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It must have happened in what, maybe 1993, while I was working part-time as a Dallas County magistrate. Eight years earlier, I had hung up my vest as a criminal-defense attorney and became a journalist. But the lawyer in me still ran strong. On deep nights and weekends, I was the judge-in-the-jail, setting bail for the freshly arrested — my way of supporting my writing habit and the Constitution at the same time. At 4 a.m., I was the highest ranking judicial official in Dallas County — awake. On this particular morning, I was ready to call it a night. My eyes had grown heavy when I heard the shuffle of 30 prisoners entering the courtroom. Nevertheless, I took the bench. “Gentlemen, this is the magistrate’s court of Dallas County, and this is your arraignment. It is my job to read you your rights, to inform you of the charges against you and to set your bond. Please stand as I call your name.” I arraigned about 15 men before I came to his name: “Mr. Wallace, please stand.” A frail man with short brown hair and a flat nose rose slowly. “Mr. Wallace, you are charged with DWI 3rd — a third-degree felony. Do you understand what you are charged with?” “I do. As a matter of fact, I used to practice law.” “You did?” “As a matter of fact, I was in your class in law school.” “You were?” “Yeah, my hair was longer then.” We graduated in 1975. Everyone’s hair was longer then. I checked my paperwork. “Hal Wallace — I remember you.” Wallace was a kind of country-fried hippie, easy-going, easy to like. I thought he worked for a plaintiffs firm in Garland. How had he fallen so far? “Cocaine,” he told me when I asked. He’d already served time in prison for possession with the intent to deliver cocaine. Although he would be found not guilty of the felony DWI charge, it came too late to save his law license. In January 1993, he was disbarred because of his prior drug conviction. I wished him luck but never saw him again. He missed our 20th law school reunion at Southern Methodist University in 1995, and I didn’t expect to see him at our 30th reunion, which was held in April this year. Then again, nothing surprised me about the Class of ’75. Forged in the shadows of Vietnam and Watergate, we were an independent bunch: ex-military who had faced hell and figured law school would pale by comparison, countercultural kids who questioned everything, including why lawyers seemed to be lurking behind every public scandal, SMU establishment types whose parents had protected them from failure and who were challenged for the first time in their lives. We were a competitive bunch; the job market was lean, and we were the largest class SMU had ever accepted — more than 280 strong — which only enhanced our feelings of dispensability. There was a fixation with class ranking, which had a top spot that was claimed without contest by Charlie Moore, a Rhodes scholar and West Point grad who maintained the highest GPA in SMU law school history. But after learning how to think like lawyers, we became paragons of the profession — judges and legislators, fiery prosecutors and hot dog criminal-defense attorneys, enterprising solo practitioners and partners in downtown law firms. Or we danced with the dark side, dodging taxes, doing drugs, walking away from our practices and killing ourselves with our addictions. Law school for us was like boot camp. An esprit de corps developed from the shared misery of trying to decipher the Rule Against Perpetuities, and we became joined at the vest. Maybe it was vanity that made me think we were smarter, wittier and quicker on our feet than other classes. Now that three decades have passed, I am certain of only one thing: We are older. Our age was much in evidence when we gathered on the SMU campus on April 16 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our graduation. It somehow seemed appropriate that our reunion was being held at a museum. I went partly out of curiosity to see if people’s lives turned out the way they had planned and partly to test my journalistic hypothesis to see if law school, maybe even more than being a lawyer, was the defining experience in our lives. Lawrence Krieger, a clinical professor at Florida State University College of Law, supports this hypothesis. “All indications are that when students graduate and enter the profession they are significantly different people from those who arrive to begin law school.” But Krieger doesn’t believe this is a good thing. “Learning to think like a lawyer is a legal skill, not a life skill, and it can be dehumanizing,” he says. It seems that few of us escaped the process unchallenged, unscathed or undefeated. So for me, the question remained: Was it worth it? LOOSENING UP Somehow I managed to drag my former law partner and classmate Stuart Parker to the reunion. Parker and I met on the first day of class, forging a common bond from our insecurity about being in law school. I had good college grades and bad LSAT scores; he aced the LSAT and almost flunked out of college. Between the two of us, we made one hell of a law student. Separately, we were nervous wrecks. Parker and I were both enamored of criminal law — a holdover from our ’60s selves, no doubt. We hoped to fight the good fight, to represent the underdog, the tired, the poor. Truth is, the huddled masses are often incredibly guilty, and they seldom want to pay your fee. But we didn’t learn these truths from our criminal law professor, Robert Bogomolny, who seemed like a giant among men when he preached about mens rea and actus reus from the raised stage of the lecture hall. Minutes before our criminal law exam, Parker and I hit the coffee machine for one last burst of caffeine, a drug I only came to know in law school. Cups perched, we noticed Bogomolny walking past us. It was the first time we had ever seen him outside the classroom, and as if on cue, we turned to each other and said, “Boy, is he short.” When Parker and I arrived at the reunion, it seemed as though our anxiety had