John Wellman Remembered: The Consummate Lawyer

Upon my return from vacation I was saddened to learn John Wellman passed away last Friday. Wellman, a long-time public defender, was blinded in a hunting accident at the age of 17. He overcame his adversity to earn a law degree from Drake University and a Masters in Law from Yale. He was 64.

His son Gregg was my position coach at Simpson College. Wellman attended our games and later told me at the courthouse that he always enjoyed "watching" our team. He was one of the lawyers in the first trial I watched at the courthouse. He represented an obviously guilty man who had been caught on video tape robbing the cash register at a convenience store. Wellman joked with the prosecutor out of the presence of the jury that he would simply argue the man was trying to put the money back and that the camera had it wrong.

Guilty or not John Wellman represented his client to the best of his ability. He used his laser-like ability to pinpoint deposition testimony to impeach a witness whose trial testimony conflicted with previous statements under oath. Wellman did not refer to the deposition itself. Instead he recited the page and line immediately off the top of his head without missing a beat. An amazing gift indeed.

He delivered his closing as he leaned on his walking stick. Methodically explaining in plain language why the jury should acquit his client. Nothing fancy but a brillant closing nonetheless.

I worked in a case against a Plaintiff’s class action lawyer that told me with regret that he did not have any "real" clients. I know Wellman had no such regrets. As explained in the book, Season of Life, Wellman was truly "a man built for others."

He lived with integrity and not only when it was convenient to do so. Always.
He sought justice. Because it is often hidden.
He encouraged the oppressed because they are always discouraged.
He made a great impact on the world because he asked the simple question: "What can I do for you?"

John Wellman did not worry about getting the biggest bank account or the fanciest car. (I guess he could not have driven the car anyway). He concentrated on what truly mattered. I am better for knowing him and I thank him for his fine example of what a lawyer should be and more.