Bill Walters: Bus Driver to trumpet player to prez.
by Diane Hartman
The truth about incoming Denver Bar Association President Bill Walters must lie somewhere among the words of those who know him well.
To get some details out of the way: He drove a city bus in Atlanta (only knocked off a couple of side mirrors); he's an expert with a .45 pistol according to the Navy; been kissed by Miss Teenage America; been a disc jockey; played the trumpet in a Dixieland band; met Muhammad Ali; been interviewed by Roger Mudd; and has eaten possum and squirrel.
Bill is Southern (ask him to say "pie"), well mannered and a supreme storyteller. Although he was an Army brat, living in Japan and France as a child, his father retired as a Lt. Col. to Bartow, Fla., pop. 12,000, where Bill went to high school.
Bill went to Emory University in Atlanta and graduated cum laude with a degree in French Renaissance history. He then spent a year at Columbia Law School, during one of its most tumultuous times, 1968-69. "Everyone was in an uproar because of Vietnam. The only two schools that remained open were the law school and the business school. My memory of the second semester is that our classes were all graded pass/fail. It was total chaos."
Bobby Kennedy was killed, then Dr. Martin Luther King. Bill was disillusioned with law school and decided to head home and teach before the inevitable draft notice arrived.
He chose to teach history in an all-black junior high. "It was one of the most rewarding, fulfilling experiences I’ve had, especially in terms of receiving more than I gave."
Once he got past the principal, who thought he’d gone to the wrong school, Bill ran into others suspicious of his motives. It was 14 years after Brown v. Board of Education and the schools were supposed to be integrating. Bill was hands-on and innovative. Having worked at a local radio station, he arranged for his students to run a two-hour call-in show on Saturday mornings. Bill once got a Super 8 movie camera and did a story comparing the white and black schools -"we looked at both gyms, libraries, chemistry labs . . . and the pictures told the story. Separate was not equal." Since their textbooks contained nothing about the black experience, Bill tried to incorporate black history into his lessons. Being a teacher remains important to him to this day.
His draft notice came the next year. For three years, Bill was a Naval Intelligence Officer. Most of his service was on board the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. "We chased Russians around. The pilots would go up, and later I debriefed them." Perhaps his favorite memory was being the anchor on the ship’s news. " This is WJFK . . . Lt. J.G. Walters with the news."
When he left the Navy in 1972, Bill was ready to go back to Columbia: "I had more experience under my belt and could see beyond the games some professors liked to play. I took it on my terms."
A most valuable lesson came when a professor had his class do simulated client interviews. "I represented a convict who couldn’t get a job. The ‘convict’, who was really his professor, told me after all my work on a settlement that he’d changed his mind. I blew up. But the lesson was that clients do change their minds and they’re not there to do what you want."
During the unraveling of Watergate, Bill and some classmates, dressed in suits and ties, organized buses of fellow law students to go to Washington, D.C., to lobby their representatives and push for an impeachment vote.
Bill toyed with the idea of also getting a master’s degree in education, but "I wanted to practice law before I was 30." While in law school, he won two prizes for oral advocacy and was on the National Moot Court Team.
Garth Grissom of Sherman & Howard recruited Bill to be a law clerk, and hired him full-time out of school "back when they still gold-lettered your name in reverse." He was assigned to both litigation and corporate, thereby getting the benefit of working for both Garth and Hugh Burns. "They taught me about being a whole person and a lawyer. Hugh’s commitment to his family was so impressive. He ended the day at 5 or 5:15 p.m.; he and Garth were respectful of my life and schedule. "Bill’s office was next to Sam Sherman’s: "There were marvelous lawyers there."
After three years, he got an enticing call from Steve Briggs. Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane was bringing in some young lawyers (Steve Phillips, Steve Kaplan, Bob Hyatt, etc). Bill became chief trial lawyer under section head Larry Theis. "It was satisfying. We were getting started and everything was new. J.D. let us do our own thing."
When the satisfaction became diminished by frustration, he thought hard about returning to Sherman & Howard. Finally, in 1981, he and Larry Theis decided to try their own firm. In 1993, Larry has since gone on to start his own firm, but Craig Joyce had been with them, and remains Bill’s partner at Walters & Joyce along with Julie Waggener. A big part of Bill’s practice is representing associations, something he calls "a very positive experience." Bill is proud of being the lead trial attorney for the plaintiff in the case that opened the Boys Clubs of Metro Denver to both girls and boys. That was a pro bono case for the Colorado Lawyers Committee.
Most important to Bill is his family—his wife Christy, who teaches dance to young children; daughter Anna, 18, who Bill says is, "the real drama queen" and son Andrew, 15, "the kindest person I’ve ever met."
Christy remembers discovering Bill, a few weeks after Anna’s birth, reading a book to "our tiny baby." Later, "He told both children old embellished Navy stories, and then there was a whole Caribbean series about Morgan the Turtle." Bill would head upstairs for the storytelling at night and "I’d never see him again. I’d look in the room and there would be a child huddled in the corner of the bed with Bill across the bed asleep."
He has found time for both teaching and community involvement. Bill has taught at Regis University and was on the faculty of NITA. He has lectured for CLE, the CBA, and made numerous presentations for national and state societies of association executives. He’s past chair of the Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado, past president of CLE, past chair of the Colorado Lawyers Committee and was named "Lawyer of the Year" in 1991. The Colorado Society of Association Executives recognized his work with an "Award of Excellence" in 1993.
For his presidential year, Bill proposes some "active listening" to a variety of constituencies to see how the bar can best serve the profession, the public, and internally, what changes can make the DBA more efficient.