TLC: A Note To Cheryl Carpenter

Cheryl Carpenter posted a recent comment that bears independent commentary. She asked a simple question: When did I decide to post the material about the Trial Lawyers College finances? Since this question has been begged by those who accuse me of hypocrisy, I respond publicly.

I remain extremely ambivalent about TLC. There is plenty that is good about the training of lawyers going on in DuBois, Wyoming. I am all in favor of becoming a better storyteller and a better man. The couple years I spent kicking around in the dust in Wyoming, Palomar and a few other locations are important parts of who I am.

As for my involvement with the college, it was, simply, too much for me. People play with fire there; my fingers got burned to stumps. I got too much attention. Folks talked, and apparently still do talk, a lot of smack about me. All of the nice words pleased me, but not in a way that is good for me. The praise became something I craved, and I wondered about what drug that mimicked. I walked off the ranch because I was suspicious of who I was becoming; there were too many folks wanting too many things I couldn't recognize, much less understand. I needed to take things slower and to move at my own pace.

Perhaps more important, in an idiosyncratic way, is the time I spent with Spence, both in the group's presence and alone. I am ambivalent about that, too. In the end, I decided it was better to distance myself from both the ranch and Spence than to remain. It seemed to make little sense to walk my adult life in another man's shadow, and I came to the conclusion that Spence, for all his talk of love, is really no better or worse than the rest of us: he loves himself best of all. I don't begrudge him his ranch, his name-brand, his following. And if others find what they need in his shadow, that's fine, too. I want to cast my own shadow and see just how far it will reach.

When I broke from the ranch in 2000, Spence wrote me a long, long letter describing my departure as one of the most painful experiences he had ever had. The letter stunned me, and stuns me still. What could I have possibly done to mean so much to the man? I have asked him this point blank. The only response is "that's a good question." Frankly, that seems manipulative, even dishonest. I've spoken my truths to him and about him, and I have laid bare issues all my own. My initial psychodrama at the ranch involved my father, with Spence playing my father: I buried my father in the drama, and I recall Spence laying in the milk barn as may father's corpse, kissing him farewell. I gambled a lot revealing that pain.

In response, Spence has taken what amounts to the Fifth Amendment. That strikes me as a power play and manipulative. In this case, I am holding the magic mirror, and what I see reflected in his behavior disappoints me. Honesty is a two-way street.

But none of that mattered to me a few weeks ago. I decided to go to the 80/15 celebration and to behave, to simply enjoy the scenery and to wish the man happy birthday. I was all set to register for one of the grad seminars, too. I figured a psychodramatic tune up could do me some good. But legal work prevented me from attending the workshop.

At the reunion, I elected to avoid controversy and not to stir the pot, even when playfully invited to do so by no less than Jude. When I arrived at the ranch, I had not given the TLC financial structure any real thought. Nor had I paid a whole lot of attention to why folks had left the board. I have some good friends on the current board, and I've never discussed these issues with them, even now, when the pot is boiling.

I wrote a piece published here the night I left the 80/15 entitled "A Weekend in Wyoming." I didn't expect to write another. It expressed some disappointment in Spence, but it was a disappointment that I knew grew out of my expectations. I was prepared to let the mirror drop. Spence owes me nothing. If he is no better thatn any other man, he is still a good man. There is goodness in every sinner.

In response to that piece, I heard from several old friends from the ranch, all surprised I had returned. As we talked, I told them how unnerved I was by a video shown during the 80/15 purporting to be a history of the college. It totally deleted any reference to John Nolte, to Garvin Isaacs, to Charlie Abourezk. These are all people who were instrumental in making the ranch what it is today. I knew that all had walked away from the ranch, as had I. Until last week, I never gave their departure much thought. I knew I was done; that was enough. But the video struck me as a bad piece of work: Winner's history ignoring the honest and legitimate contribution of warriors present at the creation; all was devoted to the new and giddy feel of hermetic conformity. History is not hagiography. It bugged me.

One person to whom I spoke about this asserted that the departures of Nolte and company were related to questions about TLC's financial structure. I was encouraged to look at the IRS 990s. So I spent a couple hours one afternoon studying them, and I reached out to double check a few facts. What I learned stunned me, and, disappointed me.

In the wake of the Wizard of Wyoming pieces, I have received a lot of notes. Some condemn me and castigate me. Some question why I would go "public" rather than raise the questions internally. Others encourage me to go forward. Others say I am not bold enough and that there is plenty more to tell. I don't know whether I am being fair or not. I am spotting issues and raising questions. The questions that I raise strike me as fair ones, and ones that can easily be answered in a way that does the college no lasting harm.

