The Wizard of Wyoming: Part II

"Why bother?" a friend asked the other day after reading my post about the financial arrangments supporting Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyers College in Wyoming. Alumni of the college have called for my expulsion from the tribe; some are reduced to mere fighting words, taunting me as an attention seeker and destructive soul bent by jealousy or worse. And Spence passes me off as one who would rather destroy than build, a twisted soul looking for the limelight in all the wrong places.

Guilty as charged on all counts. I write a blog and newspaper column to express my opinions. I've been writing opinion pieces since 1983, when I first was employed as an editorial writer for a daily paper in the Northeast. I've never claimed perfection. I like raising Hell, afflicting the comfortable and bucking tides of complacency. And everyone knows I have issues. I am in trial in a murder case now. When I asked the judge for early adjournments a couple days a week to attend psychoanalysis, the judge simply giggled and said "about time."

But there are certain things I have not done. I have not placed property of mine in a public trust. I have created interlocking boards to accomplish what one board could do. I haven't named an institution after myself and then strong-armed folks for contributions. And I haven't run off critics. I wonder whether Spence can say the same without his fingers crossed.

Both the Spence Foundation and the Trial Lawyers College are tax-exempt entities. In exchange for relief from the obligation to support the public fisc, both entities must serve some charitable purpose. Having sought shelter from taxation, they have opened their affairs to public scrutiny. No one forced them to take this step. It was a quid pro quo for the free ride received from Uncle Sam. Asking questions is no crime.

The Spence Foundation owns the building and grounds on which the Trial Lawyers College sits in DuBois, Wyoming. The Trial Lawyers College leases the facility from the foundation and pays for all of the operating costs associated with the ranch. Although I have not seen the written lease between the foundation and the college, I am told the lease drafted in 2005 permitted the foundation to revoke the lease if, in its judgment, the college departed from its mission. If that is true, the lease appears to be a sham.

Board members at the time raised questions about this. It is a lop-sided arrangement that permits the foundation to cash in any time it likes. Questions were also raised about unauthorized payments from the college to closely related entities and persons. These were troubling and legitimate questions.

Two board members, Charlie Abourezk and John Nolte refused to sign the lease, for fear that they might thereby assume liability for breach of their fiduciary duty to the college. Entering into an open-ended lease of this sort made the college vulnerable to whim. What happens if the foundation wakes up one day and decides enough is enough?

Tensions on the board were high. Spence offered to resign rather than serve on the board with Abourezk, so Abourezk resigned; Spence then asked for, and received, Nolte's resignation. The lease was signed. I simply do not know whether there is a new lease. There ought to be, and Spence suggests that there is such a lease, giving the college the right to a fixed lease of 25 years when the current lease expires. Where's the lease?

The gloss placed on the relationship between the two boards is as follows: The foundation owns and manages the ranch. As such, the foundation employs the folks who manage the ranch, and oversees the day-to-day operation. Because family is nearby, family does the work, receiving not a dime in compensation. The college has a lease and can renew if it likes. This is, as Candide said, the best of all possible worlds.

But application of Occam's Razor to this arrangment shows there is plenty of excess to trim. If the college has something approaching the right to use the ranch in perpetuity why have a foundation, too? After all, the college pays for the upkeep and use of the place. What's more, the tax exempt status of the property would not be implicated if it were simply given to the college. Why have two boards doing the work of one?

The answer is simple: The foundation controls the property. The foundation is not the college. And the foundation's trustees, IRS forms reflect, are primarily members of Spence's family.

It is suggested the the transfer of title to the land from private hands to the foundation is irrevocable, or, at the least, that it will benefit no living member of the Spence clan. Perhaps. But while living the family can control the property and avoid taxation on it, all the while having contributors make the payments necessary for its upkeep. Not a bad arrangement.

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. But to say that the ranch has been given to the college sounds an awful like like Bill Clinton's denying sex with Monica Lewinsky.

Where things get hinky in my view is with regard to the sort of heart-of-darkness quality to college. It wants to educate lawyers in a new way. It wants to serve the people. It wants to assist lawyers in becoming better lawyers. These are all good goals, and worthy of support.

