Spence, Gerald 1929- (Gerald Leonard Spence)

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Spence, Gerald 1929- (Gerald Leonard Spence)


Born January 8, 1929, in Laramie, WY; son of Gerald M. (a chemist) and Esther Sophie (a homemaker) Spence; married Anna Wilson, June 20, 1947 (divorced, 1969); married LaNelle Hampton Peterson Hawks (a designer), November 18, 1969; children: (first marriage) Kip, Kerry Spence Suendermann, Kent, Katy; Christopher Peterson Hawks, Brents Jefferson Hawks (stepsons). Education: University of Wyoming, B.S.L., 1949, LL.B. (magna cum laude), 1952.


Home—Jackson, WY. Office—The Spence Law Firm, LLC, P.O. Box 548, Jackson, WY 83001. E-mail—[email protected].


Admitted to the Bar of Wyoming State, 1952, and the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court; private practice of law, Riverton, WY, 1952-54; county and prosecuting attorney in Fremont County, WY, 1954-62; partner in private law firms in Riverton and Casper, WY, 1962-78; Spence, Moriarity and Shockey (law firm), Jackson, WY, senior partner, 1978-2002, partner, 2002—. Trial Lawyers College (nonprofit organization), founder and director; Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming (nonprofit public interest law firm), founder; lecturer in trial advocacy for legal organizations and law schools. CNBC-TV, creator and host of the weekly program The Gerry Spence Show, 1995; guest on television programs, including Larry King Live; consultant on the O.J. Simpson trial to NBC-TV.


American Bar Association, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Wyoming Bar Association, Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association.


LL.D., University of Wyoming, 1990.


(With Anthony Polk) Gunning for Justice, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1982.

Of Murder and Madness: A True Story of Insanity and the Law, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1983.

Trial by Fire: The True Story of a Woman's Ordeal at the Hands of the Law, Morrow (New York, NY), 1986.

With Justice for None: Destroying an American Myth, Times Books (New York, NY), 1989.

From Freedom to Slavery: The Rebirth of Tyranny in America, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.

How to Argue and Win Every Time: At Home, at Work, in Court, Everywhere, Every Day, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

The Making of a Country Lawyer (autobiography), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

(Author of foreword) Lou Jones, Final Exposure: Portraits from Death Row, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1996.

O.J.: The Last Word (Literary Guild selection), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Give Me Liberty! Freeing Ourselves in the Twenty-first Century, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Gerry Spence's Wyoming: The Landscape; Photographs and Poetry, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

A Boy's Summer: Father and Son Together, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Half-Moon and Empty Stars, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.

Seven Simple Steps to Personal Freedom, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.

The Smoking Gun: Day by Day through a Shocking Murder Trial with Gerry Spence; A True Story, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.

Win Your Case: How to Present, Persuade, Prevail—Every Place, Every Time, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power: The Rise and Risks of the New Conservative Hate Culture, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2006.


Gerald Spence is a nationally known lawyer who has represented such high-profile clients as Randy Weaver, the children of Karen Silkwood, and Imelda Marcos. Already a respected trial lawyer in his native Wyoming, Spence attained national prominence in 1979 when he won a multimillion-dollar legal judgment on behalf of the children of Karen Silkwood. The suit, concerning Silkwood's contamination by radioactive plutonium in her job manufacturing fuel rods for nuclear reactors, is regarded as the most important nuclear power-related personal injury case to date.

Spence has since scored a number of other highly publicized victories in personal injury litigation. He won a record-setting 26.5-million-dollar decree against Penthouse magazine for a former Miss Wyoming. The batonist-beauty contestant claimed that the magazine's story of a Miss Wyoming whose sexual skills surpassed her baton-twirling talent was libelous. Considered a master of jury persuasion and the art of cross-examination, Spence is also an avocational poet and painter; he is, wrote David Noonan in Esquire, "a genuine Western renaissance man."

Spence began his career in trial advocacy as a prosecutor for Fremont County, Wyoming, a post he held for eight years. After an unsuccessful bid to become the Republican candidate for Congress in 1962, he joined a private law firm in the city of Riverton and represented insurance companies in personal injury trials. He compiled an extensive win record with an extremely aggressive courtroom style and litigated major cases in Colorado and other western states.

