August 29, 2017

Paul Simmons's Remarks on Lawyer of the Year Award

Paul Simmons was honored at the Utah State Bar Annual Conference with the award for Lawyer of the Year.  In accepting the award, Paul made the following remarks:

I was in San Diego last year when Annette Jarvis received this award, and I remember thinking, “I want to be Annette Jarvis when I grow up.” Not because I wanted an award. The only award I thought I’d ever win was The Lawyer with the Messiest Office. But I wanted to have her character and compassion, her wisdom and fortitude. I have a long way to go to reach the level of past recipients of this award. I realize that many of you are equally qualified if not more so to receive this award, beginning with all of the attorneys I work with. There isn’t a finer group of attorneys anywhere. I’d like to acknowledge a few of the many people who have influenced me along the way. First, I’d like to thank Doug Mortensen and Annette Miller, who conspired to nominate me. They have both done far more to help the Hispanic community in Utah than I have. In fact, the best thing I’ve done was to recruit Doug and his wife, Vicki, to help my wife and me in the community where we serve. If I’m ever in trouble, I want Doug to represent me. After reading his nomination letter, if I didn’t know better I’d almost think I deserved an award. Second, I’d like to thank my brothers-in-law, David and Andy Pierce, without whose support I never would have been able to quit my job at age 31 with a mortgage, a wife, two children, and a third on the way to go back to law school. Third, I’d like to thank Judge Jenkins, for giving me my dream job not once but twice, and if I had known then that I will probably retire before he does, I would still be clerking for him. 

Most of all, I would like to thank my wife, Becky. She has been a constant support and inspiration for over 40 years. She is probably the only person I know who really, truly believes that all people are created equal and that every life matters. I
always thought that if one of us went to law school, it should be her because she is way smarter than I am and much more eloquent. Instead, she chose a career in education. Her entire classroom career was spent on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. If any of you know about education, you know that students’ test scores are directly proportional  to their parents’ income. And if you know the Salt Lake Valley, you know that income steadily falls (and pigmentation increases) as you move from the east side to the west side. Some of her colleagues have made comments like, “My skills are wasted here on the west side,” or “These brown kids just can’t learn.” My wife has never thought that. She’s tried very hard to give each of her students the best education possible. She knows each of her students and the challenges they face at home as well as at school. She knows which ones don’t have a father in the home because their father is in prison and
which ones don’t have a father because their father was deported and which ones don’t have a father because he abandoned the family. She knows which one is afraid because her mother was diagnosed with cancer and her father is in Mexico, and which one came here to escape the gangs in El Salvador after his grandma was murdered. She often knows her colleagues’ students better than they do. She tries very hard to help each of her students reach their full potential, whatever that might be. Her students may not do the best on standardized tests, but they make great strides in her class. She respects their culture and heritage. Every year, she has a little vase on her desk with flags from all the countries that her students or their parents come from. In a class of 28 students, she’s had as many as 18 different flags.  Becky is my heroine, both in the sense of someone I admire and look up to and in the sense of my drug of choice. Finally, I’d like to honor our son Charlie. Charlie was a much better attorney than I will ever be. He practiced law in Oregon, and he was fearless. He specialized in post-conviction relief. As I’m sure Justice Ginsburg, Judge Tacha, and Mr. Stevenson
can attest, post-conviction relief is hard to come by. Once after Charlie returned from a CLE, I asked him what qualified the speaker to present on post-conviction relief, and he said, “He’s won one case in 10 years.” I asked Charlie, who’d been practicing about 5 years at the time, if he’d won any, and he said, “I’ve won three.” Charlie hated injustice. One day he read a case in an Oregon advance report and said to himself, “This is wrong.” He jumped in his car and drove 6 ½ hours from Ontario to the state prison in Salem and asked to speak to the prisoner whose case it was. He offered to represent him for free if he’d let Charlie challenge the ruling in the Oregon Supreme Court, which he did. Unfortunately, Charlie lost. Justice doesn’t always prevail, as you know if you’ve read Mr. Stevenson’s book. Charlie died in a car crash on his way to court almost 8 years ago. His clientele was a pretty hardened bunch, but they loved him because they knew how much he cared about them and how hard he worked for them. We still get letters and pictures from some of his clients. One client, Robert H. King, a fellow attorney serving a life sentence for murder, has become my good friend and pen pal.
I’ve shared with some of you before the story of when Charlie and Mr. King first met, but I’d like to close with it. Mr. King writes: 
The first time I met with your son . . . I asked him “Charles, do you know what Hebrews 13:1-3 says?” and Charles in his most excellent manner smiled and said, “No Mr. King but I have a strong feeling you’re about to tell me what Hebrews 13:1-3 says.” I said to Charles “Hebrews 13:1-3 states Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them . . . . Charles then said, “Mr. King, are you an angel?” (and he smiled). I said, “No, Sir, I am not an angel, but I am a prisoner.” Then Charles smiled again and [said], “No, seriously, Mr. King. If you are an angel you can tell me, and the attorney-client privilege assures you, I will tell no one.”  

I hope we can all treat everyone we come in contact with--our family and friends, our colleagues and co-workers, our clients, opposing counsel, the people that clean our rooms and empty our wastebaskets--as if they were angels in disguise. It may not earn us any awards, but it will make our lives more enjoyable and make the world a better place. Thank you.