Smithmoore “Smitty” P. Myers ’39

 Smitty’s Youth

In every school or university you will find a few exceptional individuals who have made a truly defining contribution to the life and character of their institution. At Gonzaga Law School, Smitty Myers is one of those individuals.

Born in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1914, Smitty Myers came to Spokane at the age of three with his mother, his six-year-old brother Robert, and his nine-year-old sister Nellie. If young Smitty and his siblings had one great advantage in life it was their mother Julia, a single mother and a woman of tremendous strength and spirit who was devoted to her children and their welfare. Although his parents had divorced when Smitty was quite young, his mother went out of her way to ensure that their father remained a regular part of the children’s lives.

Life in Spokane

During his first five years in Spokane, Smitty attended five different grade schools. As one might expect, he excelled academically except for one anomalous “F” he received as a first grader in, of all subjects, public speaking. Smitty’s mother and teacher conferred and concluded the grade was due to the young boy’s shyness and not his lack of ability. Given Smitty’s subsequent prowess in debate, legal argumentation, and public speaking, it would seem their assessment of the situation was accurate.

Within a year of arriving in Spokane, Smitty’s mother found employment in the women’s shoe department of the Crescent, a job she would have for the next two decades. Although it was a demanding six-day a week job, Julia Myers made sure she was home every noon to fix the children’s lunch. There was never any question of the priority her children held in her life.

In 1922, the family moved to a house in Peaceful Valley. The $15 a month rental provided them with a small home that had one cold water faucet, and toilet facilities located on the screen porch at the rear of the house. As Smitty recalls, they felt very comfortable in their Peaceful Valley residence. They would have been content to stay had not tragedy struck in 1924, when Smitty’s older brother, Robert, died of rheumatic fever. Grieving her loss, Julia Myers could not endure the bittersweet memories so the family moved to an apartment at Fourth and Lincoln on Spokane’s lower South Hill.

Academic Success

Now attending the Hawthorne School, Smitty was told one day that there would be a debate with a neighboring school and that he had been selected to participate. Although he wasn’t quite sure what it was all about, he prepared and did well. His one enduring memory of the occasion was that he liked it. On that day, a seed was planted.

At Lewis and Clark High School Smitty was a member of the two-person freshman team which vanquished the upper classes in the school’s intramural debate competition. His forensic skills were so good that he made the school’s varsity debate team as a freshman. Myers also excelled academically. He finished his final year at Lewis and Clark as Senior Class Vice-President, with the second highest academic average in his class.

Undergraduate Career at Gonzaga University

There was never any doubt that Smitty Myers was headed to college and that that college would be Gonzaga. Just as he had in high school, Smitty became active in debate and student government. He enjoyed the academic challenge and the quality of instruction he received from teachers such as Fr. Leo Robinson and from Fr. Albert Lemieux who was his debate coach.

To help finance his education, Myers took on the 1:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift at Sacred Heart Hospital where he worked the switchboard and ran the admitting office. It was 42 hours, seven day a week, but during the occasional quiet times, Smitty found time to study.

At Gonzaga, Myers was an outstanding member of a very successful varsity debate team. On one occasion Gonzaga’s forensic juggernaut went up against a team from the University of Idaho that included a young man named Lewis Orland who would later become very well known to both Myers and generations of Gonzaga students.

During his undergraduate career, Smitty Myers served as president of his sophomore and junior classes, and as a senior he was elected Gonzaga Student Body President. He completed his studies with the top academic rank in his class, graduating summa cum laude in 1936.

Life at Gonzaga Law School

By the time he began his senior year, Smitty fully understood that his talents and interests were a perfect match for a career in law. But law school would have delayed his ability to contribute economically to the family. On a Sunday walk with his mother he carefully broached the idea of going to law school. Although an additional income would have helped, Julia Myers didn’t hesitate a moment in her response. “If that is what you want to do,” she said, “then that is what we will do.”

Any doubts Smitty may have had about his presumptive vocation, were dispelled early in his law school experience. He subjects interested him and his teachers won his admiration. He saw some very different but effective approaches in the classroom. There was the very scholarly and patient Dean James Emmet Royce; the feisty and demanding Mike Kerley; and the highly professional Frank Weaver, who would go on to serve on the State Supreme Court.

Finances were always an issue for students during these times and Smitty tried his best to make ends meet. One summer, while working in a local brewery warehouse, the boss asked Smitty to make a beer delivery for him. The only problem was that Smitty didn’t have a driver’s license. In fact, he did not even know how to drive. But Smitty was a quick study and the boss was a trusting soul. He gave Smitty his personal automobile to practice with and when late afternoon rolled around, he put Smitty in the driver’s seat of a truck with instructions to deliver kegs to a drinking establishment in one of Spokane’s more questionable areas. Smitty successfully negotiated the roads and the alleys and began rolling the kegs off the truck. After observing the relatively slight delivery man wrestling with the heavy kegs, the tavern owner asked Smitty if he intended to make a career out of beer deliveries. Smitty told him he was a law student just doing work for the summer. The tavern owner suggested Smitty would be better served by sticking to law. For Smitty, it was advice well received and gratefully followed.