At age forty, however, Spence suffered a midlife crisis and came to doubt the value of his work. "I just felt like I was going nowhere," he recalled to David Noonan. Spence describes that period in his book Of Murder and Madness: A True Story of Insanity and the Law. He lost an unprecedented three cases in a row and was passed over for appointment to a judgeship he had sought. He also repeatedly encountered people whose injury claims he had defeated in court, including an auto crash victim with a back condition whom, Spence admitted to People contributor Cheryl McCall, "I arrogantly and unjustly beat" out of a compensation claim. "People said I had great skills, but what does it mean if you don't use them correctly?" he recalled asking himself.

So one afternoon in 1970, Spence abruptly severed all ties to some forty companies he had represented and pledged henceforth to advocate for "the little man" against corporations. "In America, corporations need us to survive, so they've enslaved our minds and our value systems," Spence observed to McCall. "But like dragons, corporations can be slain. I decided to be seen as the country lawyer, living in a small town, who could kill corporations in the courtroom." Spence does not consider himself a public interest or "movement" lawyer, noted Esquire writer Noonan, but he enjoys taking what he calls "double-barreled" cases—personal injury lawsuits that combine big fees and social significance. His strikingly successful track record has catapulted him into the ranks of the country's top lawyers and has given him the financial wherewithal to choose high-visibility cases he believes in, wrote Noonan.

Observers of Spence's courtroom style attribute a good measure of this success to the Wyoming advocate's ability to hold sway with juries. Spence himself thinks he owes his credibility to a gift for communicating in plain, simple English in the courtroom, conveying a sense of personal candor and respect for the jury. "I just talk Western," he explained to Noonan.

Spence further credits part of his success to the meticulous research and pretrial case preparation his firm routinely practices, usually outspending the oppos- ing side. He attributes his victory in the Silkwood case largely to his success in discrediting the defense's expert witnesses on cross-examination and to his ability to translate complex technical issues into human terms for the jury. Karen Silkwood, a union shop steward, died in 1974 in an automobile accident under mysterious circumstances. She was on her way to meet a journalist and a union official to discuss allegedly lax procedures in the manufacture and handling of plutonium at the Kerr-McGee Corporation's Cimarron, Oklahoma, plant. Silkwood herself had suffered plutonium contamination at the plant, and her survivors brought a negligence suit against the company. Spence won a 10.5-million-dollar damage award for Silkwood's estate—later appealed by Kerr-McGee—and for himself, praise from presiding federal judge Frank Theis. To Noonan, Spence described the suit as perhaps "the most important case of all time, because it has to do with the survival of man, and there can't be anything more important than that."

Spence details the Silkwood trial in Gunning for Justice, along with two other of his most important cases. One of these found the customary defense attorney in the unlikely position of acting as unpaid special prosecutor for the state in the trial of a Wyoming man charged with four murders. The victims included a close lawyer friend of Spence, killed with his wife and son when a dynamite bomb was hurled into their home. Though a lifelong opponent of capital punishment, Spence successfully sought the death penalty from the jury after the accused was charged with ordering from jail the contract murder of a key prosecution witness. The third case in the book involved Spence's successful defense of a Wyoming police officer accused of murdering an undercover narcotics agent. Reviewing Gunning for Justice for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Morton Kamins commented that Spence "writes here with candor and flair about his up-and-down-and-up life—his roots, his love for the Wyoming landscape, his law career—admixed with full-blooded narratives of three complex and fascinating cases."

In his second book, Of Murder and Madness, Spence recounts his successful defense of an accused murderer on the premise of insanity due to socioeconomic circumstances. In what seemed an open-and-shut capital case, Spence's client, Joe Esquibel of Rawlins, Wyoming, had been charged with murdering his ex-wife in front of eight witnesses at the local welfare office. Spence originally took up Esquibel's defense, he writes, simply to amuse himself and test his legal prowess to win acquittal for a client "so obviously guilty that the public will demand he be hauled away without even a trial." In familiarizing himself with Esquibel's background and circumstances, however, Spence came up with the theory that a life of poverty, family deprivation, and ethnic discrimination had so twisted Esquibel's psyche as to render him incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong when he shot his ex-wife in a jealous rage. Though unable to find a single psychiatrist to buttress his argument in court during the first trial, Spence managed to convince the three different juries Esquibel faced over the course of seven years that his client was insane.

