September 1, 2010

State and Local Bar News: We’re Not Going To Be Around Forever!

By Anita P. Miller

The New Mexico State Bar’s Senior Lawyers Division, after the passing of some pioneers in the state’s colorful legal history, realized that the histories of prominent attorneys in the state should be preserved for present and future generations. Among the “missing” were the state’s first female attorneys and appellate and district court judges, as well as “famous” or “infamous” members of the bar. To ensure that those older attorneys making legal history in the state had their stories immortalized, volunteers from the Senior Lawyers membership were trained to conduct video interviews and conduct historically valid information by the University of New Mexico’s history librarian.

Prominent Albuquerque attorney John Robb, who had just won the ABA’s Pro Bono Award and had initiated a church-based legal advocacy program, was the first subject interviewed. Having participated in the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession “Women Lawyers of Distinction” oral history program, I conducted this first “model” interview, and it was videotaped by a local award-winning production company specializing in video histories. The interview was “broadcast” at the Senior Lawyers Christmas party to rave reviews, and the program was officially underway.

Twelve trained attorneys interviewed twenty-one well-known attorneys and judges from all over the state, with one of the interviewers traveling to northern and southern New Mexico to interview some aging attorneys with whom she had sparred over the years. Some of the interviewers utilized the original production company’s services; others had their own videographers record the interviews.

A federal district court judge, three retired New Mexico Supreme Court justices, and one state district court judge were interviewed. In addition to the attorneys and judges, the clerk of the New Mexico Supreme Court, who had served for many years and was known to virtually every attorney in the state, was interviewed by the state’s disciplinary counsel, who, in turn, was then interviewed by one of the Senior Lawyers. All subjects interviewed were encouraged to talk about their legal careers, especially recounting famous cases in which they had participated.

The value of this oral history project was confirmed when retired New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Gene Franchini died suddenly in September 2009 while he was addressing the incoming law school class at the University of New Mexico. After his retirement from the bench, Franchini, an avid storyteller known for his sense of humor, participated regularly in state and national high school moot court competitions as well as state bar programs emphasizing ethics and professionalism.

Franchini had so many stories to tell that he was interviewed twice for the oral history project. Early in his practice, Franchini was sent to Tierra Maria, New Mexico, to monitor the famous “courthouse raid” conducted by Reyes Tijerina, the California activist. Tijerina had come to New Mexico to lead northern New Mexicans in a raid on the district  courthouse to destroy land records the locals believed represented the theft of their land by Anglo settlers. Although this story has been told before, Franchini’s video history version augments other accounts of this extraordinary piece of New Mexico history.

The videos are shown at state bar events and are permanently housed at the state bar and at the University of New Mexico Law School Library. This is one project that can be a significant addition to the legal history of every state. 

Anita P. Miller (milleranit@aol. com) is a land use attorney in Albuquerque and an adjunct professor of Land Use Law at the Uni- versity of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning and the School of Law.