Thank you, Cheryl, for the kindness in your note. I don't know whether this answers the question you raised, but the bottom line is that I didn't go to the 80/15 with a ticking bomb in my pocket. I heard some ticking while I was there, though, and when I looked at documents, things did start to explode.

You are from Detroit? I lived on the city's East Side in junior high school and high school, graduating from Denby High School in 1973. You?

Comments: (4)

  • Speaking of property in Wyoming:
    Spence had his ho...
    Speaking of property in Wyoming:
    Spence had his house for sale in Jackson Hole for $ 35 million, the highest listing price, for a house ever in that county, for his 12,000 square foot house(plus 35 acres). It is on googles.
    So, Norm, Gerry is all about enhancing the value of his real estate.
    On some other blog, you noted Spence has had not one significant contribution to the civil law field.
    What, you don't considered all his writings in St Martins Press big contributions ?
    Well, after 2007, some real estate went South in value, but Jackson Hole is still Numero uno in per capital income in the USA( demographics).
    Norm, since you used to be such a good Gerry buddy, you must have been out at Gerry's Jackson Hole pad, were you ever ?
    Or, how about his Santa Barbara pad, ever there...?
    Or, were you not really that close to Spence, all be it you claim you were eating off his plate, in you dog analogy.
    Kicking around at the barn on the DuBois spread, well that is one thing, but -- what, you never made it inside the Teton inter-sanctum ?
    Have you exaggerated that you were even close to Spence ?
    He probably feels you are like a fly buzzing around, the horse barn, and annoynace,
    and just an incantation of what is floating around in the cyber world, and hardly worth even paying any attention to.
    Posted on October 15, 2009 at 8:43 pm by Anonymous
  • TLC Finances:
    How much rent does TLC pay to the Sp...
    TLC Finances:
    How much rent does TLC pay to the Spence Foundation, you have never laid that out ?
    Any ? and with exactness ?
    Is any part deemed a "gift" from the Foundation, to the TLC, for tax purposes ?
    As you must be aware, Spence writes(blogs) that law schools(their education offered) is a "fraud".
    Many people start Foundations, 501(C)(3's,
    Spence and others feel they have something educational to offer to others.
    I bet(or is it likely) you even declared on your tax returns, the transactions, that link you and TLC, by way of deductions, or other.
    I will pass where I went to H S @, and who was in attendance.
    Posted on October 15, 2009 at 8:16 pm by Anonymous
  • Norm, thank you for the post. I did wonder if you...
    Norm, thank you for the post. I did wonder if you went with a ticking time bomb and were waiting for the right time to pull the pin. Too bad you couldn't get away for one of the grad courses. It really is an amazing experience to know that 50 people from all parts of the country, many whom you don't know, will help you professionally and personally with any problem you have. I have called on many from TLC for help with cases. I have gotten nothing but overwhelming support. I have done the same for them when they've needed help. I have made friends that I know will last a lifetime. I have read your posts and agree with you it can be intense. But I'd rather have my fingers burned to the stump than not feel anything at all.
    I was born in Detroit and spent the first 5 years of my life living on Rosemont, which is on Detroit's east side. My parents hadn't lived anywhere but Detroit when they decided to move to Livonia in 1975. I asked my dad today the name of our street. He joked that if I drove down it now to make sure I rolled up the windows and locked the car doors. It's sad but I see parts of Detroit being reborn which gives me hope.
    Posted on September 4, 2009 at 3:22 pm by Cheryl Carpenter
  • Norm, I too was disturbed at the lack of recogniti...
    Norm, I too was disturbed at the lack of recognition at the celebration of all those who are no longer involved with the college who helped bring it to the place it is today. Seems it is easier for the college to ignore the contributions of those who have left, either by choice or coercion - Garvin Isaacs, Steve Rench, Bob Fogelnest, Joe Guastaferro, Nancy Hollander, John Nolte, Joanne Garcia Colson, Kay Ellison and Charlie Abourezk. I am sure there are others.
    For a place that claims it is founded on and believes in love, sure doesn't seem like much love is given to folks who contributed greatly to the making of TLC but for one reason or another, are no longer involved. I have to question why and the motives of the college for ignoring these good and generous people. Where is the love in that?
    Posted on September 4, 2009 at 3:41 am by Anonymous

Add a Comment

Display with comment:
Won't show with comment:
What color is the sun?
*Comment must be approved and then will show on page.
© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
Media & Speaker booking [hidden email]