Robert Gorence: An impulse of delight in the legal tumult

Oliveros
07/05/03

Robert Gorence has investigated rogue CIA agents, prosecuted cold blooded killers and more recently defended some of the biggest names in the state, including Bobby Unser and developer Jason Daskalos. Currently, he is suing Halliburton.

May 3, 2007, 11:42am MDT Albuquerque Business First's

He also quotes freely from poet William Butler Yeats.
"In 'An Irish Airman foresees his death,' there is a line that describes what it's like to go to trial, 'a lonely impulse of delight drove the airman to the tumult above the clouds.' That same lonely impulse is what motivates me in every trial," Gorence says, while reflecting on the more than 100 jury trials he has tried the past two decades.
Big career move

After building a career in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico as a star prosecutor, Gorence became a lone, rogue wolf when he split with that office to defend the accused and become a star defense attorney.
Gorence, just 49, is among the state's litigation lions, yet his literary bent lends an intellectual air to his practice and his thoughtful patrician courtroom presence.
He has emerged as the go-to guy when big money gets in trouble, but also has won big settlements in defense of street toughs and the poor when their constitutional rights have been roughed up by police. He is emerging as a New Mexico combination of Johnny Cochran and F. Lee Bailey.
If you're looking to stay out of jail or maintain your reputation, Albuquerque's Gorence & Oliveros PC is a logical choice.
Gorence's 14 years as a prosecuting attorney for the federal government in New Mexico gives him a thorough understanding of how a district attorney builds cases. He knows where the evidence is weak and attackable.
Many of the judges that sit on the bench are his former colleagues after his years with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque and in his first law job at Albuquerque's Miller Stratvert law firm. He was mentored there by attorneys who would later become judges.
He broke from the government in 2000 to form his own practice as a defense attorney, losing many friends and colleagues in the process, but he remains steadfast in his decision to cross the aisle and challenge the government in court.
"I was a very zealous U.S. Attorney and I take that same zeal as a criminal defense attorney. Some have said it's a line you can't cross. But I have sworn an oath to my clients and my job is to make sure the evidence gets tested in every way. Is it constitutionally obtainable?" Gorence asks. "My job is make sure that people aren't incarcerated wrongly."
Among Gorence's biggest victories was his defense of David Hudak, a Canadian known as "the missile man." Hudak was training individuals on a ranch near Roswell on how to use explosives. In the post-9/11 hysteria, Uncle Sam came down hard, charging him with possessing illegal warheads. Hudak maintained the missiles he purchased were presented to him as legal and decommissioned. After a six week trial, Hudak was vindicated. He now is suing Halliburton, because one of its subsidiaries sold him the missiles.
"The government so overcharged him. Here was a 42-year-old man who had never been in trouble before and he was facing a minimum of 50 years in jail. There was a disconnect there because of a misunderstanding when he bought the missiles. Do you really want to incarcerate him for 50 years for that?" asks Gorence.
Before Court TV

Pat Gorence was a Federal judge in Milwaukee and counseled her young nephew Robert to consider a legal career, but he had other interests. At Georgetown University, Gorence played varsity football and studied literature before enrolling at Marquette to study law. He would go down to the Milwaukee courthouse to sit and watch trials.
"This was before the courtroom reality TV shows. The idea that you could be an effective advocate for one side and sell 12 people on an idea under very stylized rules was powerful. It was clear some of the lawyers I saw were good and some not so good and the consequences for their clients were enormous."
Making a choice

Gorence was torn between law and literature and after his first year in law school, took a "walk about."
He spent a year in Paris exploring the literary life while working in a bakery and teaching English. Upon his return to America, he married, had a baby and with school loans coming due, plowed back into law school and a legal career. His first wife, Lisa, was from New Mexico and is U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici's daughter. The two had five children. He is now married to his law partner, Louren Oliveros, and they have one child.
After graduation, Gorence found himself working in Miller Stratvert's offices doing corporate defense work for big clients like State Farm. His colleagues there included Tom Udall, who would later become a New Mexico congressman and future judges Harris Hartz and Al Torgerson.
Proving ground

But Gorence wanted trial experience with higher stakes and knew the biggest proving ground was in the U.S. court system where criminal trials are less scripted. Attorneys must be quick and smart with their cross examinations. He joined the U.S. Attorney's Office and his first trial in February 1986 gave him the legal education he was missing.
"I learned more in that courtroom in those four weeks than I learned in four years of college. By watching the techniques of good lawyers, I saw the different styles of each and how they could be incredibly effective. Bill Marchiondo was a sledgehammer, Charlie Daniels had a scalpel, Dave Norvell was smooth, he was a flute. Billy Blackburn was a machine gun a fuselage."
Surgical mannerisms

Gorence doesn't like to describe his court room mannerisms, but others are less reticent. Tim Padilla has tried cases against Gorence and they teamed up to defend Hudak.
"His approach is more the scalpel. He is a great lawyer because he is good with a jury and is quick on his feet. He can use humor in the courtroom, but it is never overbearing," Padilla says. "He is a fair guy and ethical and to me that was the whole thing when he went to the defense side. Sure he made some enemies, that's the nature of this beast, but Bob doesn't hold grudges."

-  Steve Ginsberg NMBW Staff

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