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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Gerry Spence and His Manque Warriors

I occasionally receive invitations/solicitations by email to attend one of the regional seminars produced by the Trial Lawyers College. That's the outfit Gerry Spence started years ago to train criminal defense and plaintiffs' personal injury lawyers to be better advocates. Spence's methods are unconventional - sort of a blend of method acting and encounter group. Those who can afford to be away from work and home, and pay the tuition, can attend Spence's month long residential program at his ranch outside Jackson Hole, WY.

I attended a short seminar at MO-Ranch, outside Kerrville about 12 years ago. I benefited from it, mainly by getting loosened up and more natural. I especially enjoyed, and benefited from, the sessions with Josh Karton, a screenwriter, actor, and acting coach.

Of course, the great man himself was there. I was a little disappointed. I had built Spence up in my mind as this legend, not only a great lawyer, but a humanitarian, who genuinely cared for people. It was hero-worship. The one time I tried to talk with him one on one, he wouldn't make eye contact, and seemed bored, going through the motions. There was another incident I've remembered, that has stuck in my mind. He didn't wear his trademark fringed buckskin coat or cowboy hat. Instead, he wore your basic Nike track suit and running shoes. After one of his talks, he stepped off the little stage, and his leg buckled and he almost fell. The mask fell away, and a look of fear - of falling, of failure? - crossed his face. He caught himself, straightened up, and the mask descended again.

We were, we were told, all "warriors." That's what Spence and his organization call themselves and their the "Alumni Tribe."The College even has its own magazine, called "Warrior."

There were about three days of training. The last session was held on a Sunday morning. There was nothing of substance in that session. We all sat around and talked about how we had been transformed by our three and a half days with "Gerry." Then he got down to business, asking us to pledge money so that the good work of the Trial College could continue, and our less successful (financially) brothers and sisters could partake of the wisdom and magic. It was like some of the revivals I had to attend in the Baptist Church, with people trying to out-hallelujah each other. Only here, it was like bidding, with Spence's shills writing down how much the acolytes pledged on big sheets of paper. Others made sure they got the names of the "donors" written down. I got caught up in it, and stood up, just like I did when I gave my life to Jesus, and said I would pledge $5,000 from a big case, that I was sure was going to pay the jackpot when I got back to Houston and used my new Gerry Spence mojo. I got so worked up, I bid against myself, up to $10,000. Of course, the big jackpot didn't materialize. But that didn't stop Gerry, who barely lowered himself to converse with me, from writing me florid letters, calling me his good friend, profusely apologizing for not personally thanking me for my generous "gift," and so on.

When the great one had to leave us to catch a plane, the crowd (me too) began chanting, just like the morons on the old Jerry Springer show, "Gerry! Gerry! Gerry!"

Scott Greenfield, from New York dares ask the question in his blog Simple Justice- a New York Criminal Defense Blog, is TLC a cult? He asks, "What hole exists in the psyche that makes some people, some lawyers, feel the need to make someone their leader, and them his follower? Whatever it is, whether the cool-aid, the fear, the lack of self-esteem, it's flowing freely at Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyer College. And Norm Pattis has become the target of their ire."

I am frankly embarrassed when I reflect on how gullible and foolish I was. The only reason I'm telling this story on myself is this: today I got another email announcement of a TLC regional seminar, wit a picture of some of the "Warriors" sitting listening to the guru. It just strikes me as pretentious and wrong, when we have real warriors serving this country at great danger and sacrifice in hellholes like Iraq and Afghanistan. Go to San Antonio some time to one of the malls and you'll see some of the wounded vets on leave from Brooks Army Medical Base, missing limbs, blind, and burned. It is an affront to them for anyone who didn't wear a uniform to call himself or herself a "warrior."


  1. I read about Judge Emmerson's 80 year sentence for the guy who had some illegal photographs. I was stunned at the sentence. I thought we had some new blood on that bench and things were going to be different. What in the world happened?

  2. The statute on child porn makes it s 3rd degree felony, punishable by 2-10 yrs. The State can charge a defendant for each image in the same indictment. So, if a defendant has 1,000 images (which is a low number in most of these cases), he could get a 100,000 year sentence. Now, if you're the judge, who is an elected official, how are you going to explain to the voters why you only sentenced someone with 12,000 CP images to ten years?

  3. Thanks for explaining the politics of the situation. I had a feeling this was more about the political future of the judge and less about the proper and fair application of the law.

    I see child porn cases in the papers almost every day. I have never seen an 80 year sentence, or anything close. His crime, as I understand it, was downloading information from the internet. Kerrville is known as a punitive venue, loaded with mean spirited Christians that pat themselves on the back at First United Methodist on Sunday for being compassionate and then enjoy the power of punishment on Monday. I thought Emmerson was different. I have seen judges seduced by local culture many times, but not quite this fast. Perhaps convicted fellow needs some counseling and oversight, not a death sentence in a pure hell hole.

    1. I've got mixed feelings on this one. I was the defendant's lawyer in the case you are talking about. I expected a serious sentence, say 20 yrs, and was disappointed at the 80 yr sentence. However, being a consumer of CP is not a victimless crime. If there were no customers, the degenerates who produce it wouldn't have a market. I believe the drug sentences in this country are far more unreasonable and most drugs should be decriminalized. Not so with CP, which is just evil.

  4. Of course we all agree that CP is terrible, however an 80 year sentence for CP that was downloaded is something straight out of Iran or Saudi. Other judges don't do it. Why do we do it? Why is it that no one speaks out when we see obvious judicial grandstanding? Why is Kerrville so punitive and mean spirited?

    I have heard so many good things about Emmerson. Is he falling into the hang'em high Judge Prohl school of law?

  5. I read the paper, and that is all I know. There just must be more to this picture than I have seen. Emerson is a good guy, and in the one dealing I had with him, he was un-assuming, and humble, as a person, and he was impressive as a judge. An 80 year sentence for this type of crime is the "death sentence" - most likely! The radicals are alive and well in the Hill Country. If you are going run for elected office aroung here, you better get crazy to please the crazies.

  6. My Christian friend had a vision of the white throne judgment. There were many,many dressed in business suits. Many were lawyers and many were judges. As they approached the front of the line they ran away. There was no where for them to escape and they just ended up back in line. An 80 year sentence is over doing it. When the judge fears man more than he/she fears God, that Judge is in for a serious unpleasant surprise. Everyone is going to spend eternity somewhere.