I support that mission. Clarence Darrow did a pretty good job a century ago of fighting for the downtrodden without ever naming an institution after himself, selling mugs with his name on it, passing out name tags at events with his picture on it or otherwise engaging in a futile attempt for immortality. And he did so without demanding unquestioning loyalty from those around him. In Darrow's downtime, he invited friends over to measure themselves against great works of literature. I would love Spence more if were more like Darrow.

I confess to having fallen under Spence's spell. My father disappeared when I was a child. Spence saw my need. Did he treat me like a son, or did he see my need and use it for ends all his own? I wish I knew. Some part of me finds unhealthy the man's need for approval and the extent to which others will go to seek his. And I am stunned when I look at the corporate structure supporting the college: it looks so much like the classic alter ego fact pattern.

Jude Basile is the new president. Spence is now mere CEO and not a board member. So here is a test for Basile. How about an annual report? The first edition might well simply provide a history with documents. And how about referring to the place simply as Trial Lawyers College? That's what the place is, right? A place where lawyers can go to grow and share the best the law can offer? Give Spence his due, but distinguish between the man and the college's mission ... if Spence will let you.

Comments: (20)

  • "I would love Spence more if he were more like Dar...
    "I would love Spence more if he were more like Darrow."
    A heads-up to Gerry Spence:
    In case you've already had enough affection, maybe shave your head, grow a beard or something, to avoid any greater resemblance.
    Posted on September 1, 2009 at 5:24 pm by Leo
  • Norm writes: "I would love Spence more if he were...
    Norm writes: "I would love Spence more if he were more like Darrow." Have you read any of the recent biographies of Darrow? He was a good man, who did good work, and helped many people, but he was also selfish, unethical, and at times a real prick. To each their own. . . Todd
    Burlington, VT
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 7:43 am by Todd Schlossberg
  • Mr. Schlossberg: Darrow was a mother fucker, but n...
    Mr. Schlossberg: Darrow was a mother fucker, but not a hypocrite.
    Doesn't TLC teach you to be "be real." Who the fuck is Spence - really? How is he "being real" through any of this shit?
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 8:39 am by Mike
  • Todd:
    I think I have read them all. You think GLS...
    I think I have read them all. You think GLS isn't self-centered,etc.? Indeed, to each their own.
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 1:08 pm by Norm Pattis
  • Norm:
    I have read a few books about Darrow, thoug...
    I have read a few books about Darrow, though I can't say I've read them all. Most recently, I read Geoffrey Cowan's The People vs. Clarence Darrow, and Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice (focused on the Ossian Sweet trials. I am impressed that you've read them all -- I'm too slow a reader. I was just intrigued by your suggesting that you would love someone more if they were more like Mr. Darrow., who, like all of us, was a deeply flawed human. Was Darrow a mother f*cker but not a hypocrite? I don't know about that. I guess it depends on how one defines or measures hypocrisy; I don't think there can be much doubt that at times Darrow said one thing and did another. I guess I have too. I say "to each their own" as I'm not so sure that if anyone would really be that much more loveable if they took on many of Mr. Darrow's lesser-known attributes.
    I have posted comments on blogs only infrequently, but when I have, I have used my full real name. I just feel that is the best way to have a dialogue with others. I understand that you chose not to do so, but it would be nice to know who you were and a little about you.
    Take care,
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 2:14 pm by Todd Schlossberg
  • Todd
    there are surprisingly few books on Darrow o...
    there are surprisingly few books on Darrow out there -- bios, least. Cowan's book is troubling. The arrest looks a lot like a set up; I can't believe Darrow would be so dumb. I grew up on Detroit; the Sweet case seems well portrayed. My only point about Darrow is that he seemed less concerned about becoming the center of attention, or the standard by which things ate measured, than he did in searching for standards outside himself. Not sure what you mean about my full name. This is my blog page.