returned. It was awkward at first, making conversation with classmates whose memories of one another were frozen 30 years earlier. Some of us looked quite lawyer-like — hairlines receding, bellies protruding, worry etched deeply into our faces. About 50 of us were in attendance, which was disappointing, said Kenny Stephens, a Dallas solo who helped organize the evening. Family commitments topped the list of reasons why people couldn’t make it. Sixty of us lived out of state, more than 20 people were unfindable and 15 of us were dead. Among those deceased was Rodney Owens, whose funeral I attended in July 2003. Owens was an estate planning phenom, who would give you the shirt off his back and the whiskey in his hand. When I went through my divorce he was there for me — as he was for so many in our class. His unofficial cause of death was partying too hard. At the reunion, wine loosened things up. Bob Smith, a well-respected Dallas criminal-defense attorney, joked that Parker and I represented “the liberal wing” of the class. Truth is, there was no liberal or conservative wing, nothing to separate the blue students from the red. Sure, there were students such as Johnnie Hammonds, who came to class barefoot, and told me she wanted a law degree so she could help her friends on the beach. But beach law wasn’t particularly lucrative, and we were too busy worrying about how an octogenarian could be fertile to focus on anything that smacked of partisanship. Certainly, patterns later emerged. Lamar Smith, who wore thick black glasses before they were fashionable, now serves as a Republican congressman from San Antonio and is one of the staunchest defenders of conservative House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. He was a no-show at the reunion, though former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch, who has no qualms about touting his conservative credentials, seemed thrilled to be there. I remember Enoch as a pleasant kid from Kansas who, unlike me, seemed to savor the Socratic Method. When called upon by law professors, Enoch’s prolonged responses were guaranteed to kill a lot of class time. Enoch acknowledges that law school helped define what he became. “By the time I graduated, I felt drawn toward writing those opinions I was reading in my law books.” Swept into office in the Reagan landslide in 1980, he climbed the Republican judicial ladder from Dallas County District Court to the 5th Court of Appeals to the Texas Supreme Court. “My life turned out better than anything I imagined,” he says. “I have truly been to the mountain top.” On the other hand, David Keltner, who never made it to the mountain top (or the reunion), served on the 2nd Court of Appeals from 1986-1990 and became a progressive voice on the bench. Keltner and I were study partners throughout law school, but he excelled in moot court competition whereas I didn’t even bother to compete. “I knew when I took moot court, I had hit upon what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” says Keltner, a partner in Fort Worth’s Jose, Henry, Brandley & Keltner where he is an appellate lawyer, “if I could only get through the rest of law school.” Small wonder that Ron Williams, another classmate, called Keltner asking for help, when Williams got in trouble with the feds over a tax deal in the late ’80s. Williams played the country boy from Victoria with great aplomb. He had a big grin, a bigger heart and was the closest thing there was to a law school natural. Ranked second in the class behind Charlie Moore, he could have landed a job with any firm in the state but chose to join a small Dallas tax firm because he figured he could make partner — and fast. Single guy that I was, I had a spare couch that doubled as a bed for classmates whose marriages were falling apart. Williams came and stayed for a month, and quickly divorced, never looking back. A few years after law school, we lost touch, but I later learned from Rodney Owens that Williams quit his firm and was devising complex tax shelters for his clients — until the Internal Revenue Service finally slowed him down. On Sept. 19, 1989, Williams was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the IRS. “Ron called me to see if I would be a character witness for him,” Keltner recalls. “I said I would be happy to, but I never heard from him again.” Williams received a four-year probated sentence and was disbarred on Oct. 11, 1990, only to surface in Dade County, Fla., where he again engaged in some high-dollar fraud. By May 1997, according to press accounts, Williams was running a Miami-based investment banking firm, which offered unconventional financing to its customers. One company sued his investment bank for fraud and stock manipulation, and in 2001, it was awarded a judgment of $388 million. Collection posed a problem. In October 1998, Williams began serving a nine-year state sentence in Florida for, among other convictions, racketeering, fraud and grand theft. After reading a newspaper account, I considered writing a story about Williams. How could so much talent be squandered? How did the lights-out legal genius who had slept on my couch make such a disaster out of his life? Although Williams never answered my letters, I had no trouble convincing my editor that the story was newsworthy. At the time, I was working at the Dallas Observer, which had already published another reporter’s article on yet another one of my law school classmates, Bill Alley. I had known Alley in high school, and we sat next to each other in first year Property class. After law school graduation, he worked as an oil and gas attorney, before he secured the rights to manufacture a line of collectable toy figurines. In March 1991, Alley’s pregnant wife reported him missing, after he didn’t return from a business trip to Manhattan. Alley already had four children whom he and his wife were home-schooling. New York police detectives said they were baffled by his disappearance. Alley later turned up in Lynchburg, Va., living as a single