When Tony Scheer talks about his childhood in Syracuse, New York, he recalls summers on the water.
“Even though I grew up nowhere near the ocean, I was a water guy,” he says. Scheer loved to sail and water ski, and he was obsessed with underwater explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau. His parents were both waterfront directors at a summer camp. “We were a water family.”
Scheer, 62, a partner at Rawls, Scheer, Clary & Mingo, always wanted to be a diver and marine biologist. At 10, he saved up enough money to get his junior scuba certification. Years later, as a teenager, he earned the title of dive master.
Scheer graduated Duke in 1979, law school nowhere on his rader. Instead, he became a scuba instructor and a partner of Water World, a local boat and scuba shop. Over eight years, Scheer taught almost 1,000 people how to scuba dive, completing thousands of dives off the coast.
“The North Carolina coast is some of the very best scuba diving in the world,” he says. “Shipwrecks in fairly deep water, fairly long boat rides offshore. It’s amazingly clear water.”
Shark-friendly, too. Scheer has had hundreds of encounters. “They’re out there. Some big, some small,” he says. “Some more concerning, like tiger sharks or bull sharks, than others. We’ve had some mutual-curiosity moments, but they’re never any kind of a threat.”
One of Scheer’s favorite diving spots is about 30 miles off of Morehead City’s coast. The wreck is of U-352, a German sub that was active in the World War II U-boat attacks along the Carolina coast before the Coast Guard sunk it in 1942. “Before we even went [all the way] down, you could see this German submarine laying on the bottom in its entirety. No murkiness; with big fish circling around,” he says. “It’s just breathtaking.”
He wanted to keep it that way. “I was toiling in a retail business that involves all my favorite things,” he says, “and it was kind of spoiling them.” When he decided to leave the boat and scuba business, he didn’t know much except he wanted to help people.
A child of the ’60s and ’70s, Scheer was a member of the Syracuse Peace Council and a “war-protesting teenager.” “I’ve always been aware of how the justice system can be a rough place for people,” he says. “I wanted to become a criminal defense lawyer and help people in that way.”
After he graduated UNC Chapel Hill in 1992, he briefly worked as a law clerk in the federal courts for the Eastern District of Virginia before he returned to North Carolina to take a job at the District Attorney’s Office.
“I was a little skeptical of being a prosecutor at first,” he says, “but the judge that I was working for [in Virginia] convinced me that it would be a great way to start my career.”
As a prosecutor, Scheer witnessed some of Charlotte’s most violent years—in 1993, his first year on the job, there were 129 murders. Scheer was on the crimes against persons team, trying robbery, murder and sex offense cases. In 1995, he tried one of the first DNA-based sex offense prosecutions in the state. “I got great experience,” he says. “Even though I went to law school to become a criminal defense lawyer, I loved that job. Still miss it sometimes.” Today, Scheer focuses on criminal defense and white collar and violent crime.
Married with kids, Scheer doesn’t get out to the coast as much anymore, but he’s still a water guy. The coast, he says, “was the reason I fell in love with North Carolina, and it was a big part of the reason I stayed.”