Arkansas Court of Appeals: Judge Bob Gladwin
August 7-13, 2017
By Jay Edwards
From undergraduate studies at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Bob Gladwin stayed in northwest Arkansas after being accepted early to the University’s law school.
“I was probably 14 or 15 when I began having thoughts that being a lawyer seemed kind of cool,” Gladwin said from his office in the Justice Building in Little Rock.
“I can remember my parents telling me I should become a doctor or a lawyer. But being a doctor never sounded like a good idea to me.”
Gladwin was a political science major and had always planned on going to law school. “If I had not gotten in I’m not sure what I would have done,” he says.
His third year of law school, Gladwin went to work as a clerk in the prosecutor’s office, where he worked for Kim Smith.
Clerking alongside was David Van Bebber, a friend and fraternity brother from the Phi Delta Theta house. “We were very lucky in that we got to try misdemeanor cases in what was then the municipal court,” Gladwin says, “under a judicial rule that let 3rd year law students try cases, under supervision of one of the deputy prosecutors. It allowed for real courtroom experience.”
“It was also lucky that Kim hired me after law school. One of his deputy prosecutors was leaving. It was a small office back then, but in law school I never pictured myself doing that kind of work. But I loved it. I liked being in the courtroom and around the courthouse. So I stayed on there for about three years after graduating.”
“It was also interesting because both Van Bebber and I wanted and applied for the job, and Kim told us we were so close that he just flipped a coin. Van Bebber never seemed too happy about that. So I told him years later, ‘Van Bebber, you are Tyson’s attorney, I’ll be happy to trade places with you.’”
After his time at the prosecuting attorney’s office, Gladwin left to go into private practice in Fayetteville with another lawyer, Jim Rose. Rose had been practicing until that time with Bill Putnam, who was, according to Gladwin, “kind of the premier trial lawyer at that time. He was definitely one of the guys I aspired to be like.”
“Jim and I practiced together just shy of two years. Then I got an offer to go to Prairie Grove with the firm of Everett Whitlock, and John Everett was the premier trial lawyer in the state and is still considered one of the great trial lawyers in Arkansas.”
Gladwin was there about a year when Bob Whitlock passed away. “He had been the municipal judge and I was appointed to that seat,” Gladwin says. He was 29 years old.
He and Everett had practiced together for five or six years and then Everett moved to Fayetteville. “But I liked it where I was so I kept a solo practice in Prairie Grove,” he says.
In 1998 he decided to run for circuit judge, but lost the election and decided he would not run again, planning to stay on the district court and continue with his law practice in Prairie Grove. “I was happy doing that,” he says.
But then, in 2002, a seat came open on the Court of Appeals and Gladwin started getting phone calls from friends and colleagues, telling him, “You should do this.”
“I remember thinking, that is not the kind of work I want to do. I was a courtroom lawyer, I wanted to try cases and be in the courtroom.”
But the more he thought about it the more he came to think he might actually like it. “And the timing was right,” he says.
It was unusual that he found himself running for the open seat without an opponent. “Either I had a pretty good reputation or they just wanted me out of the county,” he laughs.
Eight years later, in 2010, he ran again, and again he was unopposed.
As for the job itself, Gladwin compares it to going back to law school and “getting it right this time.”
“You learn something new every time you open up a case.”
He says that even though he likes the competitive aspect of winning and losing in the courtroom, he also really likes the academic aspect of the court.
“A friend of mine told me for years, ‘You just love the law.’ And I would say, ‘No, it’s just what I do.’ But he never agreed; and kept saying, ‘you do love it.’ And over the years I have come to realize he was right. I do love the thinking and learning and putting the pieces together, to try to get to the right result.”
“On the right and wrong aspect of it, after you’ve done it awhile, you quit thinking in those terms. Rather it becomes, is my logic correct? Am I applying the law and the facts correctly? And if I am then I can live with what I’ve done.”
“It is one of the enjoyable things about being on an intermediate appellate court. We don’t have to look at policy. We simply take the cases that are out there and apply them. And we say, this is the case that is right on point, or is as close as it can be, and this is how we are applying it.”
It is a fun part of the job. It’s a challenge at times, but it’s fun as well.”
When not reviewing and deciding on rulings, Gladwin teaches litigation at both law schools, with over 12 years at Fayetteville and eight in Little Rock.
He admits that he sometimes ponders being back in the courtroom. And says he thinks he could still try a case but also knows that 24 years is a long time to be away.
He and his wife Laura go back to their home in Fayetteville three or four times a month, and enjoy going to Razorback games.
“On Thursday nights, we will top the hill and see Old Main and think, it’s good to be home. Then on Sunday night, we return to Little Rock and our bigger house with most of our things and we think, well, we’re home.”
“But we do love Fayetteville. I was lucky when I got out of law school because I had a job offer in Key West, which is one of our favorite places to go. But I turned it down so I could stay in Fayetteville.”
The couple has five children between them; Bob has two boys and Laura, two girls and a boy.
“And now we have two grandkids,” he says, “which is the really cool thing.”