Oral History Collection

MAIN ENTRY: Purdom, Tom
DATE OF INTERVIEW: June 8 and 11, 1998
LENGTH OF INTERVIEW: 3 hours, 40 minutes
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE: Lubbock attorney Tom Purdom recalls his career, which included time spent as an aide to Congressman George Mahon, Assistant Lubbock District Attorney and County Attorney in the late 1960s, and as a Family Law specialist.
TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE: Tom Purdom, background
Born: April 7, 1937, in Seymour, Texas
Family lived in Vera, Texas
Most of childhood spent in Amarillo
Frequent moves
Graduated from Ozona High School
Joined U. S. Air Force after high school
Training bases
Lackland and Kelly Air Force Bases
University of Syracuse, Language Institute
Learned Russian
Stationed in Japan (Misawa)
High school class at Ozona, Texas
To Texas Tech for pre-law
College classes in Air Force
Texas Tech (again)
J. William Davis encouraged
One of "his boys"
Head of Government and Athletic Committee
National letter of intent started with NCAA
Worked for W. G. McMillan Construction
Friend of Dr. Davis
Friend of George H. Mahon
Assisted to get into law school, Georgetown
Patronage job with Mahon
First meeting with Mahon
Anecdote with name
Georgetown law school at night
Worked at door behind Speaker of the House
Description of lobby, Speaker’s office and
Chairman of Appropriations Committee’s offices
Mahon, Chairman de facto of Appropriations
House of Representatives
Wilbur Mills
Kept Mahon up to date on floor proceedings
House of Representatives
Business always planned
Compared to Senate
Making rules for each bill
Rules Committee
Example: Civil Rights Bill of 1964
‘Sex’ added to bill in order to stop it
Rep. Howard ‘Judge’ Smith
Lyndon B. Johnson ‘stacked’ Rules Committee
Close vote
Five women representatives
Scaring people about women’s rights
Martha Griffith of Michigan cast deciding vote
Tom Purdom (again) in House of Representatives,
August 1962-January 1966
Kennedy’s assassination
In House rotunda when Mike Mansfield gave
famous speech
Jackie Kennedy kissing flag on the coffin
Return to Lubbock (1966)
Worked for Ernest Griffith, friend of Mahon
Rose Jean Griffith, his wife longtime Mahon
Mahon (again)
Philosophy of government
Constituent oriented
Reese Air Force Base
First elected (1934)
First Congressman from Lubbock (19th) District
Views on New Deal and legislation
Political party not so important
TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO Mahon (continued)
Political party (continued)
Best friend was Bob Michaels, a Republican
Gerald Ford a good friend
Both on Defense Sub-committee
Purdom (again)
Return to Lubbock (again)
Washington a "rat race"
Early interest in law
Interest in engineering
Air Force experience influential
Interest in flying
Lubbock, Texas (c. 1966)
Courthouse and downtown totally different
Location of old courthouse
Downtown changes
Montgomery Ward building
Interest rates
Real estate business
7% unprecedented
Bought house at 5% and unhappy
Purdom (again)
Assistant District Attorney
District Attorney Alton Griffin
Trial of Dolphus J. Brown (1968)
Shallowater, Texas, man—killed parents
Elected County Attorney
Fred West, previous County Attorney, killed in plane
Dolphus Brown case (again)
Difficulty in proving guilt
Hiding clothes
Bludgeoning death
The appeal
George Santana rape case
Handled all the way to Texas Supreme Court
Hinged on burden of proof in juvenile case
Decided by court
Crawford Martin, State Attorney General
Patch over eye
Call to Purdom
Lack of brief
Question of burden of proof: civil or criminal
Court took middle way
Real estate law practice
Decline in real estate market
Interest rates (again)
Housing addition with extra land
Lubbock growth in late 1960s
Texas Tech had only 10,000 students in the late
Texas Instruments
Litton Industries
Area of specialty, Family Law
Gene Smith, Texas Tech professor
Chairman of Family Law section
Purdom, Chairman of District,
County Attorney Association,
Juvenile Committee
Rewriting family code
Property section
Children’s section
TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE: Purdom (continued)
Family Law (continued)
Family code (continued)
Adopted, 1973
Chairman of Family Law section of State Bar
Family Council
Gene Smith (again) wanted specialization for
Family Law
Poor quality of family lawyers
Specialization started (1975-76)
Involved in grading and writing examination for

Received specialization (1978)
Gene Smith
Example of child adoption case
Paternity suits in Texas
Unable to bring suit
U. S. Supreme Court ruled Texas law
Blood tests
Texas legislators resisted for personal reasons
Women’s movement and science caused changes
Women unable to contract before 1960s
Women had to be examined "privily and apart" until
Gene Smith (again)
Purdom (again)
Commentary on women’s movement
Predicts demise of bond bailsmen
Trends in criminal law
Warren (Earl) Supreme Court
Police in a better position now
Lee Roy Green case
Black men arrested for murder
Abusive in his arrest
Clean record since
Character and education
English judicial system

