his father’s example. In 1978 he was joined by his first son, J. Mark Costine, with the younger Eric Costine coming on board in 1985. Around that time, the firm moved into the lower floor of the building.

The next generation took their own routes to the law practice. Eric Costine said while his brother had seemingly always wanted to practice law, Eric was originally on an academic and teaching course before following his father’s footsteps.

They said the most enjoyable aspect of the business is dealing with people who are in need and assisting them with their various situations.

“A lot of us don’t know what draws you to the law until after you start doing it,” Eric Costine said. “Then you realize the different things that you like. You like helping people. Try to solve their problems. That’s in essence what we do. We try to offer advice and counsel because we’re skilled in the law. We know what people can and what they can’t do in different situations, and we try to guide them as best we can.”

He said one element of the law is giving their clients the best legal tools to accomplish their needs.

“In some businesses, you’re the boss. In this business, the client’s the boss, so we have to do what they want us to do,” Eric Costine said. “We’re serving them.”

Much of their work includes purchasing real estate and helping their clients secure the optimum contracts through negotiations, as well as providing defense when clients are facing criminal charges.

“This practice has always been very general. It’s a small town. It’s a small, rural county and we’ve represented a lot of farmers in the past, done a lot of income tax returns,” Eric Costine said. “Dad’s done hundreds of income tax returns over the years.”

John Costine said he is proud of his sons, who have overseen modernization of the firm from the “one-man show” John Elwood Costine started.

“I can actually remember Dad getting a copy machine up here, and we thought that was huge technology at the time. You could make a copy of something,” Eric Costine said. “Technology has certainly changed things.”

“When they came in, they got me into the computer age,” John Costine added.

Eric Costine has practiced law for 34 years and Mark Costine for 19 years, spending time outside the office as a judge. John Elwood practiced 34 years and John for 69.

The family has practiced law for a combined 156 years and counting.

Eric Costine reflected on his father’s commitment to the work.

“I just saw that he was very dedicated to what he did, and it was his dedication to the law and to the people that he was serving,” Eric Costine said.

Mark Costine served as Juvenile and Probate Court judge from 1998 until his retirement from the bench in 2018 due to health reasons, and Eric Costine has been a judge of Belmont County Western Division Court since 2013 on a part-time basis and still practices law at the family firm.

“I feel very fortunate to have been able to practice general law in a small city for these years,” J. Mark Costine said. “That gives you an opportunity to represent people in a lot of different areas of the law. You remain proficient in a variety of topics. One of the nicest things is just being able to meet so many wonderful people over that period of time, and I look forward to continuing that.”

He added that he intends to resume work at the firm.

“It’s one of those occupations where you never retire,” he said.

Among John Elwood Costine’s notable cases from the 1940s was the defense of Laverne Minnette, who was on trial for conducting illegal abortions.

Eric Costine represented Nawaz Ahmed in a divorce case. Ahmed later committed and was convicted of the quadruple murder of his wife and her family members in the late 1990s. He remains on Death Row.

So far, the firm has received no recognition from the state or local bar association regarding its 100-year milestone. The Costines said any possible event to mark the centennial was forestalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the beginning of the year we kind of realized this is 100 years, and then COVID hit,” Eric Costine said. “We hope we have been able to do good things for the people of this county. We’ve been dedicated to our clients and worked and served our clients, and we hope that they all appreciate that.”

The Costines have no plans for retirement, although their children are not looking to join the legal field.

“Not right now,” Eric Costine said.

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