man under a different name. Ironically, in high school, Alley had been voted “Most Dependable” by our senior class. Not surprisingly, neither Williams, who was released from prison in 2002, nor Alley, who could not be located before presstime, made an appearance at our 30th reunion. SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION At the reunion dinner, we sat with Mary McKnight and Brian Webb, two prominent Dallas family lawyers who tailored their practices to family law fresh out of law school. Others at the table seemed content to chat about the present, but I purposefully pulled us back into the past. Was it true that a first-year had freaked out on the steps of her dorm and methodically ripped out the pages of her contracts hornbook? “It was “Calamari on Contracts,’” chimed McKnight. “I watched her ripping it apart page by page. The pressure just got to her.” Less than 10 percent of our class was women, and McKnight can recall that many of the men didn’t quite know how to treat them. “I was one of six or seven women who were asked to join the honorary legal fraternity,” she says. “After the rush party was held at a Dallas strip joint, several of us wrote a letter in protest. Rather than apologize, the fraternity just withdrew our bids.” McKnight said she never felt intimidated by law school — being ex-military and slightly older. That fearlessness carried over to her family law practice, where she has been a crusading lawyer for clients whose estranged spouses have hired some of the heavier-hitters in the family law bar such as Mike McCurley, Ike Vanden Eykel and Brian Webb. I turned to Webb and asked him if he knew whatever happened to Robert Rose who was, by far, our most notorious classmate. But there were so many Rose stories, it was difficult separating fact from fiction. I knew Rose from college when we were rush captains in the same fraternity. He made a great first impression, but it tended to wane once you met him a second time. At the reunion, Parker confirmed the definitive Rose story. Rose was in ethics class and posed a question for the professor: Say a client wants you to represent him when he buys a piece of property, because he knows a highway is coming through, and the land will skyrocket in value. Is it OK to decline representation and then buy the land before he does? The ethics professor never said a word, Parker recalled. He just stared at Rose for what seemed like forever, then gathered his notes and walked out of class. After Rose passed the bar, he opened a criminal-defense shop in Dallas and built a lucrative practice. But a bitter second divorce brought his flashy lifestyle and business practices to the attention of the IRS. Rumors were flying in the Dallas press that Rose was cooperating with a federal investigation into corruption within the Dallas judiciary. Rose denied he was snitching on judges, and no one was indicted. No one, that is, but Rose. In 1995, he was convicted of tax evasion and wire fraud, and began serving a 16-month sentence. Webb said he hadn’t heard anything about Rose — other than the fact that he had been released from prison. Reportedly, federal prison officials in their wisdom had seen fit to release Rose to a halfway house in Las Vegas, of all places. McKnight heard he was parking cars at a Las Vegas casino. I had heard he was a door man there — that is, until about four years ago when rumors spread through the Dallas courthouse that Rose had been shot dead in Las Vegas. Figuring it might be a story, I contacted the Las Vegas coroner and learned that Rose had died only weeks before. But he was an older man than our Rose, and the man had died of natural causes. Apparently rumors of Rose’s death had been greatly exaggerated. Rose also could not be located before presstime. In his day, Rose did manage to do something I didn’t: try a boatload of cases. To get trial experience, several in my law class who were defense-minded made the philosophical leap to the prosecution’s side of the docket. Rick Russell and Ken Carden went to work in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. Rusty Hardin got a job with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Hardin became one of the most respected prosecutors in the state, that is, before he became one of the most respected criminal-defense attorneys in the state. He had graduated early and persuaded me to fly to Houston and interview with Harris County prosecutors, whom he claimed were more reasonable than the hardball prosecutors found in Dallas County DA Henry Wade’s office. But even Hardin’s recommendation wasn’t enough to land me the job. One of the prosecutors who turned me down told me she didn’t believe I could put my heart in a death penalty argument. Hardin held no similar compunction, racking up 15 death penalty convictions during his lengthy prosecutorial run. To feel more comfortable in the courtroom, I began taking acting classes at the Dallas Theater Center, which was across the street from my law office. Five unproduced plays and six years later, I had a higher love: writing, which I decided to pursue at the expense of my law practice. My 30th reunion helped me realize something: I have no regrets — not about quitting my law practice, not about attending law school. No, I didn’t become a congressman or a Supreme Court justice or the best damn criminal-defense lawyer there ever was or even a Republican. But I connected with some remarkable people in law school in a way that feels genuine and vital and rich — even 30 years later. So yes, law school was a defining moment in my life. Indirectly, it made me what I am today: a journalist. Even though I still think like a lawyer, I don’t have to feel like one; even though I don’t practice law, I still get to write about it. And so I have spent the second chapter of my professional life writing about drug dealers and robbers and thieves and scam artists and white-collar criminals — and those are just some of my classmates.

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