On June 13, 2019, at its annual gala, the Texas Bar Foundation awarded Gerry Goldstein one of five coveted Outstanding 50 Year Lawyer Awards. Gerry, with his wife Christine, his son Matthew, and his many colleagues and friends, seemed to relish the evening, before he flew home to San Antonio to be ready for his annual presentation at the Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Seminar the next morning. It would not be surprising if Gerry showed up at the seminar decked in the same “white dinner jacket and blue jeans” that he wore at the formal event the night before.
As part of the Outstanding 50 Year Lawyer Award recognition, the Texas Bar Foundation publishes an Oral History of each awardee, which is given to the awardee and placed in all Texas law schools’ libraries. Think about these publications. They not only recognize the awardees, but they also capture their stories, as told by them, for aspiring law students and young lawyers to review and emulate.
While Gerry’s Oral History brings to life “a certain fighting spirit that epitomizes the idea of the zealous, unrelenting defense attorney usually found only in great novels or on movie screens,”1 the aspirational and “call to action” message which permeates his responses is especially noteworthy. Living a life reflective of his advice to aspiring lawyers, Gerry “walks the talk.” What follows are glimpses of Gerry’s life and outstanding fifty years in the legal profession as told by him in his Oral History.
Gerry grew up in the King William Historic District “pregentrification” and remembers the San Antonio River as “a virtual jungle, which provided . . . an exotic and often adventurefilled playground.” His father was a corporate and oil and gas lawyer, and his mother was one of the first women stockbrokers of San Antonio. Gerry was their only child who was, in his own words, “spoiled” by his “doting Jewish momma.” Gerry recounts that when someone asked his mother if she had ever told him no, she responded, “Yeah, one time when he was little, he asked me if he had to take a bath.’”
Gerry attended public schools and continues to value the public-school system. While he enjoyed school and took it seriously, he was “focused more on beer and girls[.]” Gerry chose to attend Tulane University for college and recalls fondly that “[i]n 1961, the Crescent City with its French Quarter was a wide-open playground for the young and foolish.”
While Gerry describes himself selfdeprecatingly, even in his youth he had a passion for justice. After graduating from Tulane, he entered law school in 1965, just as the Vietnam War was breaking out. He admits that he entered law school to avoid being drafted but that, once there, he “fell in love with everything about law school.” Law school gave Gerry a sense that a career in the law would give him an opportunity to “make a difference.”
Gerry credits his parents with instilling in him a social conscience and reflects that “the experience of growing up and maturing during the 60s was as important in terms of waking up [his] social conscience. . . . It was a lifechanging experience to face the draft while the Vietnam War was escalating.” As it turned out, Gerry was called to fight for Americans in a different arena.
A Career to Remember–and Celebrate
After graduating from law school, Gerry began practicing law with his father and Maury Maverick, Jr. Gerry and Maury went “all over the country trying draft resister and conscientious objector cases.” Gerry had recently married Christine, who shared the adventure with him, traveling around in a Volkswagen bus from which the seats had been removed and replaced with “a Persian carpet and little pillows,” and which had “a big peace symbol on the back, with a Ramsey Clark for President sticker on the rear bumper.” As Gerry recalls, “We probably got run out of more South Texas counties than we were invited back to. It was a very exciting time. I had a wife who shared in all this excitement and, to this day, it’s still fun and exciting to share this journey with her.”
Maury Maverick, Jr. was Gerry’s long-time family friend and professional mentor. Maury gave great practice tips like, “Don’t write your briefs for the court. Judges don’t read briefs. Write your brief[s] for the press. Judges read newspapers!”
Gerry is also thankful for his longtime law partners. Van Hilley was “a wonderful lawyer and former San Antonio Bar President and State Bar Director” whom Gerry misses “every day.” Gerry describes Cynthia Orr as “bright, tenacious and hardworking.” Gerry sees his ability to still try cases after more than fifty years as “a wonderful gift,” for which he thanks Cynthia and the remarkable Goldstein & Orr team who, according to him, “spend most of their time and effort just trying to keep [him] from screwing things up.”
Philosophy of a Criminal Defense Attorney
Gerry acknowledges that as a criminal defense attorney, one is “destined to lose a lot of cases.” While the outcome of a trial may be disappointing, Gerry is driven to continue by his belief that, win or lose, the most important goal is to ensure that the criminal justice system is working. As he describes it:
It’s not for me to decide whether someone is guilty, or for me to give up on a client I may not believe is innocent. That’s not my job. My job is to put their best case forward and to ensure that, in each and every instance, the prosecution is put to the test. The literally hundreds of wrongfully convicted exonerees in recent years give testament to the need for their defenders to ensure that every effort is made on their behalf and the process that determines their fate is fair and just.
Passing the Torch
Gerry’s passion for the criminal justice system is electrifying and contagious. He has spread that zeal to younger lawyers as an adjunct professor at UT School of Law (1982-1993) and then at St. Mary’s School of Law for over twenty years. Gerry promises that he learns more than his students. For the first twenty years that he taught at St. Mary’s School of Law, he taught alongside “a giant in our profession,” the late John Schmolesky. At Professor Schmolesky’s suggestion, Gerry now teaches with Richard Durbin, our former United States Attorney, whom Gerry regards as “a very able and ethical prosecutor, for whom [he has] consummate respect.” The give and take between the two teachers is similar to how they might “play off of one another” in the courtroom, making the educational experience richer and inspirational. Gerry has been teaching law students for forty years and finds it as enjoyable now as when he first began.
Considering that the future of the profession is in the hands of the young lawyers he is shaping, Gerry encourages his fellow lawyers to “dedicate [them] selves and [their] work to insuring” that we continue to seek “improvement of our system, not just for ourselves but for the next generation of lawyers to come till this fertile soil, work in these trenches, and make a difference for those who will come after.” Gerry retains his hope as “a true child of the 60s” that the law still provides an opportunity to make a difference by standing up to fight against injustice “without losing sight of what is right and righteous about our system of providing that justice.”
What is Gerry’s best advice to aspiring lawyers? “Give a damn. Make a difference.”
Gerry’s commitment to his clients, the justice system, and his fellow lawyers does not prevent him from relaxing and enjoying himself. Skiing has long been a favorite pastime for Gerry, Christine, and and their son Matthew. Gerry recently earned his 100-day pin in Aspen for spending 100 days on the slopes in a single season. Christine recently had a knee replacement, and Gerry likes to joke, “I liked the old knee better; I could keep up with that one.” In warmer weather, Gerry likes to bicycle. He finds that “being on a bicycle in a community or a town is a wonderful way to see and visit that you don’t experience when you’re in a car or even walking the streets.”
Make a Difference
Summarizing the career and life that led to his recognition as an Outstanding 50 Year Lawyer, Gerry muses, “Think of it, fifty years later, and I’m still in love with the same woman and still enjoying my career as a lawyer. And I still cling to the belief that there remains a chance for me to make a difference.” May we all be so fortunate.
***This article was written by Sara E. Dysart and published on May-June 2020 for the San Antonio Lawyer: An Official Publication of the San Antonio Association. Sara E. Dysart is the 2020 Recipient of the Texas Bar Foundation Terry Lee Grantham Memorial Award. A sole practitioner, Sara is Board Certified in Commercial Real Estate Law and a frequent speaker at CLE programs.