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A message to the firm from our managing partner on the passing of Sam Porter

5/8/2013
Monday, May 6, 2013

It is with great sadness that I must report that Sam Porter, 85, a partner in the firm and active member of the Columbus legal community, passed away yesterday from the consequences of a stroke he suffered three weeks ago.

Sam graduated from Amherst College and, after a stint in the Navy, received his law degree in December 1952 from The Ohio State University College of Law. He joined our Firm just over 60 years ago, on March 1, 1953. At the time the Firm had 11 lawyers, one of whom was Sam's father, W. Glover Porter. It wasn't long before Sam's advice and counsel was sought by some of the Firm's largest clients, and Sam himself was a leader of the Firm, serving as Chair of its Executive Committee.

Sam's career, which, as I will explain at the end of this note, he literally pursued with the engine running until the very end, takes the notion of extraordinary to a whole new level.

Sam was a trial lawyer, and loved being in a courtroom. To be sure, his career as a trial lawyer was remarkable. From his early days defending railroad and bus companies in personal injury cases, to the complex antitrust and utility regulatory cases, among others, that he handled later in his career, Sam was one of a small group of post-World War II generation Columbus trial lawyers whose prominence in the bar and role in shaping our community may never be duplicated. Jack Chester, Judge Robert Duncan, John Elam, Judge John Holschuh, Sam Porter. If there was a bet-the-company case, or a case or controversy important to the community, you would be certain to find Sam and one or more from this group of trial lawyers in the middle of it.

And, so it was that Sam was the lead trial lawyer for the Columbus Board of Education in what is certainly the most important case tried in the Southern District of Ohio – the Columbus Desegregation Case. Columbus Board of Education v. Penick, 443 U.S. 449 (1979). Penick was tried for three months in the Spring and early Summer of 1976, a time during which there was huge controversy around busing as a remedy for racial segregation, and the legal principles governing desegregation cases and remedies for desegregation were not yet settled. The leader of the school board at that time was Tom Moyer, who would become one of the country's most distinguished Chief Justices, and the judge was Bob Duncan, Sam's law school classmate. It says much about all three of them, and their sense of their roles as lawyers and judges, that they became very close friends who stayed close until what is now the passing of all three.

Sam ultimately argued Penick in the United States Supreme Court. Although the Court ruled against the Board of Education, the questions were so difficult that the Court's decision has to be pieced together from five separate opinions.

As distinguished as Sam's career as a trial lawyer was — among his many honors, he was a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers and consistently recognized in The Best Lawyers in America — it was only a part of his contribution to the profession, community and Firm and only part of the evidence of his love of being a lawyer. Indeed, as truly distinguished as Sam's career as a corporate trial lawyer was, the winding down of that phase marked the beginning of an equally, if not more remarkable, second phase of the practice of law for Sam.

As Sam reached the age when most of his peers were retiring, and Sam passed responsibility for representing the Firm's corporate clients on to others, he was really just beginning what would become a more than 20 year career of teaching law, mediating and arbitrating large and complex disputes involving utilities, advancing on a truly global basis an understanding of the American justice system, serving in leadership positions of the American Bar Association, working on a variety of initiatives of the Ohio Supreme Court to advance the administration of justice and serving as an advocate for indigent criminal defendants.

To draw a sports analogy, Sam's career was a game that went into multiple overtimes. During these overtimes, Sam became Chair of the American Bar Association's Section of Public Utility, Communications, and Transportation Law, he was a long time member of the ABA's House of Delegates, and he was, later this Summer, to have become a member of the ABA's Board of Governors. For more than 15 years, including this year, Sam taught a seminar at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law on regulation of public utilities, a role he particularly enjoyed because of the opportunity to interact with law students. Five years ago, at only the 55 year mark of his career, Sam traveled to Beijing and Hong Kong to share insights into the American arbitration system. Insights he had gained because, after he had largely stopped trying cases, he became a sought after arbitrator in very large disputes; matters involving hundreds of millions, and potentially even billions of dollars, involving public utilities.

Seeing both a need and an opportunity to provide legal services to those who could not afford a lawyer, Sam volunteered to sit second chair in the trial of murder cases. That service led to his appointment by the Governor to the Ohio Public Defender Commission, where he ultimately served as Chair, and to the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, where he remained active in an emeritus role. Sam didn't even let the few months he and Lucy spent in recent years in the Colorado Rockies interfere with his desire to be a lawyer. Sam was admitted to the Colorado bar so he could do pro bono work even when "vacationing."

Sam loved to work with young lawyers. He occasionally startled young lawyers at the Firm who didn’t know him well by just calling and inviting them out to lunch. He just wanted to see what they were up to, and to share his perspectives on the Firm and the practice. He viewed mentoring new lawyers as both an obligation and a wonderful privilege.

In his spare time, over a period of about 25 years, Sam served on the boards of the Mt. Carmel and the Adena Health Systems.

Of course, Sam had a lighter side as well. Many of us experienced his smile and laugh. Actually, there were at least two versions of Sam's smile. One was a very big smile, almost from ear to ear, which could accompany a big laugh, a funny thought, a nice word about something you had done or a report on something he felt particularly good about. The other was a little smaller smile, still very friendly, but it was usually accompanied by one raised brow and came right before he shared some always very good advice. I was fortunate to see both smiles more than once. I won't say which I saw more frequently.

This note would not be complete without mentioning the importance of family to Sam. We all know how devoted he was to Lucy. What amazes me is how much Sam did while at the same time spending so much time supporting all the many things the indefatigable (a word I don't think I have ever written before now) Lucy was doing. But, then, Lucy's indefatigableness (a word I am sure I have never written before) was also a big part of how Sam did so much for so long. Sam's children (Bill, Kitty, Sarah and Chip) and his grandchildren were a constant focus of his attention. That son Bill leads Vorys' litigation practice and is also a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, and that grandson Samuel H. Porter III is Assistant Counsel in the Governor's office, were, I am sure, sources of special pride to someone who so prized being a lawyer himself.

Sam suffered his stroke on a Monday morning. He was found by a neighbor behind the wheel of his car. The engine was running. He was on his way to the office. While Sam did not make it to work that Monday morning, thanks to the thousands of those trips he did make over the last 60 years Sam's presence, and the inspiration of the example he set, will always be felt here.

Buzz