NORMAN — District Judge Tom Lucas will close the door on his small office tucked behind a courtroom in the Cleveland County Courthouse Building for the last time on July 31.
Stepping aside from the judgeship will come in his 50th year of practicing law and presiding over court, but it won't be the end of his law career. Although a recent stroke has slowed his speech and his walk, he says “I can still think and I would like to have a few more important defense cases.”
Lucas has served as a District 21 judge for the past 20 years. He has heard hundreds of civil and criminal trials, some drawing big headlines. Each has received his full attention as he fulfilled his duty assigned to him by the voters in five elections. “I don't think of it as 'my office' or 'my courtroom.' It is where I have been assigned to serve the public,” the 79-year-old says.
Lucas was born in a teacherage (housing provided by the school for its teachers) in St. Louis in Pottawatomie County where his parents both taught. The family lived in several
communities in Oklahoma as they followed the father's high school teaching/coaching career. A football player, Lucas attended Northeastern Junior College and the team made it to the Junior Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. They lost the national junior college championship to Bakersfield. “They beat us 7 to 6.”
He got a degree in political science from Oklahoma A&M. It was during that time that he met Norman attorney Preston Trimble. “He was in the OU Air Force ROTC at OU and I was in the Air Force ROTC at Stillwater.”
After graduation with a degree in political science came a five-year stint in the Air Force. His eyes were set on law school. “The application to the OU Law School called for a signature by a lawyer. Preston was the only lawyer I knew, so he signed the form for me.”
Lucas began practicing law in Norman in 1964, working for Attorney Ben Stockwell. “I learned how to practice law from Ben Stockwell,” he says, having worked for Stockwell while in law school and for several months after graduating. He opened his own general law practice which included what was then called “divorce law” (now referred to as family law) and defense work.
He still laughs when recalling a bankruptcy case in his early days, “my first case in federal bankruptcy court.” A more experienced attorney advised him “it will be like walking barefoot among the alligators.”
Lucas served for many years as a judge in Norman’s municipal court hearing misdemeanor cases. It was a part-time job and he did that until a group of attorneys talked to him about running for the district judge post. “I got talked into it,” he recalls, and it was the first of five successful elections for the position.
His friend Trimble, who calls the judge 'Tommy', says that the one word to describe Lucas would be “impeccable. I think that sums up his career.” Trimble adds, “He is a public servant who does his job based upon the law and the evidence and not based on getting re-elected. It is not fair for the public when decisions are made for public favor.”
Lucas' private law practice included a lot of pro bono work, Trimble pointed out. “He represented his clients. A $200 case takes the same amount of effort as a $2 million dollar case. He took cases because he thought it was right.”
When asked who he admired, Lucas responded quickly. “William F. Buckley. Winston Churchill. Not that I am like either of those. And Harry Truman, for his audacity.” In the legal field, Lucas admires famed trial attorney Gerry Spence.
With the possibility that he will preside at a trial in his last week on the bench, Lucas is looking forward to sleeping in on his first days away from the courthouse. “I can get up when I want to. Up at nine, dressed by noon,” he mused. There will be a little travel with his wife, Crystal, as well.
In the meantime, boxes will come into the office and the mementos, family photos and his favorite Old West memorabilia will be put away. “It will only take a couple of days to pack it up and be out of here,” he says.