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Oyer is sitting at the dining room table in the colonial house he bought ten years ago, late-afternoon light spilling through French doors. He's a full partner now with the West Palm law firm Shutts & Bowen. He's engaged to be married, and he's hip deep in a project to restore a historic African-American neighborhood to be called Mickens Village. Oyer's house is fully restored too, decorated austerely in traditional American antiques. Fresh flowers sit in all the vases; a baby grand piano takes up a corner of the sunroom. His fiancée's daughter, 10-year-old Francesca, is dressed in a sparkly ice-skating costume. She taps away at the piano keys.
Oyer has spread out a series of books and photos: The centennial edition of a history of Palm Beach County published by the Palm Beach Post; Pierce's Pioneer Life in Southeast Florida, and his own children's book, published in 2008, The Adventures of Charlie Pierce: The American Jungle. The illustration of young Charlie on the cover — windswept reddish-blond hair, blue eyes wide in curiosity or surprise — could be a picture of a younger Oyer.
In 2007, Oyer recalls, in the middle of the by-then very public federal investigation, he was invited to be keynote speaker at the grand opening of the refurbished old courthouse. He gestures to a photo of himself delivering the address, later published on the front page of the Palm Beach Post. "What you can't see in the picture," he says, "are the 600 people sitting in the audience. At the podium beside me were all the county commissioners. I had huge public support. Since then, I've been elected to directorships of the Red Cross, the Science Museum. I've received citizenship awards. I've been voted museum trustee of the year." This year, he was included in the 2010 edition of The Best Lawyers in America.
A Florida boy with deep roots, Oyer is a shiny cultural artifact in his own right. When the Masilotti scandal broke, Oyer had volunteered thousands of hours to charities. He'd saved the old courthouse. Even now, he says, sketching a map on a piece of scrap paper, he's involved in a deal to create a connecting swath of land between two Florida panther habitats, vastly increasing the animals' range and mobility. People in high places still speak well of him. Ask philanthropist George Elmore, County Commissioner Karen Marcus, Lantana Town Manager Mike Bornstein, publicist Carey O'Donnell. They all say the same thing: Harvey Oyer is an upright man, passionate and driven. He lives to serve his community.
How did his involvement in the Masilotti investigation affect his reputation?
"If anything, my reputation was strengthened," Oyer muses. "It's a weird case where the community just refused to believe it. Life went on as usual."
He adamantly denies that his part in the deals helped win Masilotti's support for the courthouse. He says he won't comment on what may be an ongoing case but then says the affair is in the past — at once dismissing it as history and alluding to the possibility that others may still be under investigation.
Oyer would rather talk about his work on the old courthouse. "People were saying it couldn't be done," he says. "But there was a desire for leadership, someone to take the project in a new direction. I had this unique advantage in that I had ownership interest in this community. And I had skill sets from my archaeological and legal training. The historical fabric of this place gave me an opportunity and a position of authority. I had an unwavering idea: I simply had no vision of it ever failing."
Through a decade of public service, Oyer answered the same questions he'd raised the night he launched his campaign to save the courthouse: What is our identity? Who are we as a people? As it turned out, the identity we yearned for looked very much like Harvey Oyer.