Random Thoughts by Gary Cooper

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by Gary L. Cooper

I know this will be published in the January issue of The Advocate. I am writing it in late November. In fact, I have procrastinated and am writing it just before it is due. I have thought about this article for a few weeks since I was reminded that it is my turn to author the column for the January issue. It was easy to set this task aside. I have been working pretty hard in the last couple of months writing briefs, opinion letters, and expert disclosures. As a result, I think I have written everything I have to say, and I am struggling to come up with anything to contribute for this column. So, forgive me because the rest of my column consists of random thoughts.

End of the year or beginning of a new year? That is one of those “glass half empty” or “glass half full” conundrums that we all face at the end of every year. Most of the time I dread the beginning of the new year, because as hard as I try, I have never been able to fully appreciate in December how preparation for next year’s trials becomes a crisis on January 2. Preparation seems so far away in December and in my head, it is easy to convince myself that I am ready, and that it will not require a lot of additional preparation. That is how my mind works when I am focused on meeting year-end deadlines, seeing my family, and celebrating the Christmas holidays. I set aside next year’s tasks. Do you see a pattern developing?

Every year on January 2 reality hits hard. I am sure I will have the same feeling of panic on January 2, 2024, that I have every year, but 2024 will be different. I will be retiring at the end of 2024. My wife of 50+ years and I have decided to embark on one last adventure. I hope to be able to attend the Annual Meeting in 2025, which will be my 50th year of being an Idaho lawyer. I will share with you how the adventure is going. I have also decided to procrastinate about what to do with my license until then.

I have been incredibly lucky to practice law in Idaho for the past 48 years. I have been mentored by some of the best lawyers in our state. I have written about them in previous columns. They are now gone, and I miss them, but I don’t dwell on that. There are many great lawyers from the two firms I have been a part of during my time as an Idaho lawyer who are still with us. I have also had the privilege of mentoring some of the best young lawyers in Idaho – Tony Sasser, Mark Echo Hawk, James Ruchti, Javier Gabiola, JD Oborn, and Tony Budge. I know each will make a positive impact on the practice of law. Not because of me. They came to me that way, I just made a few adjustments.

They are not alone. One of the privileges of being an Idaho State Bar Commissioner is that it has given me the opportunity to meet many young lawyers throughout Idaho who have the same vision as those I’ve mentioned – to use their legal education and training to help people. This past fall I did something I have not done for 48 years. I repeated the Idaho attorney’s oath along with 82 new admittees to the Idaho State Bar on September 29. It is a powerful oath which is worth re-reading from time to time. The last line is an important reminder of our responsibilities to each other and to the public: “I will conduct myself personally and professionally in conformity with the high standards of my profession.” That line means something different to me now, 48 years after I first voiced those words. It is not always easy to live up to those high standards.

"One of the privileges of being an Idaho State Bar Commissioner is that it has given me the opportunity to meet many young lawyers throughout Idaho who have the same vision as those I’ve mentioned – to use their legal education and training to help people."

I attended the Bellwood Memorial Lecture Series in October. Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit gave a fascinating lecture. He focused on state constitutions and the rights which are protected therein. The press and pundits focus on the rights guaranteed by the federal constitution and the interpretation of those rights given by the United States Supreme Court. Consequently, I have forgotten to think about whether there are additional rights protected by the Constitution of the State of Idaho which might supplement protections or provide different protections to citizens of the State of Idaho.

For example, Article I, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution declares the following inalienable rights of man: “All men are by nature free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property; pursuing happiness and securing safety.” I am no constitutional scholar, but I don’t remember the words “defending life and liberty” and “protecting property” in the Bill of Rights. I am sure these rights, as declared by the Idaho framers, are not without limitations, but it certainly makes the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution take on a new meaning for me.

There are 23 separate sections to the Declaration of Rights of the Idaho Constitution. Read them for yourself and let your imagination do the rest. Personally, I am not as awe inspired by the United States Supreme Court as I once was. I like the idea of letting the Idaho Supreme Court have a say in protecting our inalienable rights. Judge Sutton has a valid point, namely that state supreme courts should have a more important position in the world of constitutional law. It was a thought-provoking lecture.

We have past-president of the Idaho State Bar and former Idaho District Court Judge Sherman Bellwood to thank for these yearly lectures. Judge Bellwood endowed the Sherman J. Bellwood Lectures at the College of Law. According to the terms of his will, Judge Bellwood’s purpose in establishing this endowment was “to enable the College of Law to invite and present persons learned in the law to lecture on legal subjects from time to time.” What an important gift!

For those that have served on the Idaho State Bar Board of Commissioners, you know that the highlight of every year is the Roadshow. Fellow Commissioners Mary York, Jillian Caires, Kristin Bjorkman, and Hon. Bob Jackson joined me and several Idaho State Bar staff members as we traveled to each of Idaho’s judicial districts in November. It was a great opportunity to renew friendships and be introduced to new friends. The recipients of the Professionalism Awards and Denise O’Donnell Day Pro Bono Awards were amazing. We were also able to recognize several members of the judiciary who retired this year. It was a great way to wrap up 2023.

May this new year provide you and your team with many interesting opportunities to help others with your law degree and training. Remember your pro bono obligations this year. I look forward to seeing you at the Annual Meeting in July in Boise.

Cooper, Gary

Gary L. Cooper

Gary L. Cooper was raised in Idaho. He received an undergraduate degree and law degree from the University of Idaho. He has practiced in Pocatello since 1975. For the last 25 years he has practiced with his good friends, Reed Larsen and Ron Kerl. He and his wife, Jane, have three children and five grandchildren.