"The function of the law is not to provide justice or to preserve freedom. The function of the law is to keep those who hold power, in power." -- Gerry Spence
Gerry Spence (b. January 8, 1929, Laramie, Wyoming) is a trial lawyer in the United States. He has had more multi-million dollar verdicts without an intervening loss than any other lawyer in the US. In 2008, he announced he would retire, at age 79, at the end of the Geoffrey Fieger trial in Detroit, MI. Spence did not lose a criminal case with a trial by jury in the over 50 years he practiced law. Detnews.com | This article is no longer available online
"Government is operated by deeply embedded, hopelessly entangled bureaus where nothing is accomplished because the function of the bureau is to intercept every living idea and smother it.""Is there anyone I wouldn't take as a client? Well, I'd never represent a banker.""What the insurance companies have done is to reverse the business so that the public at large insures the insurance companies."
Spence graduated from the University of Wyoming Law School in 1952. The University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in May 1990. He started his career in Riverton, Wyoming, and later became a successful defense attorney for the insurance industry. Years later, Spence said he "saw the light" and became committed to representing people, instead of corporations, insurance companies, banks, or Big Business.
Gerry Spence and his second wife, Imogene Spence, share their time between homes near Jackson, Wyoming and Santa Barbara, California.
Spence gained attention for the Karen Silkwood case. Karen Silkwood was a chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee plutonium production plant, where she became an activist and vocal critic of plant safety, what would now be known as a whistleblower. On November 13, 1974, Silkwood died in a fatal one-car crash under suspicious circumstances after reportedly gathering evidence for her union. Spence represented Silkwood's father and children, who charged that Kerr-McGee was responsible for exposing Silkwood to dangerous levels of radiation. Spence won a $10.5 million verdict for the family.
In 1984, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the family's right to sue under state law for punitive damages from a federally regulated industry. The Silkwood case achieved international fame and was the subject of many books, magazine and newspaper articles, and a major motion picture.
Other famous cases
After the Silkwood case, Spence tried a number of high profile cases. He has not lost a civil case since 1969, and has never lost a criminal case with a trial by jury. He has had several of his more prominent civil verdicts overturned on appeal, and lost a 1985 manslaughter case at trial in Newport Oregon in December 1985, later prevailing on appeal.
Spence successfully defended Randy Weaver on murder, assault, conspiracy, and gun charges in the Ruby Ridge, Idaho, federal standoff case, by successfully impugning the conduct of the FBI and its crime lab. Notably, Spence never called a single witness for the defense. Instead, he simply relied on contradictions and holes in the prosecution's story.
He also successfully defended Ed Cantrell in the Rock Springs, Wyoming murder case, and won the acquittal of former Filipino First Lady Imelda Marcos in New York City on federal racketeering charges.
Spence also defended Earth First! founder Davis Foreman.
On June 2, 2008, Spence obtained an acquittal of Detroit lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who was charged with making unlawful campaign contributions. Before returning a not guilty verdict, the federal court jury deliberated 18 hours over four days. The acquittal kept Spence's record intact of never losing a criminal case, including the Michael Jones homicide trial in 1985.
In civil litigation, Spence won a $52 million verdict against McDonald's Corporation on behalf of a small, family-owned ice cream company. A medical malpractice verdict of over $4 million established a new standard for nursing care in Utah. Spence also earned a $33.5 million verdict for emotional and punitive damages for his quadriplegic client, after a major insurance company refused to pay on the $50,000 policy.
Mock Trial: United States v. Oswald
In 1986, Spence defended Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, against famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in a 21-hour televised unscripted mock trial sponsored by London Weekend Television in the United Kingdom. The mock trial involved an actual U.S. judge, a jury of U.S. citizens, the introduction of hundreds of evidence exhibits, and many actual witnesses to events surrounding and including the assassination. Expressing admiration for his adversary's prosecutorial skill, Spence remarked, "No other lawyer in America could have done what Vince did in this case." And Bugliosi seems to hold Spence in similarly high regard. The "docu-trial" and his preparation for it inspired Bugliosi's 1600-page book examining the details of the Kennedy assassination and various related conspiracy theories, entitled Reclaiming History, winner of the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. Several times in the book Bugliosi specifically cites his respect for Spence's abilities as a defense attorney as his impetus for digging more deeply into various aspects of the case than he perhaps would have otherwise.
During the election season of 2004, Spence, a vocal opponent of tort reform, crisscrossed his native Wyoming spearheading a series of self-funded town hall-style meetings to inform voters of an upcoming ballot measure, Constitutional Amendment D, which would have limited Wyoming citizens' ability to recover compensation if injured by medical malpractice. The ballot measure failed, with a 50.3% "No" vote.
For many years, Spence has lectured at law schools and conducted seminars at various legal organizations around the country.
He is the founder and director of the non-profit Trial Lawyers College, where, per its mission statement, lawyers and judges "committed to the jury system" are trained to help achieve justice for individuals fighting "corporate and government oppression," particularly those individuals who could be described as "the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned."
Spence is also the founder of Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming, a non-profit, public interest law firm.
Spence served as legal consultant for NBC television covering the O.J. Simpson trial and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and Geraldo. He briefly had his own talk show on MSNBC, which he hosted from his home in Wyoming.
After winning the Fieger acquittal in 2008, Spence told jurors, "This is my last case. I will be 80 in January, and it's time for me to quit, to put down the sword." Spence's No Loss Record Stands With Fieger Acquittal, ABA Journal. In 2010, Spence continues to be listed as an active partner in the Spence Law Firm, located in Jackson, Wyoming and continues to make public appearances.