I have struggled in the past year or so to reassess my apostasy from the Trial Lawyers' College in DuBois, Wyoming. I spent several years as a student and then tag-along faculty at the college. It was, for the most part, a good and powerful experience.
But it is fundamentally a charismatic institution, and the focal point of all that charisma is Gerry Spence. He's a great lawyer and a good human being. But it was too easy for me to lose my bearings in his shadows. The ranch, as the college is known to acolytes, is a powerful place. The curriculum revolves around the practice of psychodrama. Lawyers come to the various programs sponsored by the college each year to get psychic tune ups. In some cases, it is far easier to break a person down than it is to put them back together again.
The cult-like quality of the ranch frankly put me off. For a time, I enjoyed a certain cache there. I was perceived to be close to the master, and folks wanted things from me, too. But I have my own issues about authority figures. I cut the chord anchoring me to the place with a meat cleaver, leaving plenty of people, including Spence, hurt, and, in some cases angry. I didn't plan to look back.
But I could not resist taking a look at Spence in trial when he was representing Michigan's Geoffrey Fieger in Detroit a year or so ago. I flew out, watched for a couple of days, chatted with Spence, and came away chastened. Spence is good. I opened my mind to the possibility of a second fling. Since attending the Fieger trial I've been in touch with Spence. He is gracious, in a guarded sort of way, yet even as we play at intimacy, I sense wariness. He often speaks of what he calls the magic mirror, reflecting back the energy you receive from others. His communication with me is guarded; I cannot penetrate the mirror he has carefully erected and am saddened when I perceive what feels like little more than artful dodging.
But the man owes me nothing. He is 80, and this weekend will be celebrated by friends and admirers from the around the country who will flock to the ranch for a celebration noting both his birthday and the 15th anniversary of the college's founding. I was on the fence about attending, and was set to go as recently as last week.
This morning I opened my email and read something that pushed me further from going. There will be an auction of Spence memorabilia at the celebration, all proceeds, of course, to go to the trial lawyer's college. Here's part of the pitch for the event:
** AUCTION **
You Can Own a Piece from the
To all TLC Grads:
Imaging Spence has assembled a fascinating and unique collection of memorabilia from Gerry’s life to be auctioned at the 15th Anniversary Celebration at Thunderhead Ranch on August 22, 2009. You do not have to be at the ranch to participate. All Trial Lawyers College graduates have the opportunity to bid. This is a great opportunity to help the College, have some fun and you may end up with a unique piece of Gerry Spence memorabilia in the process. Some of the items are shown below but they will all be viewable at the following link by Wednesday. http://www5.snapfish.com/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=313920026/a=226461026_226461026/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=snapfish/
Three leather-fringed jackets worn by Gerry.
Framed signature ultra suede jacket made with love by Imaging, well-worn by Gerry complete with a hole in the pocket.
Three cowboy hats worn by Gerry.
Three ultra suede shirts by Spence Collections.
Black suede fringed shirt, silk lined with silver buttons.
Five shirts from Spence Collections, all colors, denim from 1978 – 1988. These were Gerry’s favorites for many years.
Swim trunks from 1970 found in an old armoire at the Ranch.
Cut-offs from 1970 and worn by Gerry.
Roll top desk from GLS ranch office (the cabin Gerry and Imaging live in now). It is from 1900 to 1920 and was purchased by the ranch in 1975.
I just don't know what to make of this. Would I like one of those jackets? You bethca! In 1997, I did an impersonation of Spence at the ranch at the farewell event. I would have liked to have a jacket then. And I love roll-top desks. One of my avocations is as a used and rare book dealers; I understand memorabilia.
But there is something off-putting about this event that I can't put my finger on. It feels like grave-robbing and the man is not yet dead. And the thought of disciples elbowing their way to the cave's opening in hopes of grabbing a memento saddens me.
Woe is me, much though I try to find my way back to simple admiration of the man, things keep getting in the way. I am, perhaps, much the poorer for it.