Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bob Sussman

I started law school at the University of Houston in the Fall of 1996. I knew I wanted to be a criminal lawyer, but I had about as much direction on how to achieve that goal as a wind sock. Unlike most of my fellow law students, I had no great plans for a clerkship at a Court of Appeals or some equivalent that was career-guided.

I had absolutely no idea how a law student was supposed to fill his Summer Break.

A very dear family friend, Gardner Parker, called and told me that I ought to spend my Summer as a law clerk for the firm of Hinton Sussman Bailey & Davidson -- a criminal firm built of four former Harris County prosecutors with amazing credentials.

Although my ambition was to ultimately to be a prosecutor, I obviously jumped at the chance.

I started in May of that year. I was dating the girl who would ultimately become my (first) wife, and the job was fantastic. Mike Hinton, Bob Sussman, Joe Bailey, and Charley Davidson were some of the best bosses that any aspiring criminal lawyer could ever hope to have. They were very family oriented. They worked hard. They played hard. There probably couldn't have been more of an affirmation that I was seeking out the right line of work.

All of them had legendary cases under their belts, and I found myself in the company of those Giants that I speak of when it comes to Harris County Criminal Lawyers.

As the clerkship began, I found myself primarily working for Bob Sussman. He and Joe Bailey were working on a death penalty capital case against Kelly Siegler and Vic Wisner. I've mentioned the case before on this blog. For the most part, I was doing whatever Bob Sussman told me to do.

Bob was the gruff, labor-intensive attorney who was the Rainmaker for the Firm. His analytical analysis of the case was unparalled, because the man was simply brilliant. He worked every angle of the case from guilt/innocene to mitigation to legal issues that could be brought up on appeal should the case falter.

And the person he had doing the leg work was me.

Bob was, without a doubt, the toughest boss I ever worked for. He was demanding. Challenging. Unrelenting,

And at the end of the day, amazingly successful.

If I ever had someone that approached the fabled Professor Kingsfield of The Paper Chase fame, it was Bob Sussman. What he had me doing on that case consumed my life. We spoke of the Death Penalty and how to fight the case, and he made me realize what being a criminal lawyer was all about. My entire summer was devoted to living up to Bob's expectations.

He wanted to save our client's life and he would stop at nothing short of doing so.

Good God, we fought hard for Brian Gonzalez's life.

And, in the end, we prevailed. Through a bizarre set of circumstances involving a pregnant juror who went into early labor, there was a mistrial, and thus resulted the one case that Kelly Siegler ever sought the Death Penalty and did not get it.

Bob Sussman had been adamant about putting that pregnant juror on the jury.

The man, although seldom warm and cuddly, was quite brilliant. He was the ultimate vision of what a talented and successful criminal defense attorney could be.

Years later, I was the Division Chief of the Justice of the Peace Division of the District Attorney's Office, when Bob called me. He had a client that he wanted to talk to me about. I was so glad to hear from him, because there was a part of me that so wanted to show him what I had become as a prosecutor. I wanted to show him that his piddly-butt law clerk was actually doing well as a member of the District Attorney's Office.

It was great talking to him, and dealing with him as an equal. And during our entire conversation, I knew that a large part of the way I handled myself as a prosecutor was how hard he had driven me when I was his law clerk. I would like to think that I made him proud of me, but whether or not that was true, I knew that I wouldn't have been where I was if it hadn't been for him and his expectations of me.

He was a tough man to work for, but he had a Heart of Gold, and I stand here today knowing that he made me a better lawyer.

Bob Sussman died today.

He was coming back from working on a case in Jordan, of all places, when he collapsed at the airport and paramedics were unable to revive him.

The last time I had seen him was in March of last year, and it was good to see him.

It was good to feel the mutual respect from someone that I respected so much when I was just a peon First Year Law Student.

I never told Bob Sussman how much his level of drive and dedication served as an example to me in trying each and every one of my cases, but the mark he made in my mind will never go away.

I am very proud to have worked for Bob Sussman. The things I learned from him were countless. He was a great litigator. He was a great legal scholar.

He was a great teacher.

I can promise that he is very much someone I will never forget, and someone who drove me to be the best that I could possibly be.

God Speed, Bob. You will be truly missed.

Sincerely,

Your Student

13 comments:

Alejandro Macias said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jigmeister said...

Bobby Sussman was one hell of a lawyer. In 1985 I transferred from the Trial Bureau to White Collar in Special Crimes. Over the next 5 years that I had that job, I prosecuted several cases against the then Hinton-Sussman firm. I quickly learned that Hinton was the mouth, but Bobby was the brains. One case that I remember well was a lawyer that had “misappropriated” a large amount of money. When we got on to him, he hired Bobby and Mike. The lawyer then gave all his records of his crime to Bobby. Bobby then did the right thing telling me that he had them, but refused to give them up. One a Sunday, I decided to draft a warrant and “get the evidence”. Of course, I wouldn’t break into a law office to execute the warrant, so I called Bobby and told him that I had a duly signed warrant for the records and would be over in an hour.

However, when I showed up with my handy investigator and warrant in hand, Bobby had a shiteatin grin on his face. He got Judge Jo Kegans out of church (I am sure that was a lie), hand wrote an injunction and had her sign it. Check mate. His judge was far meaner than mine. The lawyer eventually plead guilty, but I never got those records. Bobby got the last laugh and we were fast friends and oft adversaries thereafter. Lesson duly learned Bobby.