    Norm Pattis
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 2:21 pm by Norm Pattis
  • Bravo Norm! Excellent post! And quite illuminating...
    Bravo Norm! Excellent post! And quite illuminating for those not drunk on cool aid or addicted to all things Spence. They wear t shirts with a cartoon of Spence on them, drink out of water bottles with the same cartoon, wear hats, buy books he has written (most of which are tedious to wade through and filled with cliches), buy DVD's, take photos with him, buy posters of his photographs, stand in line to hug him, to see him, to talk to him. They have ceremonies where he adorns their necks with amulets filled with dirt and such from the ranch. One of his board members even prances around in a fake Indian costume. Spence's followers call themselves a tribe, warriors and have pow wows. They are an exclusive group, you have to apply and be selected to attend. And once you attend, they pressure you to join their "ranch club" and give them money, preferrably for life. If you challenge them you are called names, labeled a traitor, a troublemaker and ostracized. Are these people blond? Can any of them spell CULT? For a CULT it is.
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 4:43 pm by Anonymous
  • Dear Anonymous: I am a strong supporter of free s...
    Dear Anonymous: I am a strong supporter of free speech and like to read dissenting opinions. However, I am strongly against personal attacks on people. The board member who "prances around with a fake Indian costume" is part Native American. He studies and embraces Native American culture and has shared this part of himself with us. It is done out of love and it raises the hair on my neck reading how you mock it. It is a very meaningful experience for those graduating from the college. I have personally collected sage (no dirt) for the medicine bags for new graduates. I wear the one I received in 2000 to every trial. I am not a member of the ranch club and have never purchased anything at an auction. I actually walked out of the first auction I attended. I am not blonde. I wonder how I was asked to be on staff? I better get to my hair stylist asap and get out my checkbook. For Norm, my only question is why you came to Gerry's birthday celebration? It warmed my heart to see and speak with you at the Cookhouse. I was excited that you were coming back. I have never had the chance to learn from you but others who have had said wonderful things about your ability to teach and share. I am from Detroit and we spoke of your appearance on the Today show. Did something happen when you were at the party or did you know what you were going to do when you came?
    Posted on September 3, 2009 at 7:56 am by Cheryl Carpenter
  • There was a typo in my post, it should have been "...
    There was a typo in my post, it should have been "blind" not "blond." Graduation ceremonies are meanigful no matter the group, but the TLC's ceremony is cultish. Have you considered the possibilty that you may be on staff because you know the right people? Or the right person?
    Posted on September 3, 2009 at 10:23 am by Anonymous
  • Everyone should remember that absolute power corru...
    Everyone should remember that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Gerry has absolute power and now he has given that power to Jude Basile. Let's see if Jude can resist the power of the ring. I suspect not. Norm, however, is Frodo.
    Posted on September 3, 2009 at 11:01 am by Anonymous
  • "Not sure what you mean about my full name ..."
    I ...
    "Not sure what you mean about my full name ..."
    I was directing that comment to "Mike" (see above).
    Posted on September 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm by Todd Schlossberg
  • Norm is Frodo? No Norm is much taller, and maybe ...
    Norm is Frodo? No Norm is much taller, and maybe a touch cuter. And on a mission to prove for once and for all that TlC truly is Gerry Spence's school. (Was there ever any question?)
    And why would anyone want to be on staff? I mean if you really "got it" why wouldn't you want to be out doing it all the time? And the school fails with most of the students that go there. That is how brilliant the staff is.
    And I don't know if it is a Spence cult so much as it is a psychodama cult selling his name to get people in.
    Posted on September 3, 2009 at 6:53 pm by Norm's long lost, but proud father
  • I must agree with Norm's long lost father. Many on...
