Patrick Wiseman, lawyer, teacher, freedom-fighter, dead of cancer at 49.
Wiseman argued the 2106 case – 2106 is the criminal statute that makes it illegal to be gay in Texas – first in federal court, where he won, and then before the Fifth Circuit, where he lost. When the day comes in this country (and it will) when the law no longer discriminates because of sexual orientation, Wiseman’s tireless work and the force of his arguments will be at the foundation of that expansion of liberty and justice for all.
When Wiseman was just a baby lawyer, two years out of the University of Houston Law School, the American Civil Liberties Union of Houston hired him as its only paid counsel. It is estimated that he filed between 300 and 400 lawsuits against the Houston Police Department during the next few years.
For those of you who have forgotten what the HPD was like under the reign of Herman Short, there was reportedly a Klan unit operating out of police headquarters. Abuse of minority citizens was common. In one of the more famous cases, six Houston cops threw a suspect named Joe Campos Torres into Buffalo Bayou; he drowned.
Houston cops commonly carried throw-down guns. A throw-down gun, children, is an unmarked gun that a cop can place next the body if he has shot an unarmed suspect, thus claiming the guy drew on him.
It took a fair amount of courage to take on Houston cops in those days. Of course, Wiseman had all the amenities, resources and high salary that go along with being a civil liberties lawyer.
Sissy Farenthold, who ran twice for governor in the early ’70s, got hundreds of letters from people in Texas prisons alleging an astonishing variety of mistreatment. Because she was so busy speaking and politicking, she turned the letters over to Wiseman. She reports in awe: “He (SET ITAL) never (END ITAL) said no. He (SET ITAL) always (END ITAL) followed up.”
After seven years of private practice in Houston, much of it devoted to civil liberties law, Wiseman came to Austin as chief of the State and County Affairs Office of the attorney general. At the time, the state of Texas was getting sued from pillar to post for mistreatment of the mentally ill and mentally retarded. Phil Durst, who handled the cases, recalls them as the most hopeless projects imaginable: “You’d just show up and get yelled at because the Legislature wouldn’t spend any money.” Wiseman volunteered to go along on many of those cases, and when Durst asked him why he would volunteer for these no-hopers, Wiseman replied, “Oh, I just like a good fight.”
Durst said: “Patrick’s legacy affects the day-to-day lives of all Texans. His cases on free speech, the powers of government and rights of the little guy are unequaled among Texas lawyers.”
– Wiseman forced Texas A&M University, of which he was a graduate, to accept a student gay-rights organization in 1982. Wiseman never cared much for arbitrary authority, so his relationship with his alma mater was slightly ambivalent. However, he rooted for the Aggie football team all his days.
– Another case forced public-school districts to mainstream handicapped children.
– He forced Texas Southern University to allow demonstrations by Iranian students in 1981.
– He forced government agencies to allow workers to express their views publicly, even if the views are controversial — a great win for freedom of speech.
And there were many, many others, some narrow and technical cases on legal procedure, others as vast as the Bill of Rights. Among lawyers who worked with him, Wiseman was a renowned teacher with a special gift for inspiring young lawyers to public service.
But talking to Wiseman’s children — James, 18, and Clare, 17 — and his nieces and nephews has reminded me of how little one knows of a person from the public record. Wiseman loved dogs and children almost equally, but it was a golden Lab named Tex who always got to ride shotgun in the car. This caused Wiseman to go off to court many a time smelling strongly of dog and with a generous dusting of Lab hairs on his blue suit, adding a certain je ne sais quoi to the cause of civil liberty.
Wiseman was famous for whipping up enormous and delicious weekend breakfasts, always leaving the kitchen in shambles. He loved the outdoors and fearlessly volunteered to take six or eight kids at a time on camping trips. He was a big man with a great baritone voice, and he would sing along with anyone from Willie Nelson to six little girls. He was endlessly patient with children, as might be expected of a man with a “Question Authority” bumper sticker on his car.
He believed in beer, the Constitution and the dignity of all human beings. He was learned and fair and a lot of fun to be with.
– To find out more about Molly Ivins visit the Creators Syndicate web page at http://www.creators.com.
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