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Blood Bath in Paradise

Love hasn't been in the air of late at the Trial Lawyers College in DuBois, Wyoming. Oops, make that the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College in DuBois, Wyoming. Attend and purchase valuable gifts, including Gerry Spence coffee mugs, photographs and a memorabilia.

During the summer there was a shake up on the board. Two long-time members were asked to leave by none other than the man himself. The recently departed? John Nolte, a nationally recognized psychodramatist, and Charles Abourzek of South Dakota. Abourzekhas long been active in Indian-American affairs, notwithstanding his Lebanese descent. Less controversial souls have been tapped to replace the two.

What happened? Details are hard to come by. Board seats are coveted by members of the college. They denote access to the man and prestige. You get to rub elbows with the likes of Milton Grimes, the lawyer who won the Rodney King civil verdict, and with Spence, who has won enough money to live like an Asian dictator with homes in several ports of pleasure. You gain a seat at the round table, where the first among equals is a man regarded by many as one of the 20th centuries best trial lawyers. Call it derivative fame.

Although there is no public comment on the board shake up, insiders suggest that there was turbulence in the air about how central the teaching of psychodramatic technique should be in the curriculum and whether the college had become a little too concerned with building its endowment. Earlier in the year, one television network suggested that the college operated as an expensive tax-dodge for Spence.

There are also dynastic concerns. What becomes of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College once Spence has, well, moved to the great beyond? Charisma giving way to something less is bound to be painful.

I once loved the college and was a part of its staff. Indeed, I write periodically about the law for a publication, The Warrior, to which alum may subscribe. But I soured when the cost of participating exceeded the satisfaction to be had. What began as a band of happy warriors was giving way to the sort of ordinary day-to-day hickering and dickering to which all institutions succumb. Somehow the cost of worshipping at another man's altar just didn't seem worth the aggravation.

Looks like politics as usual at the Thunderhead Ranch.