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John F. Sutton Jr.’s office at the University of Texas School of Law is filled with memories. On one wall hangs a picture of the first UT law school building, which Sutton says was old even when he attended the school. “It’s long since gone,” he muses. Another piece of memorabilia is a ruler with Donald Duck figures affixed to it. “One of my torts classes gave me that,” Sutton says. “When they were off track in their logic, I’d tell them, “Get your ducks in a row.’ They gave me my ducks in a row. “ Sutton — who has been an FBI agent, a lawyer, dean of the UT law school and a law professor — will officially end his 46-year-long teaching career on Jan. 15. “This will be the first time I’ve been out of a job since I was a research assistant to [UT School of Law] Dean Ira P. Hildebrand in 1940,” Sutton says. Sutton, who will turn 86 later this month, says he will keep his office at the law school and continue researching and writing in his areas of expertise, which include professional responsibility and evidence. He was a reporter for the committee that drafted the American Bar Association’s Code of Professional Responsibility and a co-drafter of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct adopted by the State Bar of Texas in 1990. But while Sutton says he looks forward to having time to do more in-depth writing, retiring from the classroom is distressful. “I’m going to miss the students,” he says. Austin attorney Phyllis Pollard, a December 1984 UT law school graduate who served as Sutton’s research assistant and is one of his former students, says Sutton was entertaining as well as informative in the classroom. “He always had time for his students after class,” says Pollard, now a partner in Scott, Douglass & McConnico. Sutton graduated from the UT law school in 1941, with his wife, Nancy, one of only four women in their class. His father, John F. Sutton, at one time the presiding judge of the 51st District Court in San Angelo, and uncle, Claude R. Sutton, formerly a justice on the 8th Court of Appeals in El Paso, also graduated from UT law school. In 1976, his son, retired 119th District Judge John Ewing Sutton, became the third generation in the family to graduate from the law school. Although teaching the law was Sutton’s goal when he graduated, he wanted to have experience before he returned to the classroom. “I thought that I’d like to teach, but I thought I ought to get out there and practice first,” he says. After receiving his law license in 1941, Sutton became an associate with San Antonio’s Brooks, Napier, Brown & Matthews (now Matthews and Branscomb). But when World War II began, Sutton decided to make a change. He joined the FBI on March 2, 1942, and became a special agent. Corwin Johnson, professor emeritus at the UT law school and also a former FBI agent, says Sutton wasn’t too happy when his first assignment as an agent took him to Butte, Mont. Johnson says the bureau often sent agents to Butte for disciplinary purposes, although Sutton wasn’t sent there for that reason. “It was considered a sort of Siberia,” Johnson says. “John considered that [assignment] a practical joke played on him.” But Johnson says Sutton didn’t have to stay long in Butte. One of his duties with the FBI, Sutton says, was to investigate potential espionage or sabotage. “Anytime there was an industrial accident, everybody thought it was sabotage. We investigated; it wasn’t,” he recalls. At one point during the war, Sutton says, the FBI received a report that two German saboteurs had landed in this country, and agents were sent to cover airports and train and bus stations all along the East Coast. Sutton says he was sent to a snowbound airport in Allentown, Pa., even though no planes were flying in or out of there. “I spent three or four days there playing gin rummy with an airline hostage,” he says. “That was my experience with German espionage. “ Sutton resigned from the FBI in December 1946. “I wanted to get back to practicing law,” he says. Sutton says he returned to San Antonio, where he practiced with his former firm, the forerunner of Matthews and Branscomb, for two years before returning to San Angelo, where he practiced with Sutton, Steib & Barr, focusing on civil trial work and oil and gas law, until he joined the UT law school faculty in 1957. Page Keeton, who then was dean of the law school, hired him as a full professor with tenure, Sutton says. “When I was the dean, I never hired anyone that way,” he says. ON THE RANCH During his first few years at the law school, Sutton says he taught 10 or 12 different courses. He later taught torts, evidence and professional responsibility. Pollard, Sutton’s former research assistant, says she was in Sutton’s professional responsibility class. Sutton often told his students “war stories” from his law practice days that illustrated the responsibility a lawyer has, she says. One of those stories, Pollard says, was from Sutton’s days as a young lawyer. Pollard says a client had asked Sutton a question for which he didn’t have an answer but the client kept pressing Sutton for an answer anyway. “I can either research it, or do you want me to guess?” Sutton eventually told the client, Pollard says. The lesson that a lawyer should look up an answer, not guess at it, has stuck with her over the years, she says. Sutton’s biggest challenges at the law school probably came in 1979, after Ernest Smith resigned as dean. David Anderson, another UT law professor, says a dean selection committee made up of faculty from the law school and other departments at the university had recommended a short list of candidates for dean. Anderson says the committee submitted its picks, including current UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof, a native of Philadelphia, to Lorene Rogers, then president of the university. Alumni who served as trustees of the UT Law School Foundation persuaded Rogers to reject the list and to seek someone from Texas, he says. “People were furious,” Anderson says. “Some people were threatening to leave. It was just absolute turmoil. It was the first time we had seen alumni interfere with the law school.” When Rogers asked for more names, the committee added Sutton’s name to the list “very reluctantly,” Anderson says, because faculty members felt as if they had already made their choices clear. Anderson says Rogers picked Sutton, who didn’t accept immediately. “John just sat tight for a few days,” Anderson says. “He waited until the situation calmed down.” Johnson says the faculty’s animosity wasn’t directed at Sutton because he was not part of the selection process. “The faculty united behind him,” Johnson says. One of the first things Sutton did when he became the dean was to appoint Yudof as an associate dean for academic affairs, a position that focused on the internal affairs at the law school. “It’s probably the most brilliant thing I did as dean,” Sutton says of his decision to promote Yudof. “He’s a brilliant administrator.” Yudof attributes much of his success to Sutton, who he says was a great mentor. “He worked hard on turning a Philadelphia lawyer into a Texan,” Yudof says of Sutton. “He even took me out to Callahan’s General Store [in Austin] and bought me a pair of cowboy boots.” When Sutton decided to step down as dean and return to the classroom in 1984, Yudof became his successor. Sutton says his wife, who retired from the Texas Office of the Attorney General in the mid-1980s, may find before long that she doesn’t want him around the house so much after he retires. But Sutton says he can always work on fences on the ranch near San Angelo where he spent much of his youth. “I spent a lot of time out working on the ranch,” he says. “I’m probably one of the few people alive who has used a team of mules to plow.” While Sutton doesn’t retire until the middle of this month, he taught his last class on Dec. 3. What he likes best about teaching, Sutton says, is matching wits with the students. But he says it’s time for him to retire. Notes Sutton: “A lot of my early students are grandfathers now.”

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