TAPE TWO, SIDE TWO: Purdom (again)
Roe v Wade case
Sarah Weddington, a friend
Parents live in Lubbock
Abortion not source of legal action
Case involving illegitimate child
‘Nice’ girl and Hispanic boy
Differing views on adoption
Boy gains custody of baby
Texas Constitution amended (1984) to allow
fathers to get custody
Divorce law
Always had de facto no-fault divorce
Twisted causes so that everything is ‘cruel’
Better lawyers today
Understanding of separate and community
Family Law courses
Started by Gene Smith (again)
Texas Tech Law School opening
Excessive number of lawyers in Lubbock
Difficulty in getting started
Lubbock legal community
Trusting of other lawyers
Reputations in community still most important
Tradition of memorializing deceased lawyers
Telling stories
Purdom (again) law business
Child custody and divorce cases dominate
Cases had bad reputation in earlier times
Better now
Women lawyers impact
Women in legal profession
Only 2 out of 100 in law school class
Now more women than men in Family Law
Adoption case
Couple gave children to brother
Need to provide an income
All lawyers provide help to indigents
Services never provided without some sort of
Objection to popular conception of lawyers as
being mercenary
TAPE THREE, SIDE ONE: Alimony in Texas
Relatively new
Not same type as in other states
Passed in 1993
Legislators’ opposition
Not as pervasive even in other states as believed
Male domination of legislature
Community property
Purdom (again)
Alimony gives judge too much power
Division of community property fairer system
Requirements to get alimony
Maximum payment
Community property (again)
Not used in many states
Equitable distribution used instead
Example of New York
French derivation of community property
English system in other states
Husband owns everything
Difficulty in obtaining divorce
Going to Bahamas
Adultery only grounds
Kulko v Superior Court case
Texas No Fault divorce, instituted 1969
Nationwide trend
Catholics in New York kept it out
Before 1969, de facto no fault divorce
Increase in number of divorces since
Societal trends
Society should lead law, not vice versa
Changes and causes
More exposure by international travel
Less traditionalism
Religion taken less seriously
Lubbock Peace Festival (c. 1969-70)
Purdom, County Attorney (again)
Extensively policed
Expected big trouble
Arresting drunk cowboys
Marijuana grew wild in field later
Weather: terrible
More gawkers than attendees
Feelings of locals
Anti-war protests in Austin
Race riot in Lubbock
Purdom, County Attorney (again)
White boy killed black boy at Dunbar High School
White boy: James Earl Carver
Background on shooting
Dunbar High School
Probation officer’s warning to Purdom
White teachers refuse to testify
Ed Irons tells them to
Black citizens rioting down Broadway St.
TAPE THREE, SIDE TWO: Lubbock race riot (continued)
Animosity between races
Teachers mostly white
Purdom, County Attorney (again)
Obtaining confession
Scary situation
Demands of black leader
Rioters disperse
Purdom’s fears
Rioting continued three days
Carver convicted, tried as an adult
District Attorney, Larry Cherry
Sentence, 5 years as trustee
Carver’s father’s influence
Owned Mayflower Motel
Prejudiced and biased
Society in those days
Insult by a black demanded vengeance
Lubbock integration
Purdom, County Attorney (again)
Some occurred in 1950s
Judge Halbert O. Woodward
Decision for schools
Moved to Lubbock and set up Federal Court
Previously in Amarillo
More court activity in Lubbock
"Best judge ever"
Decision made (c. 1972)
Previous integration efforts
No real integration now
Neighborhood integration
Blacks moving into Cherry Point section in
Northeast Lubbock
"White flight"
No laws to prevent it
Less an issue today
Views regarding Hispanics, different
Example of Ozona, Texas
‘One drop rule’
Any black blood made you ‘black’
Example of Tiger Woods
Bad feelings persist
Changing views on miscegenation
Tom Purdom (again)
Retrospective on career as County Attorney
Wanted to try cases
Air Force experience of freezing up in front of
Number of cases tried
Learned to talk
Preferred J. P. cases
Jury decided what law was
Anecdote about "real law"
Anecdote about Tom Milam in Judge McClesky’s
Catching accused with the ‘deadwood’
TAPE FOUR, SIDE ONE: Tom Purdom (continued)
Tort Reform views
In favor of as insurance defense lawyer
Contingent fee system
Not personally opposed to
Problems with tobacco case now in progress
Insurance cases settled out of court
Tobacco case (again)
Exorbitant fees
Rules of ethics set by State Supreme Court
Policing lawyers
State and local bars don’t do a good job
Comparison with medical profession
Loss of control of practice
Varying views on ethics
Changing mores
Government regulation of legal profession
Example of real estate law
Low pay for criminal cases
$50/day for state case
$20/hour for federal case
Makes $150/hour otherwise
Societal changes
Dependence on government
Government taxation
Tax Simplification Act (mid-1980s)
Tax code tripled in size
Tax dilemma
Comparison to insurance
George Mahon philosophy of government (again)
Government can only provide what people are
willing to pay for
Didn’t get much for his district
Example of Midland, Texas, Post Office
‘Slick’ Rutherford, Midland politician
No need for pressure
Greatest contribution
Being of good character
Favored a strong defense
Military bases
Colonels from Reese always got to Pentagon
Would have kept Reese open
Reese and Lubbock relations
Always good
City fathers’ role
Airmen’s role
Not the typical sleazy businesses near base
Lubbock’s ‘Strip’
Liquor dealers wanted Precinct Two
Boundaries set by highways
TAPE FOUR, SIDE TWO: Lubbock’s ‘Strip’ (continued)
Anecdote about Nazareth, Texas
First to vote a precinct wet
Wet/dry election
Purdom, County Attorney (again)
Opposition by churches
Texas Tech students voted in biggest numbers
Less opposition
Stigma against alcohol less
Effect on crime
Marijuana use
When Purdom in D.A.’s office no probation for
possession (1966)
Changed when Tech students and professor arrested
Jury gave probation
Changing times
Previously ‘good’ people didn’t use it
Tom Purdom (again)
Advice for aspiring lawyers
RANGE DATES: 1937-1998
BULK DATES: c. 1960s-1970s