Regular readers of this page know better than to expect consistency over time. I write what I think, and what I feel: My thoughts and feelings change over time. This inconsistency can breed ill-will. There are times I simply need to eat crow and say I am sorry, as I do now, to a man who gave me far more than he ever asked for in return, Gerry Spence.
I’ve on only a handful of occasions taken a post down. I spent five years as an editorial writer, writing daily opinion pieces for newspapers. Once something appeared in print, it could never be recalled. There is something honorable about that. If you say it, own it. The electronic world fosters a species of cowardice. It’s too easy to remove something once it’s been said.
But I did pull a piece I posted last year that was critical of Gerry Spence. I did so after someone whose opinion I value called me on it.
You see, I now represent Gerry Spence in a dispute with the Trial Lawyers College he founded. There are suits pending in state and federal courts in Wyoming and in state court in California. (My application to appear pro hoc vice in California on his behalf is pending; I represent a party similarly situated to Spence in the Wyoming federal case.)
How could I represent Spence and his interests while simultaneously being publicly critical of him? What’s more, why would I represent Spence, given the criticism?
The caller was polite, and did not intend to shoot to kill, but his words found their mark.
I pulled the piece, and write now, briefly, to explain why I did so.
I am a sinner, through and through. I know most of the seven deadly sins intimately. I am vain, given to anger, to sloth, to envy. When Paul wrote “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” he didn’t know it, but he was writing about me.
I attended the Trial Lawyers College in 1997. Why? I wanted to be a great lawyer, and Spence was a master. I looked at him, and thought, I can do as well or better. I’ll go learn from him.
The college was 30 days long in those days. We spent the month of August on an old cattle ranch Spence once owned. Spence was generous and open with me. In a psychodrama, he played the father who abandoned me. I think he was startled when I placed a kiss upon his lips in a mock funeral. (I had never so kissed a man, other than my son before.)
For the next couple of years, I was invited to be on the staff of the college. I traveled around the country on behalf of the college, seeing Spence in New York, California and other places. I was a guest in his home in Wyoming. In some twisted sort of way, I imagined him to become the father I never had. That’s not something he asked for. It is something I imposed on him. I never forgave him for not filling the role my real father walked away from fulfilling. I see that now.
Of course, I came away disappointed. Some wounds don’t heal, and our efforts to balm them compound pain. What’s more, I realized I could not best Spence: He says he has never lost a criminal case; I’ve won many, but I’ve lost a lot, too, and my nights are heavy with the sights and sounds of men and women in despair, not to mention the suicides, despair from which I could not save them.
I turned on Spence. Publicly, and bitterly. I did it on these pages.
Thus, when litigation erupted between Spence and members of the college he founded, I delighted the way small-minded people do. I took pleasure in schadenfreude.
When asked to represent him, I was stunned. Would a man I had turned on welcome me? He did so, with open arms, arms capable of embracing all my pettiness and more. It is this generosity that makes him a legend.
Each and every person involved in the litigation involving Spence and the Trial Lawyers College came to the college out of respect for Spence. Those who remained declared their love of the man. Why can’t that love be summoned now to end the dispute?
Spence is 92 years old. We should be celebrating the man and all that he did in court, and for all we lawyers who came to learn from him learned. Instead, good lawyers gird for internecine warfare. To what end?
I am asking each and every member of the tribe, for that is what we call and called ourselves, to put aside rancor and to come together in the time that remains to honor a man who gave us all so much. We were all adults when we took from him, each responding with secret needs of our own; some, like mine, are simply too deep to be satisfied.
Recall those days at the Ranch when you were summoned to address the demons holding you back? Why not a fresh resolve to do likewise now?
I am representing Spence not because he is perfect, but, candidly, because he needs a lawyer. He created a mountain, and now that he is too frail to climb it, others seek to play at king of the hill. Build your own mountains, each of you. And do so now. Let’s spend the summer in a wild frenzy of reconciliation with a man who taught us to be better warriors.