For my blog post today about Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, I'll use as my starting-point something that Morris says on pages 191-192. The context is Richard Nixon's time as a lawyer in Whittier.
Schee was defeated on the two appeals, and [Nixon's] own lack of skill
or authority in the original case ruled beside the point by the higher
court, Richard Nixon's 'alleged misconduct' would be inscribed in the
California appellate records summarizing the later cases. It was all
uncomfortably reminiscent of some of the sharp practice he had denounced
not so long before in his Duke legal ethics paper."
The case in
question is that of Marie Schee. Schee's uncle and aunt, Otto and
Jennevieve Steuer, owed her $2,000, and the firm where Nixon was working
represented her. An arrangement was made for the Steuers to repay
Schee through the sale of their house. Nixon asked the Steuers'
attorney for advice on how to go about this, and the attorney
recommended that Nixon bid for the house all of the amount of money that
the Steuers owed to Schee. Nixon did so, without consulting his
client. But there was a problem: Nixon did not check to see if other
people had liens or mortgages in the house. It turned out that there
were actually other people who held trusts on it. The outcome of all
this was that the house got sold, but Schee did not get repayed. Later
on, the small firm where Nixon worked settled out of court a malpractice
suit by Schee and her parents (who had been aiming to buy the house
then resell it to get their daughter's money, yet they were outbid),
paying them $4,800. But the matter did not end there, for Schee and the
Steuers continued to dispute about whether the Steuers still owed Schee
I can't say that I understand all of this, nor do I want to wrack my brain trying
to understand it. I'm also not entirely sure where Nixon was
unethical, or fell short of the high ethical standard that he outlined
in his legal ethics paper at Duke. He seems to me to have been more
naive and negligent than unethical. Or was the problem that he failed
to consult his client before acting on her behalf?
In any case,
the idea that Nixon would later fall short of his ideals at Duke Law
School appears more than once in Morris' book. On pages 173-174, Morris
discusses a paper that Duke Law student Richard Nixon wrote about the
need to provide free legal services to the poor. Nixon in that paper
lamented that "the influential client gains at the expense of the poor",
and he said that "the lawyer, ideally, is a public servant" (Nixon's
words). Morris goes on to say: "In November 1936, he argued
passionately much the same evidence for inequity, much the same case for
free legal services to the poor, that Richard Nixon as President of the
United States would heatedly deny and reject thirty-five years later."
page 177, Morris talks about Nixon's arguments about race with
southerners at Duke. Nixon was outraged by the racial segregation that
he saw around him (Duke is in North Carolina), and southern students at
Duke recalled Nixon's strong, unyielding stance. Nixon in his memoirs
says that, while he disagreed with the southerners, he came to respect
their patriotism, pride, and "interest in national issues", and that
years after his time at Duke he "felt strongly that it was time to bring
the South back into the Union" (Nixon's words). Morris goes on to say,
with a tone that strikes me as rather sarcastic: "But that was written
long after the fact, by an ex-President who had revolutionized party
politics in the American South by a naked and brilliant calculus of
issues and electoral votes that had little to do with arguments beneath
Durham's Gothic spires in the mid-1930s."
Believe truth! Shun error!
2 hours ago