ATLANTA -- The entire bond department of Birmingham-based Cabaniss, Johnston, Gardner, Dumas & O'Neal, one of Alabama's oldest law practices, recently left that firm to form a new law practice.

The bond lawyers were part of a group of 24 lawyers who quietly packed up and left the 104-year-old firm over the Labor Day weekend to set up Walston, Stabler, Wells, Anderson & Bain, said Robert H. Walston, a former bond lawyer at Cabaniss and the senior partner at the new firm.

The bond department at the new firm will continue a practice limited to Alabama clients and maintain the emphasis on county and small-city issuers that had been developed at Cabaniss Johnson, Mr. Walston-said yesterday.

"At Cabaniss we had clients in all 67 counties in Alabama and did not do work with the larger issuers," he said. "We will continue to work with that client base and our approach will not change."

Mr. Walston said that besides himself, the new firm includes each of the other four partners at Cabaniss who do bond work: Charles L. Hayes, James L. Birchall, Heyward C. Hosch 3d, and Lawrence Dumas 3d, all partners.

Mr. Walston said the decision to start the new firm was not specifically related ro Cabaniss's bond practice, but had rather to do with "overall differences in how the practice of law should be approached." He said the differences between lawyers at Cabaniss Johnston had evolved gradually and led to a period of negotiations beginning late last year.

"Nobody took any files at midnight, and there were no fisticuffs in the hallways. The parting was as amicable as partings can be," he said. "We just decided to form our own firm to reach out for more community involvement and involve more diversity of practice."

Bond lawyers at other law firms in Alabama, who declined to be identified, said yesterday they were not surprised at the departures, and confirmed Mr. Walston's description that the departures were friendly. "This is a straightforward parting of ways," said one bond lawyer. "It does not seem to be a bitter divorce."

William A. Robinson, a partner at Cabiniss, said yesterday that his firm "does not anticipate remaining active in municipal finance in the near future."

Mr. Robinson said that the departure of the lawyers from the firm had taken place "for a variety of personal reasons," but declined to be more specific. "They left with our unanimous consent and we wish them well," he added.

Walston Stabler will start with a total staff of 47, and will include 14 partners and nine associates. Besides municipal finance, the new law firm will have departments handling litigation and legal matters related to bankruptcy, commercial lending, real estate, and securities. Mr. Walston said thefirm has no plans to add any more bond lawyers at present.

In addition to maintaining its clientele of bond issuers, hte new firm will also continue to work as general counsel for the Birmingham Water Works and Sewer Board; Gulf Shores, Ala.; and CSH Transportation.

Mr. Walston noted that most of Cabaniss's bond law department had dated to the firm's 1974 merger with Birmingham-based Dumas, O'Neil and Hayes.

So far this year, Cabaniss Johnston has ranked third as bond counsel among issuers in Alabama, having worked on 25 issues totaling $182 million, for 7.9% share of deals in the state, according to Securities Data Co./The Bond Buyer. Balch & Bingham, ranked first with eight deals totaling $208.1 million; and Bradley Arant Rose & White ranekd second with 25 deals totaling $202.6 million. Both firms are also based in Birmingham.

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