December 02, 2014

Joe Woods: A Man for All Seasons

Leonard H. Gilbert

My friend, Joe Woods, passed away on July 15, 2013. Many of you knew Joe, as he was active in professional associations at the local, state, and national level. More recently, he was a frequent contributor to VOE’s “A Chance to Travel.” Joe was a great person, wonderful family man, well-respected lawyer, and consummate professional. You often hear those phrases said about someone who has passed away, but in Joe’s case, they are all really very accurate.

After serving in the U.S. Navy, Joe graduated from Boalt Hall (now the University of California Berkeley School of Law) and joined a firm in Oakland, California, which is currently known as Donahue Gallagher Woods, LLP.

Michael Dalton, now the managing partner of the firm, told me he first met Joe when Joe was the judge of his moot court competition and posed penetrating questions to him. Joe later hired him and was his mentor. Michael had this to say about Joe.

Joe Woods was an extraordinary lawyer. He possessed powerful analytic skills, was highly articulate in his arguments, and his drafting was clear and precise. He never lost sight of his obligation to give his clients the best service possible, while never forgetting the importance of providing legal services to the larger community. He was a great teacher and mentor, and all those who had the privilege of working with him became better attorneys as a result of the experience.

In an early part of Joe’s career, he took a four-month leave of absence from the firm to serve as senior associate special counsel to the House of Representative’s Committee on the Judiciary in its inquiry respecting the possible impeachment of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Joe headed the Constitutional and Legal Section of the inquiry staff; he was responsible for conceptual and procedural aspects of the matter under investigation. This Section produced a report defining for the first time in modern history what constituted an “impeachable offense” for which a sitting president might be removed from office. Coincidently, one of the young lawyers he hired to assist him in his work was Hillary Rodham, now Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Joe was active in supporting the legal community both locally and on a national scale. Nationally, among other things, he represented Alameda County, California, in the ABA House of Delegates. Locally, he was also president of the Alameda County Bar Association. He helped to develop its bar foundation, which in turn funded the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation’s efforts to organize bar members’ pro bono activities. Joe was also very supportive of his law school and extremely active in the American Bar Foundation, where I got to know him best. We served together as officers of the Fellows and then as members of the Board of the Foundation. Among the Foundation directors was U.S. Berkeley School of Law Dean Herma Hill Kay, who said:

Joe was wonderfully supportive of the Law School and of my deanship. During the time we sat together on the ABF’s Board, I was continually impressed by his good judgment and his keen instinct for what we could do to keep the practicing lawyers involved and supportive of the Foundation. His efforts paid off handsomely. The Foundation is the only research institution devoted to empirical work on law, lawyers, and the legal profession that is not connected with an academic institution.

Joe and his lovely wife, Virginia, supported the American Bar Foundation, both with time and treasure. Joanne Martin, formerly assistant director, remembers Joe as “a formidable presence in the legal community, committed to its highest ethical standards and obligations. He stands as an exemplar to all of us in the legal profession, a reminder of what is best about the profession and of what lawyers should aspire to be.”

I had the pleasure of working with Joe in the Foundation over a number of years. Among the people recognized for their excellence during that time was Bob Nelson, now the executive director of the Foundation. Bob saw Joe as “brilliant and down to earth.” He remembers Joe asking “penetrating questions at an event that he organized for the California chapter of the American Bar Foundation Fellows regarding ABF research on the role of ethnicity, religion, and gender in the practice of law.” Bob goes on to say that “he [Joe] and Virginia were one of the very first contributors of the ‘Sustain the Vision’ campaign launched under the leadership of then ABF President Robert MacCrate. Their gift, which provided the resources for creating the Joseph and Virginia Woods Conference Room at the American Bar Foundation headquarters in Chicago, is indeed ‘sustaining the vision.’ The Woods Conference Room is the site of ABF meetings, our weekly speaker’s series, and numerous meetings and events which are central to the life of the American Bar Foundation.”

Bob and I had planned to have dinner with Joe and Virginia at the annual meeting of the American Bar in San Francisco this year, and Joe and I had discussed this just a few days before his death.

My wife, Jean, and I always looked forward to our getting together with Joe and Virginia at the ABA annual and midyear meetings, wherever those might be held. Our meetings often led to enjoyable dinners discussing our most favorite mutual topic: travel. Joe and Virginia loved to travel and took many wonderful trips. Joe did not take photographs, but he kept great diaries of their travels down to the most minute details. If you wanted to know where the best place to eat was and which dish to enjoy with what wine, you had only to ask Joe. If you wanted to know what was the most important place to see in a particular location, Joe was ready with the answer. And when they traveled, Joe was wonderful about sharing details of their trip. A letter or postcard from Joe was a communication to be treasured!

SLD Director Judith Legg told us:

Joe and his wife, Virginia, were consummate travelers and Joe had a nearly photographic memory of all the places they had been. When the Division would consider a destination to offer to its members, I would turn to Joe and say, ‘How does this sound?’He would then describe the various historic sights, restaurants and hotels in that location, whether it was in Paris, Galapagos, or a village in the Italian Alps. Joe was a gracious gentleman and a delight to work with. He is sorely missed.

One of the wonderful things about participating in organizations like the ABA and the American Bar Foundation is that you have the opportunity to meet someone like Joe Woods whom you will long remember. He was everything everyone said he was, and a lot more. One thing that we can all agree upon is that Joe Woods will be very much missed by all who knew him.

Leonard H. Gilbert

Leonard H. Gilbert is a partner at Holland & Knight LLP, Tampa, Florida. Mr. Gilbert is a former member of the SLD Council, past chair of the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, and a past president of The Florida Bar. He is currently a member of the ABA House of Delegates .