The Federal Bar Association
Oklahoma City Chapter
THE HONORABLE LEE R. WEST INDUCTED INTO THE OKLAHOMA HALL OF FAME
The Honorable Lee R. West was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame at a black tie banquet and induction ceremony on November 15th at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel and Convention Center. The Hall of Fame was created in 1927 to honor Oklahomans who have given outstanding service to the state. Induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame is the highest honor the state can bestow on its citizens.
Judge West was recognized for his long and distinguished public service career which earned him a reputation for intellectual rigor, ebullient collegiality and absolute integrity. His award was presented by the Honorable David L. Russell who co-authored, with Bob Burke, the biography, Law & Laughter: the Life of Lee West. Judge Russell’s introduction put the crowd on notice that while it may have been Lee West’s contributions to the law that garnered him the Hall of Fame honor, it is laughter that has become his calling card.
Judge Russell recounted a crisp fall evening in 1975, when a shimmering column of black limousines arriving at the White House was punctuated by an old green pickup truck with a dog box in the bed and a saddle in the back seat. The groundskeepers and security staff erupted into a standing ovation as out stepped Lee and Mary Ann West, resplendent in evening dress. Lee West, a member of the powerful Civil Aeronautics Board, had come a long way from Clayton and Antlers, Oklahoma where he grew up the son of an illiterate horse trader who, in Judge Russell’s words, “spent time in bars and behind bars.”
When Judge West took the stage, he recalled growing up “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.” He praised the resourcefulness, hard work and sacrifice of his mother. About his father, he quipped, “Barry Switzer is no longer the only son of a bootlegger in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.”
Judge West credited his accomplishments to education. He expressed gratitude to Oklahoma’s public schools and to the dedicated small town teachers who inspired his love of learning in general, and reading in particular. He explained that growing up, he read everything he could get his hands on “and not all of it was pornographic.” He also thanked the University of Oklahoma where he, for the first time, enjoyed indoor plumbing and electricity. And he expressed his love for Oklahoma.
He recalled numerous opportunities to permanently relocate. He turned them all down. He could just never get used to the idea of living in a place where you weren’t “dodging tornadoes, brush fires, and earthquakes in 100 degree heat.” His remarks were greeted by a second standing ovation and an invitation to host next year’s festivities.
Judge West was born in Clayton, Oklahoma, and graduated from Antlers High School. After completing 28 months in active duty with the United States Marine Corps, he was selected by the faculty of the University of Oklahoma College of Law as the Outstanding Graduate of 1956. He left his successful private practice in Ada in1961, in order to join the faculty at O.U.’s law school where he taught torts, damages, evidence, trial practice and workmen’s compensation. He earned a Ford Foundation Fellow in Law Teaching at Harvard Law School where he received an LLM degree. In 1963 he returned to private practice and also served as Labor Arbitrator for the National Mediation Board. In 1965, he was appointed by Governor Henry Bellmon to serve as District Judge for the 22nd Judicial District of Oklahoma. While on the state bench, he also served as Special Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals. In 1973, he was appointed by President Richard Nixon to the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington, D.C. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter designated him the board’s Acting Chairman. In 1979, President Carter appointed him to a seat on the district court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Judge West is well known for having pioneered many of the alternate dispute resolution techniques that have streamlined modern trial practice.
Judge West took senior status in 1994, but continues to carry an active civil caseload. In addition, he is highly sought as a settlement judge in complex and protracted cases. He is also a world renowned breeder and trainer of bird dogs. Judge West and three of his champion pointers have been inducted into the Field Trial Hall of Fame in Grand Junction, Tennessee. Judge West lives in Edmond with Mary Ann, to whom he has been married for sixty years. He admits to having pursued her since they were both in the second grade in Antlers. He is the father of Jennifer West and Kim West, who is a magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. He is the proud grandfather of Mary Ellis Passey.