The History of the Robert W. Calvert Inn of Court


The initial meeting of the founding group in Austin was at the Texas Bar Center in September, 1989, which was followed by a visit in April, 1990 to Austin by the then President of the American Inns of Court, Professor Sherman Cohen and Dick Wieland, then President of the Federal Bar Association who visited with Dean Mark Yudolf at the UT Law School to consider forming an American Inn of Court Chapter.  

Charter was issued on June 1, 1990, and our first meeting was on September 25, 1990.  Our Inn was the 118th Inn chartered, and at that time there were 125 Inns nationwide, and of course, this was the first in Austin and at the UT Law School. 
Currently, there are more than 350 Inns throughout the United States, each dedicated to enhancing ethics, professionalism and civility within the legal profession.  The American Inns of Court movement, composed of over 30,000 members in 48 states and the District of Columbia, examine issues related to ethics and professional conduct in the field of law.  Each chapter, known as an Inn, has members ranging from law students to lawyers and judges with varying degrees of legal experience.  Some Inns are limited to certain fields of law such as family law and patent matters.  The history and mission and goals of the American Inns of Court, in addition to current information, can be found at the foundation's main web site page.
During our first year of operation, Professor Jack Ratliff directed the selection of the 16 third-year law students two each assigned to the eight Pupilage Teams (composed of three Masters -one a judge, two barristers (litigators with 3-10 years experience), and one Lawyers-Pupil (0-3 years experience).  Each team was responsible for conducting one program for the Inn each year.  Student participation has been changed to eight students recently.
The Inn, organized and modeled after the venerable English Inns of Court system, elected for the 1990-1991 year Justice Eugene Cook as President, Lloyd Lochridge as Counselor, Dick Wieland as Secretary-Treasurer, with Judge Will Garwood and Bill Whitehurst as the first elected Executive Committee Members.
We have met at various locations over the years including the University Club, the UT Law School, the Austin Club, the Shoreline Grill, in addition to our current location, the Headliners Club.  Normally, our Inn has at least one Master attend the Annual Leadership Conference of the American Inns of Court Foundation.  The meeting concentrates on issues of interest to local Inn leaders.

About Judge Robert W. CalvertRobert W. Calvert Photo

Founded in Austin, Texas, in 1990, the Robert W. Calvert American Inn of Court bears the name of a great Texas judge a man called Mr. Judiciary of Texas by fellow Texan and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark.

Robert Wilburn Calvert was born the son of a sharecropper on Washingtons birthday in 1905, in Lawrence County, Tennessee. After Calverts father died in 1912, Calverts mother and her young children moved to Texas. Mrs. Calvert was unable to provide for her children, and in 1913, she placed Calvert, then age eight, and two of his siblings in the State Orphans Home in Corsicana, Texas. Calvert remained there for ten years.

Life at the Orphans Home had a Dickensian flavor. Calvert remembered always being hungry. He barely survived the great influenza epidemic of 1918, and endured a savage beating by a supervisor. His sister died there. On the positive side, Calvert became an avid reader and a success in the class room, graduating in 1923 from the Orphans Home school as salutatorian of his class. The Orphans Home instilled in Calvert a fearless, independent spirit and a strong sense of discipline and honor that remained with him for the rest of his life.

In the fall of 1923, Calvert entered the University of Texas at Austin, with the intention of studying law. At that time, a person could be admitted to the Universitys School of Law after only two years of undergraduate work. Calvert supported himself by working at the Texas State Capitol for several state agencies. These jobs enabled Calvert to meet leading state officials and to make valuable friendships that served him well in his political life. Because of the need to work, Calvert dropped out of law school several times. As a result, his academic record was undistinguished. Calvert later described it as a flop.

After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law in 1931, Calvert began his legal career in Hillsboro, then a small town of 8,000 in Hill County, Texas. Calvert became the twenty-third member of Hillsboros bar. By 1940, Calvert had become one of the areas leading attorneys. Litigants were retaining him in nearly every major civil suit filed in Hill County. A future chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas remarked that "[t]his young fellow Calvert can make it easier for you to agree with him and harder for you to disagree with him than any young lawyer I know."

