Tom Chandler, 1920-2013

Tom Chandler, 1920-2013

We received the very sad news this week that Tom Chandler had died on November 29. The Tucson attorney was 94.

Of course, Tom was one of the most well-known Arizona lawyers, recognized for his legal achievements and his giving nature.

As the Arizona Daily Star article opens:

“Tom Chandler, a retired attorney considered to be among Tucson’s most dedicated philanthropists, has died. He was 94.”

“Chandler, who was born in a barn to an impoverished family and spent much of his life helping people in need, died Friday at home of prostate cancer.”

“No public services are planned. His family plans to sprinkle some of his ashes in the Catalina Mountains overlooking the city he loved.”

“‘It’s a huge loss,’ said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, with whom Chandler had a decades-long friendship.”

“‘He was one of the great men of Tucson. His legacy is everywhere.’”

Read the whole article here.

As you might guess, Tom was “in” Arizona Attorney Magazine a few times over the years. Most recently, a U.S. District Court Judge in Vermont, Hon. Christina Reiss, took the time to write for us about her experience as a young law clerk to Tom’s firm. It says much about him that she wanted to write about him not just as a great lawyer, but as a mentor.

And just this past summer, an article by Richard Bellah examined the question “Who’s Number 1?” Who are the oldest-living Arizona lawyers with the lowest Bar numbers?

Tom Chandler came in at the number-three berth, with Bar Number 000365.

You can read our entire article here. But what follows is what the article said about one of Arizona’s greats. Rest in peace.

Third on our list is Tom Chandler, Bar Number 365.

Tom Chandler, holder of the third-lowest Arizona Bar number of still-living attorneys, remembers Arizona’s first licensed attorney, Ralph Bilby, as a longtime friend, colleague and opponent.

“He defended a railroad case that I had, as well as a real estate matter, an antitrust case, and a personal injury claim. Ralph was a premiere trial lawyer” who continued to work in his law office even in his later years.

Asked to recount memorable significant cases, Chandler responds that all of his client cases were significant. Whether it was a big-dollar case or small, he gave each case 100 percent effort. One case he thought unique involved the largest bond default in the country, with total exposure of $4 billion. It involved so many attorneys that a hotel conference room was used to hold court.

Law practice wasn’t Chandler’s first ambition. “I really wanted to be a professional baseball player but got my right arm and shoulder injured, so I couldn’t throw the ball from first base to home.” In 1942, Chandler earned his undergrad degree from the University of Arizona and started working for the Army Corps of Engineers. He started law school at the U of A in 1943 and graduated three years later, first in his class. He remembers the 1946 bar exam well.

“It was two days, no time off for lunch—well, you could take time off, but no time was budgeted. The first day went like a charm; I got through early and decided to celebrate.”

He went to a baseball game that lasted 19 innings, didn’t get much sleep, and struggled with day two of the exam. Nonetheless, he and 14 others passed the bar; they were licensed on September 30, 1946.

Chandler was a trial lawyer. He agrees that trying cases is stressful work and points out that his most difficult cases involved the death penalty, which he strongly advocated against. “If you want the acid test as a trial lawyer, get yourself a first-degree murder case where they’re seeking the death penalty,” he says.

Chandler’s advice to new lawyers reflects his belief that the law is a helping profession.

“If you want to be rich, go into business. If your aim in practicing law is to make money, then you’re on the wrong road; do something else. You’ve got to make a living, yes, but don’t get caught up in this rush and reverence to the bottom line.”

Chandler believes that lawyers are “supposed to be doing something good for mankind.” He urges lawyers to take on more pro bono cases.

“See if you can’t say, ‘I moved some rocks out of the road for a lot of people.’”

In 1999, the U of A College of Law created the Thomas Chandler Public Service Award, which awards scholarships to students pursuing careers in public service. Recently, Chandler was awarded the Tucson Founders’ Award for his many years of community service. And his daughter, Terry Chandler, a 1980 graduate from the U of A Law School, recently retired from the Pima County Superior Court bench.

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