By Jim “Pappy” Moore
Guy Wellborn III began his career as a law professor in August of 1974, a week after President Richard Nixon’s historic resignation from the presidency. Thirty-five years later, Professor Wellborn remains a fixture at the University of Texas Law School, and is a nationally heralded expert on evidence.
When he taught his very first law school class, I was there at my very first law school class as a student. Our section of 115 students would come to love our time with Professor Wellborn, who was barely older than us. Guy Wellborn would teach us Torts.
Professor Wellborn’s boyish grin and 1970s look in his first year of teaching did not hint of the tremendous intellect that made him such a talented legal mind. But once he spoke, once he explained difficult concepts and used words like a laser to carve and distinguish one example after another, it was obvious why he was known as a whiz kid.
In the course of instructing us, Guy Wellborn would tell the most colorful stories, some from his life, others invented by his vivid and entertaining imagination.
One memorable tale he told us was about his father, Guy Wellborn, Jr., who was a sitting state district court judge south of Houston, and had been quite a trial lawyer in his years before taking the bench. Guy, Jr. had been the navigator on a B-17 for 38 bombing missions in WWII. He was one of those Greatest Generation Guys.
Professor Wellborn’s dad told a story about appearing in court to argue a motion, before a judge notorious for not always being right about the law. Lawyers prove up the law by providing written evidence of it to the judge. Now days, that’s easy, with copiers plentiful. But in the era of Guy Wellborn, Jr.’s practicing law, copiers were not available. Lawyers had to bring actual Southwest Reporters to court, to show the judge the law books which supported their legal arguments.
In rural areas, the county law library might be the only law library available to many lawyers, so if one wished to prove a point to a judge, carting the law books from the law library to the courtroom by dolly was necessary.
On this particular day in court, Guy, Jr. unloaded a couple dozen law books from a dolly onto the counsel table as his hearing began. Taking umbrage at Mr. Wellborn’s obvious intent to cite case after case in those law books, the judge said “Mr. Wellborn, you may assume the court knows the law.”
“Your Honor,” the former navigator quipped, “I’ve made that mistake before.”
Professor Wellborn and his stories made law school fun and eased our section through its tension-filled first year. We certainly needed it. Our other professors for the year were (1) Bullet Bob Hamilton, whose mad pacing and fierce glare made him sometimes appear more Van Gogh than Learned Hand, (2) Corky Johnson, a former FBI agent whose wry humor was so dry, it was almost imperceptible, (3) Gus Hodges, a legendary former trial lawyer whose handlebar mustache and big smile did not alter the fact that he would throw a student out of class if he or she was unprepared to discuss a case, and (4) Lino Graglia, consistently voted by the student body the most intimidating professor in the law school.
I would follow Torts under Professor Wellborn with his Evidence class, and those two courses would give me the solid foundation in civil cases that propelled me through a successful litigation practice. His lectures about concepts such as duty, proximate cause and damages were the bedrock for my legal career.
He’s a great Guy, and his dad was a great Guy. The bar we call the State Bar of Texas was much improved when these two Guys walked into it.
© 2009, Jim “Pappy” Moore, All Rights Reserved.