    I must agree with Norm's long lost father. Many on the staff are clueless and just there because they are friends with some of the board members or have donated a lot of money or have sucked up to one of the board members. It is a club. Sort of like the board, mostly white, mostly men, plenty with money.
    Posted on September 4, 2009 at 3:26 am by Anonymous
  • Norn, you never knew in person Clarence Darrow, li...
    Norn, you never knew in person Clarence Darrow, like you do Spence. Is Spence's thing on fame, celeberty, renowed, something in Spence, where he is over-compensating for some big void in his life, too ?
    He has clay feet, Norm, you have some standard which you expect, then judge when you see some faults.
    You are a product of the East, Spence a son of the plains.
    Are you being a total snob, Norm ?
    Gerry Spence can't operate like a state
    university, who has millions yearly at its disposal.
    TLC does not get $300 million a year in federal grants(like Yale or Stanford).
    Frankly, it seems you are nit picking seeking to make a mountain out of a mole hill.
    It is most ironic, the guy who has given the most to TLC is Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
    Are you genuinely surmising that Spence has soemthow avoided, unlawfully some taxes, not paid some obligation, he is legally obligated to ?
    You dance around the edges.
    You cite no statute, no facts, which support any claimed violation of laws.
    Is that what you have to show for your J D, your trial experience your TLC affiliations ?
    If so, it amounts to nothing for you, you are no D A, no U S Attorney, no IRS agent.
    You are in the fuller sum of matters, Norm, zero, a nothing.
    Posted on October 15, 2009 at 6:15 pm by Anonymous
  • Norm, as some have said, this whole saga is more a...
    Norm, as some have said, this whole saga is more about you than Spence.
    Ever since Spence played your father in the psycho-drama, you seemed to have blown a cork.
    Plus, it seems to have irked you to no end, irritating you that Spence touts himself as the best attorney in the Nation, underscore trial attorney. He makes that his logo Ad, as we all know.
    And, your antics on releasing the Spence letter to you, where he supposedly said you hurt him, and he notes his mother(who committed suicide).
    Then, you say you never replied to him, but instead, have been pestering the matter over the Cyber channels, with your latest the Wizzard of WYO.
    What, is the big deal, I suppose if you went to Liberty Univ, they(the U) would be selling mugs of Jerry Falwell, and the marketing of Spence seems to have put a burrow under your saddle.
    All those who bought the Spence hype, making a trip to Jackson, don't get Spence as some attorney handling their case in most instances.
    They get some guy who nobody claims is the best trial attorney in America.
    And, this thing about living in the shadows of Spence, what is that about, how are you living in the shadows of Spence ? The Mountain at the Wind Rivers is a long way from Conn. Did some spirit of Crazy Horse dig into your very soul ?
    Could it be that that psycho-drama, up at the RANCH, caused some deep wounds to your psyche,
    all that stuff with your PA ?
    You are expending a lot of energy on dealing with this thing.
    If you thing you have trouble with Spence, what do you think it would be like it you were associated with his Jackson Hole Firm, and had all that stuff hanging over you every day, day after day, after day.
    Why do you think the Spence Firm II, is not composed of the old pards, who had been with Spence from the 70's, but did a splits-ville in the 90's ?
    Spence had a hero once, Melvin Belli.
    Do you know the story of how Melvin ended up, that is a sad cautionary story.
    But, Melvin's old Office is still on the tourists stops of the tour buses in San Francisco.
    Posted on October 16, 2009 at 7:59 am by Anonymous
  • I misspoke Norm, you are not a nothing, but
    an ac...
    I misspoke Norm, you are not a nothing, but
    an accomplished trial attorney, in your own right.
    You are comparing yourself to the myth of
    Gerry Spence, not the real Gerry.
    That mirror stuff is tricky, the way light
    reflects, and projects.
    You have every right to raise questions
    Gerry has some deep need for that
    fame, and renowned thing, why that
    is, well you are wondering yourself, it seems,
    now that you have opened up that
    pandora's box.
    Posted on October 17, 2009 at 4:25 am by Anonymous
