The winds of change are blowing at the Trial Lawyers College. Wary and weary souls looking to navigate their way through these changes, take note. Here's a forecast of forthcoming changes on the board. Draw close to the stars and avoid the sink holes. You, too, can sleep in the Big House.
Gerry Spence has nominally stepped down from the board. He is now CEO, but he is still the top dog at the college. Don't expect to get ahead by growling near his dish at the cookhouse. But Gerry is trying to ease back a bit. Jude Basile is new president. While Jude still doesn't own the ranch, he has spoils to distribute, and power to consolidate.
Next to Jude, the clearest winner in the shake up at Thunderhead is Connecticut's Jim Nugent. He and Basile are close. Nugent was once given the sensitive assignment of investigating ranch finances. Questions had been raised about some transactions. He went out to California to spend time with Jude, and came home satisfied that all is well in paradise. Nugent has trained in psychodrama and is a solid lawyer. He is newly named Treasurer and the power behind the man who is behind the alter ego. Genuflect when you say the name Nugent.
Who is vulnerable? It would not surprise me to see R. Rex Parris resign soon. He is now mayor of Lancaster, California, and when he is not knocking down eight and nine figure verdicts, he's playing with metaphorical fires. He's a Hollywood force all his own. With Spence easing back, there is little at the college for Parris. I expect his resignation within a year. Ditto with John Zelbst, an Oklahoman who took the ranch by storm during his year as a student, buying a lavish farewell meal for the students and staff and rapidly becoming a go-to guy for Spence. One board member lost his skin by attacking Zelbst for not knowing what was being taught. Zelbst doesn't fit Basile's mold. I suspect that in the dark of night, Parris and Zelbst wonder why the baton was not passed to them.
And what of Milton Grimes? He is one of the few holdouts from the Halycon days, when it was enough simply to be a great lawyer to be placed on the board. Milton doesn't make the top 50 donors, has struggled himself in recent years, suffering an adverse malpractice verdict, and may not be up to navigating the new power structure at TLC. He's the only man of color on the board, and knows just how high the white men and women there can jump.
Newcomers to watch: Rafe Foreman of Texas, Fredilyon Sisson of New York and Cyndy Short of Missouri. Short is brilliant; a star in any firmament. Her commitment and passion for death-penalty litigation is and should remain a mainstay of the program. Foreman is simply TLC zeal personified: he can lead a group in silliness, talk the ear of a donkey at auction, and hustle a crowd for dough. He's hungry for recognition, and, for my money, soon destined to rank right behind Nugent in the order of Apostolic Succession.
William Trine will remain because that is his style: he is quiet and unobtrusive, a threat to no one. The old dog can loll at the ranch until it is time for the Great Milkbone in the sky. Kent Spence is secure if for no other reason that he is an actual owner of the ranch, a member of the Spence Foundation board, he has a say in whether the college lease gets revoked. Kiss his ring, too.
I have no sense of Carl Bettinger, but he scores high on the top contributor's list. His board biography is a little soupy, but, hey, he's where he wants to be. Rumor has it he was woodshedded hard at staff training in the spring: He spoke a little too much truth. But he's new to the game; he'll learn.
Lynne Brachter of Kansas City is another who I see as solid. Fiercely loyal to the college, and smart, she watched the auction at the 80/15 with hawk eyes. Were I on Cool Hand Luke's road gang, I'd swing my axe doubly hard when she walks by. I would hedge my bets here, though. She was a member of the first class in 1994. She knows where so many bodies lie she may be an uncomfortable presence for those who wish to forget yesterday's sins. She knew Jude before Jude became Gerry junior.
And Kaitlin Larimer? I am confused. Psychodrama is hot, and she is the queen of the howl. She and Jude have been tight since Jude's first year on staff; she and Nugent are close. I say she is in. I am not sure the college can afford to lose another psychodramatist. Don Clarksonis much adored, and rightly so, but Notle's crucifixion still casts a shadow. I say it is too soon to post another cross near the Milk Barn.
And Imaging Spence? She's the queen bee. Not bad for a non-lawyer. She's right were the alter ego wants her: safe and secure come what may in the fortunes of a man on the cusp of 81.