Jerry Buchmeyer (1933-2009) — lawyer, judge, humorist, family man.
Jerry Buchmeyer, 76, passed away on September 21. Blawgletter — along with a great many others — will miss him.
Judge Buchmeyer aimed for an ideal in which lawyers got along with and, yes, even liked each other. He coaxed attorneys to squint to see their opponents' humanity and to act decently. He didn't always use humor but often did, and to good effect.
A memorial service for Judge Buchmeyer will commence at 4:00 p.m. today at the Belo Mansion, 2101 Ross Avenue, in downtown Dallas. An article from The Dallas Morning News follows:
When friends and family of retired U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer gather for his memorial service Friday, spirited memories and laughter promise to be at the top of the docket.
In a 1991 order – which he wrote on the back of a blank check and gave to a law clerk – Buchmeyer left these instructions: "I want an 'Irish Wake' celebration. At Belo of course."
The service is at 4 p.m., and, as the judge directed, it will be at the Belo Mansion. Buchmeyer died Sept. 21 of natural causes.
Buchmeyer penned his wishes after attending a fellow judge's services, which he felt were too somber.
"He was telling all the family that he wanted us to gather people around and tell the funny, memorable stories about him, not necessarily wax on in a boring, labored way," said his son, Jon Paul Buchmeyer of New York.
"I didn't feel like we needed to go over his four big iconic cases and have speakers from those areas. It was more important to remember the man as a funny, humorous, engaging person."
In addition to his children and grandchildren, the memorial service will include members of Buchmeyer's informal family – his former law clerks, who still gather from across the country to hold Dallas reunions.
"There's going to be plenty of laughter, and that's how he would have wanted it," said former clerk Toni Nguyen, now assistant general counsel for Belo Corp., the parent company of WFAA-TV (Channel 8) and former owner of The Dallas Morning News.
"I don't think he was into the somber mood."
State Sen. Wendy Davis, who clerked for the judge with Nguyen in 1993-94, remembers him for his humor – and incredible humanity.
She recalled his agony in having to apply mandatory sentencing guidelines to a 19-year-old facing 40 years in prison for his third robbery conviction
"The judge stayed up all night trying to find a way outside the guidelines, because he didn't feel that was an appropriate sentence," Davis said. The teenager "was a good kid who had been caught up with the wrong people at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"When he sentenced him, he sat on the bench and just cried."
Davis later drew on her clerkship lessons when she was a Fort Worth City Council member. She remembers being confronted by irate homeowners who were opposed to public-housing residents being relocated to their neighborhood.
"I always had him in my mind and in my heart when I was facing the criticism I faced and the personal difficulties I faced as a result of that decision," Davis said.
Buchmeyer isn't an easy man to capture in words, said former clerk Meg Penrose, a law professor at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.
"It's really hard to describe him with any one word, story or adjective," said Penrose. "This is a man who had led such a rich, rich life."
President Bill Clinton had considered elevating Buchmeyer to the U.S. 5th Circuit of Appeals, but the judge was happy in Dallas, Penrose said.
"He didn't want to do that because one of the things he liked about being a trial judge was being able to reach the right decision based on the law and affect individuals in such a rich way," she said.
Despite the claims of those who didn't always agree with his rulings, Buchmeyer did not legislate from the bench, said longtime friend and fellow attorney Louis Weber of Dallas.
"He was always following the law. He just was a liberal in most of his thinking, and, therefore, some people considered that legislating even though he wasn't doing it," Weber said.
Few people have known Buchmeyer longer than Frank Finn of Dallas, who remembers the judge arriving at the law firm of Thompson & Knight in 1958.
"I was somewhat jealous of this newly arrived little guy, who was just smart as hell," Finn recalled.
"He did beautiful work. He was careful, very thoughtful, but he was also very quiet. He didn't make waves."
President Jimmy Carter appointed Buchmeyer to the federal bench in 1979.
"He wanted to be a federal judge and he was a damn good one," Finn said. "I didn't agree with him politically. I admired him, however for his legal acumen."
But most of all, Nguyen said, Buchmeyer will be remembered for how he treated people.
"He showed all of us not just how to be a great legal scholar and a good lawyer," she said, "but how to be a good person."