By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Reports of the firm's genesis have tended to make them sound like pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, chiefly because they have focused on Donovan Campbell. The son of an Air Force doctor, Campbell's activism on behalf of conservative Christian issues was clearly a cause for discomfort at Locke, Purnell. Stories about Campbell still make the rounds at his former firms, including one about how Campbell picketed the gay-themed play Torch Song Trilogy. "There was pretty much just a feeling of 'well, guess what he's done now,'" says one longtime Locke, Purnell partner who asked not to be named.
In fact, though, the impetus for the split was chiefly financial. While, as Campbell's partners acknowledge, "he's one of those guys people either love or hate," he was widely acknowledged to be a talented tax lawyer. And Jim Fisher and Bob Rader, meanwhile, were among the most popular young partners at the firm.
Rader, a Southern Methodist University law graduate with a warm smile and a shock of white hair, was a specialist in federal safety regulations. Fisher was a military brat who went to school and then practiced in Colorado before making his way to Dallas in the mid-'80s. A soft-spoken but intense oil and gas litigator, Fisher had a secret passion for plaintiffs' civil rights work. (Fisher will be the lead trial lawyer when Paula Jones' case goes to trial. Pyke and Holmes will be his primary assistants, although Campbell will likely play some role.)
All four partners had children at home and liked the notion of working less, making more money, and spending more time with their families. They quickly established a base of business litigation. Even Campbell turned trial lawyer; since leaving Locke, Purnell, most of his business has been probate and trust litigation.
Wes Holmes, born and raised in Little Rock, came on in 1993. Holmes, whose father was a homebuilder and mother a real estate agent, had clerked at the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based think tank that recruits lawyers to take on causes dear to the religious right, one summer during law school. While there, he'd met Donovan Campbell, who since 1982 has taken on many cases for the institute. (Campbell now sits on Rutherford's board of directors.) Through common friends, Holmes contacted Campbell, and the match was quickly made.
Like Campbell, both Fisher and Holmes have handled Rutherford suits. Campbell has told reporters that he considers one of these suits--his defense of Texas' homosexual sodomy laws--to be his finest moment as a lawyer. Campbell has also sued abortion providers for defrauding women by failing to advise them of abortion alternatives.
But Fisher and Holmes insist this does not make them right-wing enemies of the president. While they are Christians and have taken religious liberty cases, they insist this does not translate automatically into Clinton-hatred.
"It would have helped if even one of us was a Clinton-hating fanatic," Pyke says with a laugh. "Then we would have known who all these people were and have heard all the rumors before we were shot from the cannon last October."
"I don't think people understand how apolitical we are," he continues. Pyke has not handled Rutherford Institute suits, preferring to take his pro bono work from the Dallas Bar Association. "In fact, politics didn't enter our discussions when we were debating whether to take the case."
Indeed, their colleagues back at Locke, Purnell, are reluctant to brand them as right-wingers. "Except for Campbell, I've never really thought of them as right-wing guys," says James Robertson III, who worked closely with Pyke, Rader, and Fisher at Locke, Purnell in the late '80s and early '90s. "I don't think they're liberals. But except for Campbell, I can't see any of them out carrying placards."
Nevertheless, it was through their Rutherford connections that the case came to the firm last September, when Donovan Campbell got a call from his friend John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute.
"It was right before lunch one day in September," recalls Holmes. "Don [Campbell] walks into my office and shuts the door with this big grin on his face, and says, 'Well, you're never gonna believe what I just talked to Whitehead about.' And he told me that, you know, Susan McMillan had called him, and that he was going to recommend us.'"
McMillan is a controversial conservative pundit who befriended Jones after she moved to Long Beach, California.
"I said, 'We gotta get that case,'" recalls Holmes. "And Don's like, 'That's not the response I expected.' But I thought, 'It's a historic opportunity. How can you not take this case?' That's number one. And number two is, frankly, we thought that we're good lawyers, and the only thing keeping us from having a really huge practice is people not knowing about us."
Says Pyke: "The overriding thought was it might be good exposure. Obviously, financially, it's unlikely there could be a big enough recovery that we'll make a lot of money. The main thing, though, was--how do you get this opportunity, and then say pass?"
Fisher had his own reasons for wanting the case; sexual harassment law is a special interest for the tiny, trim 40-year-old father of five. "It's just something that deeply offends me on a personal level," he explains, "the notion that anyone would use their power over a subordinate in that way." Since leaving Locke, Purnell, Fisher says, he has handled "maybe a dozen" of the suits, and is deeply concerned by what sees. "What I've seen is that the federal courts are so flooded with them, they've become almost callous. Not because they don't care if women are harassed, but the courts just haven't had the resources to deal with them.