Reviewing Of Murder and Madness in the New York Times Book Review, Alan M. Dershowitz remarked, Spence "spins a wonderful yarn … speaks the folk language of the juror, and is as compelling as a country preacher." New York Times contributor Walter Goodman termed the author's autobiographical digressions an "exercise in self-dramatization," but added, "when it is in control, his prose can be evocative." Goodman drew attention to Spence's "convincing examples of the prejudice and exploitation suffered by Mexican-Americans in Wyoming and elsewhere."

Outside the courtroom, Spence told Noonan, one of his main interests is the training of young lawyers in trial advocacy. He criticizes the legal education establishment, terming its leaders "the morticians of the profession." Spence's dream is to open a graduate school in trial law in the mountains of Wyoming to "unteach most of the things [students] learn in school," as he told McCall. Specifically, he would concentrate on teaching direct, honest communication; the effective use of emotional energy; and the development of methods of resisting intimidation in the courtroom.

Spence realized that dream when he opened the nonprofit Trial Lawyers College in Dubois, Wyoming, where, as he told CA, "lawyers learn to try cases on behalf of the people." He also founded Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm. He continues to accept occasional cases that engage his interest and his passion for defending ordinary people against a system that he has called unjust. Spence also continues to write about what is wrong with the system and what might be done to correct it.

In With Justice for None: Destroying an American Myth, Spence argues that the American justice system protects the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged. He criticizes the lawyers who concen- trate on wealthy clients, the law schools that train them, and the judicial system itself. Spence offers potential solutions that, according to Library Journal reviewer Sally G. Waters, "range from idealistic to impractical." An Atlantic reviewer characterized them as "extensive and plausible" and described the book itself as "frequently witty and … enlivened by unexpected information and comparisons." Waters concluded: "Readers will find some good information about the legal system."

Another of Spence's explorations in American values is the book From Freedom to Slavery: The Rebirth of Tyranny in America. Spence moves beyond the courtroom to puncture the notion that freedom is a reality in American society. He blames not only the corporate powermongers and government bureaucrats who seem to be his favorite targets, but ordinary, individual citizens who naively relinquish their freedom in exchange for what they perceive will be increased personal security. Spence also recounts his defense of Randy Weaver, an Idaho man accused of firearms violations. During what has been called the Ruby Ridge incident, Weaver's teenaged son was killed by government agents, who shot him in the back, while his wife was killed with a shot to the head by an FBI sniper while she held the couple's infant daughter in her arms. Describing the book as "a blend of down-home anecdotes and populist political philosophy," Mary Carroll recommended it to Booklist readers as "an impassioned, accessible alternative to the [Ross] Perotista critique of American life-styles." To a Publishers Weekly reviewer, however, the lawyer's commentaries "sound more like impassioned court statements than well-structured arguments."

During the murder trial of football legend O.J. Simpson, Spence was a frequent legal commentator for NBC-TV and a variety of television talk shows. After the trial he wrote O.J.: The Last Word, "a compelling postmortem," according to Library Journal reviewer Phillip Young Blue. The book offers critical analyses of the prosecution team, the jury, and to a lesser extent the controversial Judge Ito. What separated this study from the spate of tomes that erupted into print after Simpson's acquittal, Ilene Cooper wrote in Booklist, was that the author "is more interested in speculating on what was going on in people's minds than he is in analyzing what the transcripts said." Spence avers that Simpson was indeed guilty of murder, but that the jury reached the proper verdict in light of the evidence admitted for examination. He also speculates that the opposite verdict could have occurred if alternative prosecution strategies had been employed—particularly if prosecuting attorneys had paid more careful attention to what Blue called "the sociology of race." A Publishers Weekly critic faulted O.J.: The Last Word for excessive speculation, but concluded that the author "seems an accurate reader of the scales of justice."

