VOL. 126 | NO. 17 | Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Houston Gordon Kicks Off MBA’s Lawyers Conversations Series
By Andy Meek
At a lunchtime gathering the Memphis Bar Association is planning to host, trial attorney Houston Gordon will be the center of attention for the first in a series of informal seminars titled “Conversations with Local Lawyers of Distinction.”
Gordon, who has a law office in Covington, unquestionably fits that label, said his longtime friend and MBA president John Cannon.
“I think there are a lot of lawyers around here who do not get credit for the things they’ve done in the past, ” Cannon said.
For the first session, Gordon will present a few chapters from his life’s story.
It starts with a humble beginning and later finds Gordon squarely in the spotlight – as well as the crucible.
Gordon is quick with a self-deprecating assessment of himself as a country lawyer. But although his early years found him on a Tennessee farm milking cows, the dominant image of his life is that of a take-no-prisoners trial lawyer who’s crossed swords with the federal government, major corporations and a long list of other adversaries in pursuit of his clients’ interests.
“I believe our justice system, as flawed as it is, is the best on earth,” Gordon said. “And the only way it’s ever going to work is when we have lawyers on both sides of the issue who are competent, ethical and who play by the rules.”
Gordon showed that belief early in his career, when he was a young Army lawyer representing an unpopular client – Lt. William Calley Jr.
Calley was appealing his murder conviction in the Vietnam-era My Lai massacre. Gordon’s client had famously been convicted of the murder of Vietnamese villagers.
“In that situation, I learned to deal with the pressures from the press, the pressures politically, and I learned to do battle with the government and its vast resources,” Gordon said. “That case and other cases that I handled ... gave me a real insight into how criminal law worked and how the appellate systems worked.”
Gordon’s career has pretty much not slowed down since then.
Four decades after he began practicing law, Gordon has tried cases in multiple states. He’s handled everything from medical negligence to condemnation and complex medical device cases.
His law office is in a rural part of West Tennessee, so his practice also includes representing “a lot of little old ladies” and plenty of pro bono work.
Along with Memphis attorney Leo Bearman, Gordon is helping spearhead a federal lawsuit challenging the system of majority votes being needed inside and outside city limits to create a metropolitan government. Oral arguments are coming up in the next few weeks on a motion in that case.
In the 1990s, Gordon made a long-shot run against Fred Thompson for a U.S. Senate seat. More recently, Gordon was unsuccessful in his candidacy to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Separate from his law career, he’s dabbled in real estate and written a novel, according to a profile in BusinessTN Magazine.
What arguably has produced the most success for Gordon, however, is a life long-lived in the law – of being an advocate for clients in the sometimes tense room where a blind lady rules in the name of justice.
“It’s been a dramatic kind of wonderful way to make a living,” Gordon said.