By Jim “Pappy” Moore
My first year of law school was punctuated by the presence of a legendary University of Texas law professor, a brilliant eccentric – Gus Hodges. He was born in 1908, and in 1974 was the living picture of a man steeped in the practice of trial law in Texas. He was the man on Civil Procedure.
He looked like Santa, without the beard and costume. He wore a suit and tie, and sported a large handlebar moustache. He would sit in his wooden chair at the front of the room, gazing out upon the 115 students with fresh faces, and none having a clue what Civil Procedure was. Consulting his chart of students, he would lean back, push off against his vest and say “Mister Moore, give us the case of International Shoe Company versus Washington.”
Upon hearing that instruction, Mr. Moore was to stand and present the case. When was the case decided? Which court decided it? Who are the parties? What are the issues? What was the holding? What precedential value does the case have? These are the questions which Professor Hodges would throw like darts at the student.
Woe unto the student who was unprepared. Gus Hodges did not tolerate students coming to class unprepared. Each student was responsible for having read every case assigned prior to coming to class. If you didn’t read the material, you were playing Russian Roulette with Gus Hodges.
He would call upon a student and tell them to give a case. “I’m sorry, I didn’t read the case. My puppy got a cold and I was at the vet.” Gus would reply “Ok, I’ll excuse you.” The relieved student would sit down, but Gus would continue “No, I mean you’re excused. You can leave now.”
He wasn’t kidding, either. When Gus told you that you were excused, the only acceptable response was to gather one’s books and leave the room in shame, with 114 pairs of eyes watching. Gus wouldn’t be watching. He’d be looking for who he would call on next.
Gus had a simple explanation. The lesson he wanted to teach was this one: do not ever go to court without having read the cases you cite, the cases that are germane to your case before the court. If we were not prepared by reading the relevant cases, understanding them, and being ready to address the things the professor taught us to find, we were not properly prepared to represent a client on those matters.
Gus Hodges’ class evictions were the stuff of school stories and myths, most of which were true. He did once go over, pick up the books of a student, take the books to the classroom door, and heave them out into the hall. He did stay up all night playing poker with his own son, and then called on his son in class that morning, knowing he was not prepared. “You’re excused.”
Gus Hodges could paint a word picture that stuck. About getting an instruction from a judge that a jury should ignore something damaging a witness said instead of declaring a mistrial, he is alleged to have said “Your Honor, they can throw a skunk into the jury box, too, and you can tell them not to smell it, but the damage is done.”
Gus was a great lawyer and a great teacher. Gus died in 1992, a few days shy of his 84th birthday. I suspect they don’t have any more Gus Hodges roaming the halls of today’s kinder, gentler world of legal education. He is a memory worth having.
Copyright 2010, Jim “Pappy” Moore. All rights reserved.