Franz Kafka wrote a classic satirical and surrealistic novel, "The Trial," about the bureaucratic and flawed legal system. In his story, Josef K., a bank clerk, wakes up one day and finds himself arrested. From the first-page arrest to the end of the novel, the story is what you would expect from an author who turned a character in one of his short stories into a cockroach.
In a scene toward the end of the book, another defendant, Block, tells Josef K., "There's scarcely a single defendant who doesn't dream of the 'great lawyer' for a time after learning about them. ... I don't know who the great lawyers are, and it's probably impossible to contact them. I don't know of a single case in which they can be said with certainty to have intervened."
I'm happy to report that Kafka wrote fiction. The great lawyers do exist, and they are practicing law right here in Utah. I personally know many great lawyers, committed to justice and zealous representation of their clients. I'd like tell you about two of them.
Nearly 20 years ago, I was arrested and charged with a crime. I felt my cause was just, and I looked for an attorney to represent me. I found him in St. George. Gary Pendelton is a great lawyer. Gary believes fervently in a legal system where individuals are innocent until proven guilty -- something the public and media too often forget. Gary was a stickler for forthrightness and honesty and cared deeply about his clients, including me. I am practicing law today because of his successful hard work and devotion to maintaining my innocence.
If you Google Gary's name, the top search result that shows up is a newspaper article on his disbarment. In the late 1990s, Gary struggled with methamphetamine use. His conviction of possession of the drug led to his disbarment in 1999. After dealing with his drug addiction and a five-year wait, Gary was re-admitted to the Utah State Bar and is still practicing in Southern Utah.
Google and the Internet do Gary a huge disservice, as if his character can be captured in snippets of ancient newspaper clippings. Gary fought hard and overcame drug addiction and public shame, paying the price for his errors, yet still forging ahead. The same toughness he has shown in dealing with his own problems, he brings to his efforts for his clients. Twenty years later, I am still in awe of this man.
About 12 years ago, I found myself embroiled in a battle with the Utah State Bar. Another great lawyer, Jack Morgan, showed up to represent me. Jack was mild-mannered and precise. He advised me and counseled me, not just on things legal, but on issues relating to my divorce, my personal life and my legal practice. He was the epitome of that other term often used for attorneys -- counselor.
Anyone who has been involved in civil litigation knows how emotionally grinding the legal process can be. Jack eased me along and helped me settle my matters with the Utah State Bar. An example of Jack's wisdom was contained in an article he wrote for the Utah Bar Journal: "(Attorneys) are not, to use a trite expression, 'above the law.' And yet, because we expect perfection from ourselves and our colleagues, we are reluctant to acknowledge our susceptibility to human afflictions."
Jack counseled me to take a six-month suspension and then come back to the practice of law with the wisdom and insight I had gained from my experiences. It was a fair and just settlement and I agreed with his wise counsel.
When it was time to draw up the final paperwork to reinstate me to the practice of law, I contacted Jack's office. I was told that he had committed suicide. I still grieve his loss, for me personally and for the loss of his compassion, skill and insight.
Jack and Gary are the embodiment of great lawyers. Perfection is not what makes a great lawyer. What makes a great lawyer is compassion and caring for the client along with a passion to improve the legal system as it strives toward justice.
Don't despair if you find yourself in need of legal help. Kafka was wrong. Great lawyers do exist. I know -- I've been represented by two of them.
E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at 801-392-8200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.