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Campbell hits a triple for the College
Campbell hits a triple for the College of Law
Author Gordon Campbell, left, with Professor Michael
Berch, points out where he sat in the Great Hall
when he was a law student at ASU.
During a trio of events for the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Gordon Campbell showed that his superb storytelling abilities aren’t limited to the printed page.
Campbell, a 1972 alumnus of the College of Law, successful trial attorney and author of the set-in-Arizona crime thriller,
, talked about his formative years in Arizona, the early days of the College and his smash-hit first novel at a variety of events on Feb. 5 and 6. His audiences at programs in the morning, at noon and at night included law students, alumni, former classmates, attorneys and avid mystery readers.
Along the way, he told tales of encounters with people who shaped the legal system in Phoenix and across Arizona in the 1960s and 1970s, among them, Barry Goldwater, legendary attorneys John P. Frank and John J. Flynn, about whom Campbell’s book is based, Willard H. Pedrick, the College of Law’s founding dean, law-school chum Hattie Babbitt and others.
He and law professor Michael Berch participated in “Inside the Lawyers Practice,” an interactive evening in the style of television’s
Inside the Actors Studio,
which was held in the Great Hall, where Campbell attended lectures as a first-year law student in 1969.
“I had no appreciation of how I would feel when I walked into this room,” Campbell told the gathering of about 100 people.
Berch and Campbell were introduced by Professor Alan Matheson. “He’s a remarkable person, an outstanding teacher, and he’s in perpetual motion with his voice rising and falling and startling students,” said Matheson of Berch, a colleague for nearly 40 years. “He is one of the most creative and generous persons I have ever known.”
Matheson then told the story of Campbell and his wife, Tena, who was pregnant while in law school at ASU, but was able to hold off delivering their baby until finishing her last exam, with her husband waiting in the wings. Tena Campbell is now a federal judge in Salt Lake City, and their daughter, Mary, is a graduate of Yale Law School.
Attorney and author Gordon Campbell
“We claim partial interest in this family,” Matheson said.
In a relaxed Q & A format, Berch coaxed memories from Campbell about his first experience with Pedrick, who convinced him to attend ASU’s new law school, rather than Boalt Hall at the University of California, Berkeley. Pedrick bragged about the collection of law books that founding librarian Richard Dahl had assembled and the impressive faculty that have been hired.
“`There’s not a law student in the country who wouldn’t be lucky to sit in the classroom with these people’,” Pedrick, whom Campbell described as “a tight-knit guy wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a bowtie,” told him.
Campbell also divulged his second experience with Pedrick, which occurred on his first day of class.
“I heard one of the most horrible sounds a person could hear: `Gordon Campbell?’” Campbell said, recalling how Pedrick had called on him to talk about a case, admonished him to “be vertical” while answering and then called on another student who put Campbell to shame.
Despite that, “Pedrick was about the nicest guy I’d ever met,” he said.
Campbell said his second class was with Professor Jonathan Rose, who also called on him right away, but was able to calm Campbell’s jitters. “He was an inspiration to me,” Campbell said of Rose. “Going into his class, things were linear, and it made sense to me. I appreciated that.”
Berch, a former trial attorney in Manhattan, asked Campbell to compare the practice of law 35 years ago to today. In the old days, attorneys took the time to get to know everyone at the courthouse, from the bailiffs and the secretaries to opposing counsel and judges, Campbell said, a practice that’s been lost. Today’s jury summations also are much different, in that, as Berch said, “It’s not the law, it’s the theatrics.”
Campbell, who’s of counsel at the Salt Lake City firm of Parsons Behle & Latimer, agreed: “If you can’t somehow create a theatrical, dramatic experience, you are risking big trouble with an American jury.”
Not only was Campbell inspired by working with attorneys Frank and Flynn during and after law school, he also got the idea for a good yarn from them. Campbell remembered helping Flynn defend a man who shot his wife to death, then claimed to witnesses that she’d deserved it. A jury declared him not guilty by reason of insanity, but during sentencing, the judge ruled the man sane, pointed out the prosecution had failed to prove him guilty, and let him go.
“I never thought about that until I heard a couple of years later that the same guy had remarried and tried to do it again,” Campbell confessed. “And I started thinking about how can you feel good about defending someone who you know in your heart is guilty of some horrible, serious crime?”
Answering his own question, Campbell said, “We’re duty bound … we have to … we get paid for it. But I got to thinking, maybe I could write a story where I could twist things up, and the lawyers would have to think about what they did.”
In 1979, Campbell took his misgivings about that trial, combined them with his homesickness for Arizona and his memories of Flynn and Frank and began writing his book. He drove a camper to the banks of the Big Wood River in Idaho, where he would write all morning, then jog into town at noon. He met Jack Hemingway, who gave Campbell a piece of literary advice, courtesy of his famous father, Ernest.
“He said, `First drafts are always (expletive deleted)’,” Campbell said.
More than 25 years and several revisions later,
was read by Campbell’s friend, Betsy Burton, owner of The King’s English, a Salt Lake City bookstore. Burton loved it and made arrangements for people up the book-publishing chain to read, buy and print it.
The New York Times
best-seller list shortly after its publication last fall, and recently was nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar (after Edgar Allan Poe) Award in the category of First Novel by an American Author. The winner will be announced in May.
During a talk before about 200 at the annual Alumni Association luncheon, Campbell said he’d learned a lot about practicing law by listening to and observing the best in the business, among them John O’Connor and Harry Cavanaugh.
“There was this contingent of Irish Catholics, they all knew each other and were close in age and had all gone to St. Mary’s High School,” he said. “They had a certain affection for each other, but they were also fiercely competitive. Everyone in Phoenix, it seemed to me, knew each other.”
Campbell also spoke to a group of first-year law students during a session conducted by Dean Patricia White, who said she gave copies of
to both retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth McGregor, chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.
“It captures the feeling of being a litigator, and it’s a primer about evidence,” White said. “It also has extremely evocative descriptions of Phoenix and what it was like here in the `70s.”
Campbell told the students about his days as editor-in-chief of the
, where he solicited John Frank to write a eulogy about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who died in the fall of 1971, and convinced President Lyndon Johnson and Goldwater to write articles for the
when U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden died a few months later.
“I remember how scared I was my entire first semester; I didn’t think I would make it past the first year,” Campbell said.
But he kept studying, he said, and has never forgotten something Berch told him after class when he was a third-year student. “He said, `You know something? You have talent. You should always remember that’,” Campbell said. “That’s the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me, and there have been times when I’ve been so scared at trial, and those words have gotten me through some tough times.”
Campbell passed along his own advice to the students: “Be careful when you leave here, because sometimes the jobs that look the best aren’t the best for anybody,” he said. “Whenever you hear these people talking about the big jobs, go out there and find something you really like. And know that it may take some looking around.”