I’ll miss that grin. The good guys go too early and Bobby Sussman was definately one.

Anonymous said...

I'm still a bit stunned that Bob is gone. I was lucky to have worked for him (and Mike, Joe, Charley, and Stacey) for almost eight years.

Whatever little I've learned about the law is in large part due to Bob Sussman. He could be difficult sometimes, and as the go-to "nice guy" at the firm I spent many hours re-assuring HSBD law clerks that they were not going to be fired, but his frustration was often born out of the fact that the rest of us were usually two steps behind him.

You need only look at the lawyers that worked for him, Murray included, to know that next to defending people and organizations with an unparalleled zeal, his greatest contribution was trying to hammer a little bit of knowledge into our thick skulls - if only we'd listen and "pretend like [he] knew what he was doing."

There are plenty of stories, but right now I'm just too doggone sad to tell 'em. Bob had character, and certainly was a character, and the world is a little less for his leaving.

Vaya con Dios, Bob.

-Eric Morehead-

Anonymous said...

A well deserved and beautiful tribute to Bob.
It says a lot about you as well, Murray.

L.H. said...

Stu Stewart: The death of any friend is difficult to accept, but specially when it is a friend like Bob Sussman. I was assistant DA from 1969-1977. Thereafter I officed with Hinton Sussman & Bailey for 16 years. With Bob Sussman you got what you saw; tenacious,dogmatic,and brilliant-but you had to love him!Some forget that he was the first chief-Consumer Fraud Division-DA's Office and he worked with Deputy Sheriff-Marvin Zindler. Now if you saw that pair coming at you, you better hide.He was a credit to our profession and I give my prayers and condolences to his family and friends. We lost a real warrior.

Ron in Houston said...

You always do a great job of humanizing folks. I guess you'll be using that more now that you're on the defense side, huh?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alejandro Macias said...

Murray, my post is gone!!

-Alex

Anonymous said...

Very eloquent, Murray. Well done.
Feel very sad for all from the original firm and its protogees, who knew Bob best; as well as Kenny, and his family. Go forward and make him proud - you're that good.

Alejandro Macias said...

I remember my time as Bob's clerk (later lawyer) at HSB&D very much like you do, Murray. Bob was the best law "school" teacher I've ever had. I learned from Mike, Joe, Charley and Stacey as well, but Bob made you want to get it right the first time, very right. Bob always knew what was going on. He pushed and pushed and pushed and it made us all better lawyers and people. As much as he pushed he also let you in on his secret--he was a softie at heart. He always asked about my son. When Diego would come over to the office, Bob took the time to get at his level and talk "boy" to him. Bob took a trip to Spain years ago and came back with a key fob with Diego's name on it. Diego still has it attached to his back pack.
I was reminded today how he touched so many people's lives. Friends, clients, adversaries and family all gathered round today to say one last goodbye. I'm going to miss Bob.

Anonymous said...

I handled one case with Bob back in the 90's. Although I did not know Bob before that, I was good friends with Hinton, Davidson and Bailey at the time, and my late defense attorney father had been good friends with all of them for many years.

During the handling of that case, the other prosecutor Gil Epstein was murdered by two crackhead parolees at the Jewish Community Center. Gil had interned for Bob and the firm during law school, like so many others here did. Like y'all, Gil always told me Bob had taught him more in that internship than he learned in the entirity of law school.

When Gil was killed, since he was my good friend and court partner, I was devastated. The entire firm quickly wrote a $5,000 check for a reward. That reward paid off two weeks after the murder and the killer and his accomplice were quickly apprehended.

Charlie's wife Lucy prosecuted the case twice with Rosenthal, but be there no mistake, Lucy did all the heavy lifting. Gil's killer was executed several years ago.

A few weeks after Gil's death, Bob had heard I was having a hard time with it. He called me on several occasions and spend several hours on the phone with me at work and at my home helping me get through it. He gave me all of his numbers and told me just to drop by his office or home if I ever needed to talk more about the death.

I thanked him, of course, at the time for taking the time to talk to me. In spite of his reputation as often being gruff in practice, he was nothing but a good friend to me, someone he hardly knew. His words and his concern, along with that of many others, helped me to get through what was easily the most difficult time of my life.

Although I thanked him on several occasions later, I never really got to properly thank Bob for what he did for me, but always meant to. This isn't something I have shared with alot of folks, but I know it won't surprise Bob's friends as to what a nice guy he really was.

My prayers and sympathies to his friends and family.

Greg Gilleland

John said...

I heard of Bob's passing from a lawyer in an even smaller jurisdiction than my rural county. That is no surprise as Bob seemed to have a friend in every legal community. By luck and the grace of God, I had the good fortune to spend many years working for and with Bob and the other fine lawyers and staff at HS&B and later HSB&D. Everyday I draw on that experience and the many lessons I received from Bob. I miss him as a mentor and a teacher, but mostly as a friend.

John Greenwood

Texas Lawyer said...

Just read the very sad news in the TCDLA magazine; I'm not sure how I missed this note on RSS feed. Very sad. I knew him only briefly, during the transition to LLS, but he was so bright and funny and good.