While building a lucrative legal practice, Calvert also pursued a political career. A moderate Democrat, Calvert was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1932 to the first of three consecutive terms. Calvert quickly emerged as a leader of the Texas House. In 1935, he narrowly lost a race for Speaker to future governor Coke R. Stevenson. Two years later, Calvert was elected Speaker without opposition. After losing a race for Attorney General of Texas in 1938, Calvert left the Texas House in January 1939, but remained active in politics. In 1939, Calvert worked as an unpaid lobbyist to secure passage of a bill creating the integrated, organized State Bar of Texas. Between 1942 and 1950, Calvert served as Hillsboro City Attorney, Hill County Attorney, and as president of the Hillsboro Independent School District. In 1946, Calvert became the chair of the state executive committee of the Democratic party and served in that capacity during the storied Lyndon B. Johnson-Coke Stevenson senate race of 1948. Calvert was often encouraged to run for Governor, but steadfastly declined to do so.

Calvert was primarily a trial lawyer, but he had come to enjoy briefing cases for appeal. His love of appellate practice led him to enter a 1950 race for a position as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Texas. Calvert was elected and took office in October 1950. In later years, he enjoyed telling people that his victory was due, in part, to a timely advertising campaign by the makers of Calverts Whiskey. The whiskey companys ad was I switched to Calvert.

Calvert served on the nine member Supreme Court of Texas for twenty-two years, the last eleven as chief justice. During his service, Calvert developed a reputation as a staunch law man. He passionately believed in keeping the law stable and predictable. He would follow an established rule of law even if the rule appeared to cause an unpopular or undesirable result in a particular case. Calvert once explained his philosophy on this point in a dissenting opinion.

It is cases such as this that make a judge wish, for the moment at least, that ours were courts of men and not of law; that make a judge wish if I may borrow language from the majority opinion that he could lay aside what he regards as sound principles of law and decide the case on the practicabilites of the situation. But intellectual integrity ought to be the individual judges most compelling force; and when in his honest judgment sound rules of law are sacrificed to practicability and expediency, failure to protest is a dereliction of duty.

As this quotation shows, Calvert's opinions were clear, direct, and understandable. Calvert frowned on the use of the per curiam opinion in politically sensitive or controversial cases. When I get to the point where I am afraid to sign my name to an opinion I have written, I will simply resign and leave the court. Many of the 378 opinions that Calvert wrote are still considered landmarks of Texas law.

Calvert was neither pro-plaintiff nor pro-defendant. A lawyer once told him that the trouble with you is that you have no judicial philosophy; you will write a case for an injured plaintiff one week and for an insurance company the next. Besides performing his duties as a judge, Calvert worked hard as chief justice to improve the judiciary. In 1965, he helped secure the creation of the Texas Judicial Qualifications Commission to investigate charges of judicial misconduct. In 1970, he served as chair of the National Conference of State Chief Justices. Calvert also supported significant reforms in the procedural rules for the trial and appeal of civil cases. In particular, Calvert worked to remove technical barriers that prevented a decision on the merits of a case.

After his retirement from the Supreme Court of Texas in 1972, Calvert became of counsel to the prominent Austin firm of McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore. He assisted the firm primarily in the preparation and revision of appellate briefs. Calvert also served as chair of the Texas Constitutional Revision Commission, which unsuccessfully attempted to fashion a new constitution for the state. Calvert's concern over influence of large contributions in partisan judicial elections led him to become an increasingly vocal advocate for the merit selection of judges. In 1973, the American Judicature Society conferred on Calvert the Herbert Harley Award in recognition of Calvert's outstanding contributions to the administration of justice. Calvert died on October 6, 1994, leaving a splendid legacy and example of hard work, honesty, and fairness.