In law school, as in his undergraduate years, Smitty had the full confidence and respect of his peers. He was a three-time class president, and as senior he was elected President of the Student Bar Association.

After Law School

By his final year of law school, Smitty’s academic skill and solid personal reputation attracted the attention of Superior Court Judge Richard Webster, who offered Smitty a highly coveted position as his clerk. In that capacity, Myers briefed cases for the judge. He also conducted interviews with and prepared assessment reports on young people slated to appear on the court’s weekly juvenile docket. It was an excellent job that paid $150 a month which was  considerably more than most young lawyers in Spokane were making at that time. Because he needed transportation to conduct these interviews, Smitty put down $250 to buy a 1932 Ford Model C.  Thanks to prior experience, he was now fully licensed and sufficiently skilled to make use of his new purchase.

In April of 1939, Smitty’s mother collapsed at her work from complications brought on by pneumonia. Her health was poor and he and his sister Nellie agreed she would not return to work.

Smitty received his degree summa cum laude that spring but he put off taking the bar exam due to his mother’s poor health. He continued working at the court and studying for the bar in the evening. In 1940 he finally took the bar and, as he found out some twenty years later, received the highest grade in the state. That same year, he was asked to return to the law school as an instructor of real property. From the moment he began, Smitty Myers loved teaching and he knew he wanted it to be a part of his professional life.

Smitty Joins the Navy

In 1942, with World War II looming, Myers received a call from Creighton Flynn, a law school classmate from Tacoma. Flynn told him about a new naval officer program designed to train administrative officers who could free trained pilots for flight duty. Smitty liked the idea and convinced another classmate, Norm Johnson, to apply. Both were accepted and received their orders for the Quonset Pointe Naval Station in Rhode Island. After the two month training, the officer in charge asked Smitty to stay on as his Chief Administrative Assistant. Smitty accepted and remained an additional year at Quonset Pointe performing administrative duties and teaching naval law.

The following summer, Myers applied for and was accepted to train as a non-pilot navigator. During his navigator training in New York City, he received a call from his law school friend, Jack Close, who asked Smitty if he wanted to join him in the VR2 program, at the Alameda Naval Air Station in California. For the next two years, Myers was part of an “on call” flight crew that took “flying boats” all over the Pacific. His assignments sent him to Sydney and Auckland as well as the Guadal Canal and the other battle-torn islands. As soon as enemy air defenses were suppressed, the squadron’s “flying boats” came in with much needed supplies.

In November of 1945, Smitty Myers was honorably discharged from the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. On the recommendation of a Deputy State Attorney General whom he had met in the service, Smitty applied for and was accepted for a position with the Washington State Attorney General office. For the next two years, he did trial and appellate work for the office including a number of appeals before the Washington State Supreme Court.

Becoming the Dean of Gonzaga Law

In 1947, he joined Gonzaga graduates Tom Kelley and Art O’Sullivan as part of a general practice law firm in Seattle. Over the next eight years he developed an excellent practice which included a good amount of appellate work as well as a thriving specialty in the area of motor freight transportation law. In time, he became the chief lawyer for more than twenty local area freight carriers. It was a practice and a life he could have easily maintained had he not agreed in 1955 to go to lunch with Father James Linden, Gonzaga’s Law School Regent.

Since he came to Gonzaga in the 1930’s, Father Linden had passionately pursued the goal of improving the Law School and bringing it to full stature. In 1952 he helped Gonzaga become the first night school ever accredited by the American Bar Association. He was now intent on building a stronger full-time administrative staff and faculty. He wanted to take the Law School to the next level and he saw in Smitty Myers a person who could help him get it there. Over lunch, the highly persuasive Fr. Linden asked Smitty Myers to become the new law school dean.

It was not an easy decision for Smitty. After the meeting, he walked the Seattle waterfront for nearly five hours as he considered his options. In the end, his affection for the school and his love of teaching won out and he agreed to return to his alma mater as Dean.

Over the next decade, Gonzaga continued to mature and improve as a law school under the able direction of Dean Myers. The full-time faculty was increased, admission standards were improved, legal writing courses were made part of the curriculum and ABA standards limiting outside work for students were enforced. During that period the quality of graduates was excellent. They performed consistently well on the bar with average pass rates of 85% or better.

Smitty Meets Sandy

It was during this initial term as Dean, that Smitty Myers met the person who would change his life for the better – for ever. It was 1957 when he went down to the U.S. Court House to meet with the U.S. District Court Judge. As Smitty tells it, he “approached the counter when this vision of loveliness approached and said ‘May I help you?’ It was Sandy Sandulo. At that point Smitty admits that his voiced cracked like a 14 year old’s. As Smitty describes it “This is the most beautiful woman I have ever met and I’ve killed myself in the first 15 seconds”. While Smitty’s description of the young lady was accurate, his assessment of the situation could not have been more in error. This first halting encounter with Sandy Sandulo would mark the beginning of the most important and defining relationship of his life. Unfortunately, it would be two years before Smitty could pursue the relationship in earnest. The day he met Sandy, he was appointed special master for a long complex water rights case. Due to Sandy’s work, there was at least the appearance of a conflict of interest in Smitty dating someone who worked with one of the party’s litigation teams.

