My friend Jeff Tolman is a lawyer in Paulsbo, Washington. We are talking about a town with about 7500 people and a strong Norwegian heritage about 1.5 hours from Seattle if you take the Bremerton ferry to get to this charming town on Puget Sound. Jeff has been a friend for many years. He is very creative. Many years ago he decided that the Paulsbo Bar Association, consisting of hand full of lawyers at the time, should hold an annual legal seminar for lawyers called the "Small Town Lawyer Made Good" and present an award to a designated winner of the "small town lawyer of the year" as a kind of tongue in the cheek but fun idea. Over several years the award was given to a number of dignitaries who found their way to Paulsbo where they were put up at a charming bed and breakfast,The Manor Farm Inn, just outside town. At the time, the Inn was a small farm with animals, a garden and a trout pond. You could pet the animals and if you wanted, go to the pond and catch a trout to eat. In town, there would be a seminar with speakers and then a dinner where the award winner was presented a wall plaque and gave a talk. Everyone had a great time at these annual proceedings. Among those Jeff convinced to travel to Paulsbo for this affair was Wyoming trial lawyer Gerry Spence and other notables including U.S. Supreme Court Justices. I was pleased to receive the award in 1983 and my wife Lita and I had so much fun, we made sure to attend every year it the seminar was conducted until the seminar and award finally died a quiet death.
Why am I telling you this? U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was one of those celebrities Jeff had talked into traveling from Washington DC to Paulsbo for this seminar and award. He and his wife stayed at the Manor Farm Inn where Lita and I were staying. Lita and I thoroughly enjoyed this unassuming and charming man. We have a photograph taken of Stevens and Lita which we framed and still have. So, when I was reading the Sunday New York Times articles about Stevens announced retirement, one particular section caught my eye. One of Stevens former law clerks, Eduardo M. Penalver was relating his memory of Stevens and the paper reported he said:
"During my clerkship interview with Justice Stevens, we talked about our home towns. When I mentioned that I had grown up in a small town near Seattle, he leapt from his chair and pulled a plaque off the wall. It read ‘Small Town Lawyer of the Year: Associate Justice john Paul Stevens.’ It had been given to him a few years before by the bar association of Paulsbo, Wash."
Can you imagine that? He not only kept the award but framed and hung it in his office. Justice Stevens was at heart a small town lawyer (even thought he was a Chicago lawyer with an important practice) and obviously treasured the award which he had been given in Paulsbo. I think that speaks volumes about what a good man Justice Stevens is and why he is so well thought of.