Rambo Justice

Are bad-boy lawyers Bill Brewer and John Bickel building a bridge to Dallas' minority communities, or trying to sell them one?

It's hard to feel neutral about Bill Brewer. A former lawyer with his firm who requested that he not be identified puts it succinctly: "He's a fascinating guy who at one time I loved dearly and hated strongly--and pretty much in the same moment." Embodying many contradictions, he is a family man with three failed marriages, although he acknowledges only two of them; a Republican who harbors Democratic values; a man obsessed with appearances who acts as if it doesn't matter what others think; a not-so-great Gatsby who craves status and wealth and importance and then provokes the very people who can give it to him.

"He was a middle-class kid living near a rich community, and by virtue of his talent and good looks and drive, got access to the country-club way of life," says a former legal associate. "On the one hand, he wants it more than anyone else. On the other hand, he is repulsed by it."

As I drive up to his Highland Park home, his green Jaguar sits in his circular driveway, and I have no reason to think he won't be home as scheduled--except that he is not. After a 30-minute wait, I try his door again, and this time, he answers. His oldest son is sick, he tells me--an ear infection--and he had to pick him up from school. He seems every bit the concerned parent--his kids mean everything to him, his family everything--if he could just get past his divorce, which has lasted almost as long as his marriage.

And how are my sons, he asks me, parent-to-parent. Is the little one sleeping? The big one still giving you headaches?

I know his game. He wants to disarm me emotionally, lure me to his side so I'll connect with his humanity, soften any criticism I might harbor against him. The guy is nothing if not PR savvy.

At 46, William A. Brewer III is as dramatic as he is charismatic--a onetime theater major at St. John's University, he knows how to milk a moment. He looks as if he is living life in a Ralph Lauren ad: Weejuns without socks, chinos without a belt, a navy blazer without a tie. His red-blonde hair, fair skin, and chiseled features conjure up visions of a less-rugged Robert Redford, a comparison he is loath to deny. His voice is Sly Stallone-deep--irrefutable evidence of a New York accent that marks him geographically as well as emotionally. He has built his life and legal career on being a downright chauvinist about his hometown.

Born in Long Island to a large Irish-Italian family, he heaps weighty superlatives on all things New York. The Catholic school he attended was "first-class throughout." He studied debate under a "master," drama under the "god of the voice-over." During law school (Union College in Albany, a "great pedestrian law school"), he clerked for a judge who was "not only the best, but also the most honest judge" in the state. In 1978, after a successful law-school career that included summers being a lifeguard at an exclusive country club and an advanced law degree at New York University, he got a job with the phone company, trying to fend off the breakup of the Ma Bell monopoly. "I went to the largest corporation in the history of the world to the largest legal department in the history of the world to work on the largest cases in the history of the world." It was here that he gained his thirst for the big case.

Brewer is vague about why he moved to Dallas in 1981, but court records show he received a divorce here about the same time. He got a job with Kolodey and Thomas, then a small Dallas firm that was working on a big case. He joined the firm's trial team, which successfully represented clothing manufacturer Farah Jeans in a case that would take on major Texas banks and become a landmark decision in lender liability law.

Though still a baby lawyer, he had grand visions of developing the firm into a commercial litigation powerhouse--but its named partner, Tom Thomas, didn't share his views. In 1982, Brewer either quit or got fired--depending on who's telling the story. A second job at the firm of Glast and Miller resulted in a similar fate after only a few months. "Since I left Bell, I was adamant that I didn't want to take small cases, losers, or just be fixing traffic tickets for some corporate client's son," says Brewer. "I was becoming almost strident in my articulation of how we needed to build a firm...on the back of zealous advocacy."

Although Brewer toyed with returning to New York, he had made definite inroads among the Dallas social set. "When I came to Dallas, I networked at the Park Cities right away," he says. "It was obvious to me that the deb scene was the real focus of Dallas society, and I made it a point to become an escort." Although his Republican credentials were flimsy at best, he also got involved in the Dallas County Young Republicans. "Look, when you go to a community, you figure out how to join that community...when I was living in New York, I figured out how to network the East Side...When I was at NYU, I joined the Jewish Defense League."

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