In Memoriam: Thomas Chandler

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Arizona lost a legend in the legal community and the Democratic Party this weekend. This guest opinion is by Tucson attorney Barry Kirschner.

TomChandlerThomas Chandler passed away at the age of 93 on November 29, 2013. Tom was a lawyer, regent, philanthropist, and community treasure.

Born into poverty, Chandler picked in the fields during the 1920s and early depression years. Willing to fight for the principled underdog, he and his younger brother Robert fought the remainder of his elementary school class when the 1928 Democratic nominee for President, Al Smith, was derided as a Catholic.

Chandler rose to prominence in the late 1940s after achieving his degree from the University of Arizona College of Law. Chandler became the consummate trial lawyer and political insider, advising Stewart and Morris Udall, and later enjoying a lengthy partnership with D.Burr Udall. I believe that every Democratic Governor of Arizona in the last 50 years sought and treasured his advice.

Stories abound of the legal batles of the titans, with Morris Udall for the Plaintiff and Tom Chandler for the defense. Chandler was influential in Democratic poltics including issues related to the Department of the Interior when Morris Udall chaired the relevant House of Representatives committee. Chandler was also a powerful force in the water law reforms which loosened an agriculture dominated common law when Bruce Babbitt was Governor of Arizona.

But Chandler will be remembered even more fondly for the things he did behind the scenes. A founding influence for what is now Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Chandler continued support for the poor and access to justice through generous contributions to the William E. Morris Foundation and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. He was a towering influence bending the ethics of the Pima County Bar for the better.

Chandler was outspoken with a crusty wit. He was a loyal friend. As an adversary he was a fair man who remembered when his foes misbehaved. He remembered when his clients misbehaved, and wasn't afraid to point out their obligations. Tom had the highest respect for those who tried to advance the law and its more noble purposes. Chandler remained close with Professor Chuck Ares, Burr Udall, and spoke admiringly of the noble and selfless efforts of his contemporary W. Edward Morgan, who was critical of the greed in society and the practice of law.

The feeling was mutual. Morgan reported that no man did more for the poor and for justice behind the scenes than Tom Chandler. Among his many mourners are Terri Chandler, daughter and judge of the Arizona Superior Court, Luke Knipe, a loyal and energetic force in the Pima County Democratic Party, and sister-in law (attorney) Dee Dee Samet.

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Earlier this year, Tom Chandler was named the recipient of the 2012 Greater Tucson Leadership's Founder of the Year Award. Awards – Tucson – BizTucson:

“I was humbled that I would get such an award,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t have nominated myself for it – but it was gratifying.”

The award caps a lifetime of commitment to the Tucson community. In his 70-plus years in Tucson, Chandler has been a steadfast and dedicated advocate for the poor, women and minorities – contributing his considerable talents, his time and resources.

Dee Dee Samet, an attorney and former state bar president, nominated him for the award. “Tom is a dedicated lawyer and citizen,” she said. “In my opinion Tucson is a better place because of Tom’s continuing efforts on our behalf. I felt he needed to be recognized for that.”

Chandler earned a bachelor’s of arts degree from the University of Arizona in 1942. He went on to earn a law degree from the UA in 1946, graduating first in his class. He co-founded the law firm of Chandler, Tullar, Udall & Redhair – now known as the Udall Law Firm, the oldest in Tucson.

Of his legendary career, Chandler said, “I’m not ready to say that anything I did was of such significance that it ought to be discussed in detail – but the one thing I did that meant a great deal to me was the Groundwater Commission. It was something Arizona badly needed. I don’t take credit for it, but I participated in it and it was successful.”

The Groundwater Commission was formed by former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt – before he was governor.

Then President Carter “was on a minor rampage to shut down water projects in the west,” Chandler said. “One of them was the Central Arizona Project.”

The CAP was originally conceived as a means of getting water to farms and agriculture. President Carter viewed this as wasteful, Chandler said, and wanted to shut the program down.

That’s when Babbitt got involved, forming a committee and shepherding it along until it came up with a viable groundwater law. Chandler took an active role on that committee and helped draft a groundwater law that provided water not only to farms and agriculture, but also to urban areas. The law was passed by the Arizona legislature, meaning the CAP could move forward.

“I really enjoyed that,” Chandler said of the time he devoted to the effort.

He also spent considerable time mentoring local lawyers and judges, and served on the appellate court commission, where he and a group of others were responsible for screening applicants for appellate court jobs.

“I thought the collective effort of the selection commission resulted in sending some good, solid names to the governors. And that resulted in a lot of quality people being appointed to the appellate courts,” he said. “I enjoyed that.”

Chandler, along with other members of the Pima County Bar, formed the Legal Aid Society. These attorneys provided legal services to low- and moderate-income people – folks who otherwise would not have adequate access to legal resources and representation. Today, the organization is known as Southern Arizona Legal Aid.

In 1999, to recognize his outstanding achievements, the UA College of Law created the S. Thomas Chandler Public Service Award, which provides exit scholarships to students pursuing careers in public service or serving the public interest.

Chandler also has been active in community philanthropy. He is one of the founders of the Tucson Conquistadors, which over decades raised more than $25 million for Tucson’s youth.

In addition, Chandler co-founded the Arizona Adopt-A-Classroom Project – which has provided resources to more than 2,000 teachers since its formation in 2003.

He also served on the Arizona Board of Regents from 1976 through 1984, guiding Arizona’s three public universities through a very difficult financial period and helping to shape the education each provided.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce McDonald said at his recent investiture that he met Chandler when he was 16 and working as a janitor at one of Chandler’s restaurants. Chandler would talk with the boy about life and issues.

“Tom said something to me that I will never forget,” McDonald said. “Tom said that the measure of a person’s life is not how much money you make or what professional accolades you receive. Tom said he thought of life as a path one walks down – and as you walk you move all the rocks and boulders in the path to the side, so those who come behind you will have a clearer and easier walk.”

McDonald said Chandler was instrumental in his decision to become an attorney. “One of the greatest gifts of my life was the opportunity to have Tom as an employer, a law partner and a friend,” he said. “Tom, thank you for clearing those rocks and boulders for me and for all you have done for me.”

Despite his many achievements, Chandler shrugs off praise. “I’m grateful – even though I doubt I deserve an award of any kind,” he said, while acknowledging that “when your community takes note of you and what you’ve done, it means a great deal.”

h/t Biz Tucson for photo

One response to “In Memoriam: Thomas Chandler

  1. Dominick San Angelo

    RIP… Gods speed. My thoughts and prayers.