  • This notion of cult was started by Norm's buddy, G...
    This notion of cult was started by Norm's buddy, Greenfeild in New York in 2007 on his Simple Justice Blog. Then Scott Greenfeild on his blog planted those seeds on Spence, and posted in his piece "it is only going to get uglier". So, it has been a relentless crusade from that faction.
    But, any reply to Greenfled they are branded "psychopaths" or other names, part and parcel of that ugly Greenfield agenda, he has been pulling strings on, as he swept Norm's issues into his network he has been running.
    Norm is drifting around, his East coast influence pulls him one way, his ties to the TLC are something he, himself, punctured.
    Exploiting matters are the Greenfield games on it is only "going to get uglier", as ulgy is the forte of Greenfield, but he showed he closed up comments real fast as Mr censor--Scotty-- when seem were on to his ugly agenda
    Posted on October 17, 2009 at 12:58 pm by Anonymous
  • What is really bizzare is on the Net it lists
    What is really bizzare is on the Net it lists
    Mike Cernovich's office at the law firm of Norm Pattis, in a googles hit.
    So, what ?
    Well Mike is quite the blog-o-sphere master, with his sites, and Blogo connections.
    And, that led to the Simple Justice where the cult con started, spread by Mike on TLC, later on Norm's blog site.
    Spence is an old guy, over 80.
    Something seems really rotten the way this cult con spread.
    Norm, you are part of that.
    How does that make you feel ?
    Posted on October 19, 2009 at 1:01 pm by Anonymous
  • Well well, the circle, ANNONS, are nuts, nut jobs,...
    Well well, the circle, ANNONS, are nuts, nut jobs, lunatics,etc. etc. the Clary shuffle.
    Perfect, you started out in July 2006, with that tone, perfected it over the 3 years.
    A homing device.
    Now, that is the matra of Clary, and his birds of a feather in NET-PLACES---to others.. NOT the TLC circle/ (EL GROUPO), however, in his nutwing renditions--but to others---OUTSIDE OF TLC
    Like a rote pattern.
    you have found the perfect fit.... Clary.
    Most people who run real ranches would not have Clary run anything, from what is the Clary, M O, in my humble opinion.
    But, then you have a soul mate, Norm,
    your fame of reference Lord of the Flies has worked to perfection with Clary.
    Yes, Spence is most described as:
    "renowend", famed", celeberity, etc etc.
    It miffs Scott G(to no end--his BLOGGINGS--Mr BLOG'N' Est) that Spence says he is the best, as if that is against some Yiddish Code of Humble 101.
    It is one heck of a paradox.
    Wonder if Spence is clueless on this CLARY
    SUCK up, spit down thing ? The ANNONS are piss ants, so.........................
    Ya, no cattle and no herd, nothing but running
    GRADS, through the feeding lots.
    Why Bro, you say a friend asked you ?(see top).
    You note the Almuni of TLC have called for.....
    (see above)...
    I have not called for you to be expelled from anything...
    I am not in the TLC...............
    Ahhhh, like a free Ion
    Posted on October 31, 2009 at 7:49 pm by Anonymous
  • J R Clary, has a Blog, as does his Fellow Board Me...
    J R Clary, has a Blog, as does his Fellow Board Member of F Warriors, David, in the mix of the Board, so listed on the TLC WWW.

    Ken Adair
    Travis Black
    Lynne Bratcher
    Cheryl Carpenter
    Jules Cherie
    J.R. Clary >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> BLOG
    Francisco Duarte
    Ron Estefan
    Eric Fong - President
    Rafe Foreman - Past President
    David Glenn
    Betsy Greene - President Elect
    Carol Hepburn
    Chandler Loupe
    Karl Malling - Secretary
    Jim McCallion
    Corinne Mullen
    Greg A. Reeves
    Todd Schlossberg
    Gene Shioda
    Rob Shively
    Vicki Slater
    David Tarrell <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< BLOG
    Chris Trundy
    Nelson Tryone
    Tony Vitz
    The mantra created: Annons are piss ants, they don't have a BLOG.
    That is missing the point.
    For 3 years, you did the NUT TAG game.(on TLC).
    And, so if you are saying Alumni did this or that, where are the Names dates and places, as
    you run Spence through your blogs ?
    And the dust off your boots from the Ranch, and the fiedds of the out-back.
    Where.... It is easy on this pissing match on Annons...
    The Warrior WAYS... F Warriors who should not be oblivious....
    Posted on October 31, 2009 at 8:02 pm by Anonymous

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