In 1996, Spence published The Making of a Country Lawyer, an autobiography covering his life up to the point where he abandoned his corporate clients and began his advocacy in the interest of the ordinary citizen. The chronicle discusses the author's personal background, from childhood in frontier Wyoming, through a wild youth, the suicide of his mother, his own substance abuse, and two colorful marriages. A critic for Publishers Weekly called it "a formidable autobiography, a striking evocation of" Wyoming life, and "a penetrating look into the heart of a youth." The volume is also, however, an account of the shaping of a lawyer, from law school through the early cases that prepared Spence for the high-profile career that lay ahead. Booklist reviewer Mary Carroll recommended the book: "Spence is an engaging storyteller with a gift for aphorism." Jerry E. Stephens reported in Library Journal that The Making of a Country Lawyer "is a masterful account of a great lawyer's life."

Spence shares the secret of his success in How to Argue and Win Every Time: At Home, at Work, in Court, Everywhere, Every Day, which has been translated into twenty-six languages and was on the New York Times best-seller list. According to Stephens, the core of the secret is to "listen to the other person." Translated into what Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor called "the plain language of the real world," Spence offers advice about using the art of persuasion to one's own advantage at home and on the job, in love and in life. Taylor found the advice to be "pointedly sharp in essence" and recommended the self-help book as one that "rises above the herd."

Give Me Liberty! Freeing Ourselves in the Twenty-first Century presents Spence's case that Americans are in slavery to a group of multinational corporations and an overly powerful federal government. After detailing the situation as he sees it, Spence then gives two dozen specific suggestions for freeing ourselves from tyranny. Mary Carroll in Booklist found the book to be "full of controversial, even outrageous, ideas and with something guaranteed to annoy almost everyone." Gregor A. Preston, writing for Library Journal, dubbed the book "by turns bombastic, provocative, and tedious." A critic for Publishers Weekly praised Spence for "the ability to raise important social questions and attack rampant complacency while simultaneously recalling Ruby Ridge and Waco."

Spence turned to fiction with Half-Moon and Empty Stars, which a critic for Publishers Weekly described as "a masterful courtroom thriller and a haunting elegy for Native America." The story focuses on Charlie Retail, a Native American who witnessed the murder of his father years before. Unable to get justice in that case, Charlie has become embittered with the justice system. When one of the men who killed his father turns up dead himself, Charlie is the prime suspect and charged with the crime. C.D. Rogers in the Florida Bar Journal found that Spence "focuses on justice in the U.S. for the disadvantaged." Douglas C. Lord in Library Journal called the story "powerful and tragic."

The Smoking Gun: Day by Day through a Shocking Murder Trial with Gerry Spence: A True Story gives readers a glimpse of the type of case that Spence traditionally takes on, one featuring unlikable or unpopular defendants going up against the state or another large and powerful entity, such as a corporation. In this instance, Spence shares the details of a case in Oregon against a poor mother and son, both of whom were accused of murder. Spence felt sorry for the pair and offered to take the case pro bono, joining two attorneys previously appointed by the court. His account of the trial shows the inequity of many aspects of the American judicial system, particularly in regards to poor or underprivileged defendants, and how, despite laws that state otherwise, they are rarely treated as if truly innocent until proven guilty. In a review for the Library Journal, Deirdre Bray Root called Spence's book "a well-written and riveting account." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book to be "sometimes self-righteous, sometimes merciless: an unforgettable account of the state's power against individuals who might be innocent." In a review for Publishers Weekly, a contributor remarked: "Spence is a gifted storyteller and his rhetorical skills are mesmerizing," going on to call the book a "thrilling account of injustice barely averted."

Spence mines his prodigious skills as a trial lawyer in Win Your Case: How to Present, Persuade, Prevail—Every Place, Every Time, sharing his understanding of persuasive argument techniques with his readers and providing them with the skills to more effectively negotiate. He shares his belief that all of the fancy tricks in the world will not help an argument if the person making that argument is not worth the effort. Spence stresses the need to discover one's own inner strength and to then follow through by preparing for the confrontation until it is possible to anticipate any logical counterargument. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that Spence "makes a persuasive case for his approach, but his advice is often overwrought and overwritten."

In Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power: The Rise and Risks of the New Conservative Hate Culture, Spence offers readers his thoughts on the recent trend of conservative commentators in the media. He focuses on Nancy Grace, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and others, revisiting some of their more vocal attacks and addressing the negative historical precedence of such outspoken opinions. Vanessa Bush, in a review for Booklist, called Spence's effort a "stinging rebuke of the hypocrisy of commentators who cash in on the frustrations of average Americans." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews observed: "Spence can be entertaining—hyperbole often is—and it is patent that the country is polarized. But he, too, eschews sober analysis in favor of ad hominem attacks and wild warnings."



Spence, Gerry, and Anthony Polk, Gunning for Justice, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1982.

Spence, Gerry, Of Murder and Madness: A True Story of Insanity and the Law, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1983.

Spence, Gerry, The Making of a Country Lawyer, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Weaver, Randy and Sara, The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge: In Our Own Words, Ruby Ridge, Inc. (Marion, MT), 1998.


Atlantic, June, 1989, review of With Justice for None, p. 97.

Booklist, July, 1993, pp. 1929-1930; September 1, 1993, Mary Carroll, review of From Freedom to Slavery: The Rebirth of Tyranny in America, p. 16; March 15, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of How to Argue and Win Every Time: At Home, at Work, inCourt, Everywhere, Every Day, p. 1283; September 1, 1996, Mary Carroll, review of The Making of a Country Lawyer, p. 5; October 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of O.J.: The Last Word, p. 275; September 1, 1998, Mary Carroll, review of Give Me Liberty!, p. 5; May 1, 2000, John Rowen, review of A Boy's Summer: Fathers and Sons Together, p. 1632; October 1, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power: The Rise and Risks of the New Conservative Hate Culture, p. 10.

Esquire, May, 1981, David Noonan, interview with Gerald Spence.

Florida Bar Journal, April, 2002, C.D. Rogers, review of Half-Moon and Empty Stars, p. 50.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2003, review of The Smoking Gun: Day by Day through a Shocking Murder Trial with Gerry Spence: A True Story, p. 902; August 1, 2006, review of Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power, p. 773.

Library Journal, April 1, 1989, Sally G. Waters, review of With Justice for None: Destroying an American Myth, p. 100; October 15, 1996, Jerry E. Stephens, review of The Making of a Country Lawyer, p. 68; November 1, 1997, Phillip Young Blue, review of O.J., p. 102; October 1, 1998, Gregor A. Preston, review of Give Me Liberty!, p. 116; May 1, 2000, Douglas C. Lord, review of A Boy's Summer, p. 139; August, 2002, Douglas C. Lord, review of Half-Moon and Empty Stars audio book edition, p. 170; August, 2003, Deirdre Bray Root, review of The Smoking Gun, p. 106.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 24, 1982, Morton Kamins, review of Gunning for Justice; October 30, 1983.

New York Times, March 14, 1984, Walter Goodman, review of Of Murder and Madness.

New York Times Book Review, March 18, 1984, Alan M. Dershowitz, review of Of Murder and Madness.

People, August 24, 1981, Cheryl McCall, interview with author.

Publishers Weekly, May 31, 1993, review of From Freedom to Slavery, p. 86; August 12, 1996, review of The Making of a Country Lawyer, p. 70; September 29, 1997, review of O.J., p. 75; October 12, 1998, review of Give Me Liberty!, p. 65; May 28, 2001, review of Half-Moon and Empty Stars, p. 50; June 9, 2003, review of The Smoking Gun, p. 43; May 5, 2005, review of Win Your Case: How to Present, Persuade, Prevail—Every Place, Every Time, p. 62.

Trial, May, 1998, Vincent J. Fuller, review of O.J., p. 84.


Gerry Spence Home Page,http://www.gerryspence.com (June 18, 2003).

Ruby Ridge Updates Web site,http://www.ruby-ridge.com/ (June 18, 2003), excerpt of Chapter Two from Spence's From Freedom to Slavery.

Spence, Moriarty and Shockey Web site,http://www.smswy.com/ (June 18, 2003).

Trial Lawyers College Web site,http://www.triallawyerscollege.com/ (June 18, 2003).

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