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Fairest on the federal bench
Afterthought led Judge Moody to the law
 
By Michael Haddigan
July 26, 2002

As a college student in the 1950s, U.S. District Judge Jim Moody looked forward to a career in engineering and work in the oil industry of his native El Dorado.

Those were days when many young men saw a future full of formulas and equations, he said.

"I graduated from high school about the time of the Sputnik crisis so everyone was slated to be an engineer when they left high school," he said. "My father worked in an oil refinery so he thought it would be good if I was a chemical engineer."

By the time he graduated from the University of Arkansas, however, Moody had changed his major to industrial management and was to enter the Army.

The Army didn't want him for another year, so "to fill that time" he entered law school.

"It was an afterthought, frankly, at the time. I didn't know whether I'd like it or not," he said.

That decision led him to a life in the law and eventually to an appointment by President Bill Clinton in 1995 to the federal bench in the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The quiet-spoken, courtly judge was himself judged by lawyers in the Eastern District as the fairest on the federal bench. Moody modestly credits his assistants.

"No judge is better than his staff, and I have the greatest staff in the world," he said. "If anybody gets credit for this, they should."

Judge Moody completed his law degree at the University of Arkansas in 1964 and, after a stint as an artillery officer, he joined Little Rock's Wright, Lindsey and Jennings law firm.

"I had primarily a civil defense practice," he said. "My experience was with product liability and professional liability and tort cases as well as business cases."

In 1992, the Association of Defense Counsel named him Outstanding Defense Counsel. He is listed both the business litigation and personal injury litigation sections of "The Best Lawyers in America"

At the Wright firm, Moody says, he didn't simply learn to practice law. He learned how to be a lawyer.

"What I learned from the older lawyers in that firm, Alston Jennings and Bob Lindsey and some others probably, was largely responsible for my attitude toward things," he said. "They taught me that it is better to be fair than it is to win at all costs. It was a valuable learning experience for me about how to conduct yourself as a lawyer as well as how to practice the law itself."

In 1999, the Arkansas Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates awarded him its first "Civility Award."

Moody said he winces when he sees lawyers go for the throat in his courtroom.

"I hate to see lawyers being rude to other lawyers or being overly aggressive toward them. I think it is counterproductive to their own case and certainly to the impression that the jury has of the judicial system," he said. "The best and most successful lawyers I've seen are the ones that can be civil and at the same time aggressively represent their clients."

Although none of Moody's forebears were lawyers, he has lawyers in the family now.

Moody is married to the former Lisa Foster, widow of Clinton presidential staffer Vince Foster. Moody has three stepchildren, including a stepdaughter who is a lawyer in Phoenix, and a son who is also a lawyer.

His son Jay is running uncontested in the race for Pulaski County Circuit Judge. He will replace retiring Circuit Judge John Ward.

"He'll be sworn in the first of January, and of course I'm very proud of him," the elder Moody said.

Jim Moody said he had no experience with criminal law before he took the bench, but in many ways civil and criminal cases aren't all that different.

"You still have the interplay of the personalities and the facts of the case and the dynamics of the jury, all the same elements in a criminal case as in a civil case," he said.

But sentencing can be a tough, Moody said, especially when he must sentence first offenders and some drug offenders.

"A lot of the cases we see are drug cases, and a lot of the individuals are more ill than they are criminal," the judge said. "It is still a hard job for me. I don't enjoy sending anyone to prison."

In his spare time, Moody says, he enjoys fishing, jogging, golf and reading histories and biographies.

"Since I've had a sit-down job most of my life, I've tried to spend my leisure time outside doing something active. As I get more ancient, reading has more appeal to me," he joked.

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman are among the historical figures he finds most interesting.

"I think they were, with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson, practical-minded men who were more populist in their approach," Moody said. "They all seemed to have integrity."


 
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