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.