Continued Career Success

In 1965 Smitty was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington by President Lyndon Johnson. For Smitty it was as close to an ideal job as you could get. He successfully tried a variety of cases on both the criminal and civil side. Smitty Myers would have been content to stay on indefinitely, but the change of political power in Washington ended his tenure in 1969.

This same year, Smitty Myers returned to private practice in Spokane with Eldon Reiley , Gene Annis and Paul Bastine. In 1971 the firm merged with a tax group that included Scott Lukins and Gary Randall. The new firm was named Lukins Myers and Annis.

Although the law firm was growing and prospering, Smitty Myers, could not ignore his increasing desire to return to the classroom. He compromised by teaching an “equity” class from 1971 to 1973 while maintaining his practice, but this only whetted his appetite. In 1973 he returned to full time teaching, taking on class sections in torts and products liability.

Smitty’s Return to Gonzaga Law School

The school he returned to was far different from the one he had left less than a decade earlier. Gonzaga now had a day school and a large student body drawn from all over the country. The faculty members were no longer predominantly Gonzaga graduates and the old Webster School had been significantly expanded and remodeled. It was an exciting time with a bright and highly engaged student body, but it was also apparent to him that there were strains associated with this rapid transformation.

Matters came to a head when the law school’s application to become a member of the American Association of Law Schools was met with a critical review by the Association’s membership committee.  As a result the law school voluntarily withdrew its application.

At the same time, the students were taking a more activist stance regarding facilities and resources. It was in the midst of this turmoil that the new University President,  Fr. Bernard Coughlin, approached Smitty Myers about assuming the Deanship. Myers had no illusions about the problems he faced. But in the final analysis his loyalty to the school and sense of service overcame any reservations based on personal interest. After insisting on a vote of confidence from the faculty and student body, Myers accepted.

As one who had the confidence of all, Dean Myers moved quickly to restore trust among the parties and to address the critical issue of tuition revenues. He took the concerns of faculty, students and accreditation agencies to Fr. Coughlin and found a receptive hearing and a sincere resolve to rectify the law school’s problems. He opened lines of communications with the students and, as far as practicable, implemented their recommendations. He negotiated a highly favorable revenue-sharing agreement with the University and secured expanded building space for the faculty and administration. He also successfully addressed pressing concerns regarding admissions standards and faculty turnover. In the final analysis, he managed to restore a high level of trust among all interested parties and to put the law school back on solid footing. He was so effective that by the fall of 1977, the law school was approved for full membership in the American Association of Law Schools. In recommending acceptance, the Association’s membership committee expressed amazement at how far the school had come in such a short time.

The U.S. Magistrate Judge’s Position

In 1978, Smitty Myers had done what he set out to do. He resigned as Dean and returned to full time teaching. He would have been content to teach until his retirement, but another special opportunity arose when the Federal Judicial District of Eastern Washington received approval for a full time U.S. Magistrate Judge. Finally, the man with the quintessential judicial temperament could have his own court. The offer was made and Smitty Myers accepted.

The U.S. Magistrate Judge’s position was for an eight-year term. On the criminal side, Magistrate Judges handled only initial appearances. On the civil side, Magistrate Judges could try any case but only with the consent of both parties. In the sixth year of Myers’ term, the Ninth Circuit conducted a study to determine what percentage of trial lawyers in each district would be willing to bring civil matters before their local magistrate. The results were a remarkable endorsement of Magistrate Judge Myers. In the Eastern Washington District, 95% of trial lawyers said they would bring their civil cases before the local magistrate judge without reservation. This was by far the highest positive response in the entire circuit. The next highest district recorded only a 65% positive result.

Smitty thoroughly enjoyed his tenure as U.S. Magistrate Judge. He had a full and varied civil caseload. Indeed, given the speedy trial requirements of criminal cases, he wound up with more civil trials than the U.S. District Court judges. When his term ended in 1987, Myers returned to his first love – the classroom. For the next eight years a very youthful and vigorous Smitty Myers taught Federal Jurisdiction to a new generation of Gonzaga law students. When he retied in 1995 at the age of 81, Myers had completed a teaching career at Gonzaga that spanned more than 55 years.

Smitty’s Most Important Relationship

As Smitty moved through his career, he maintained that most important relationship with Sandy Sandulo. They had a long but necessary engagement period because Smitty was the only surviving child and the main support of his infirm mother who had lived with him for many years. Neither Sandy nor Smitty wanted to disrupt Julia’s life and they felt their marriage would do just that. Smitty had an undying love for and gratitude to this strong woman who had done so much for him.  Sandy, who shared in that love and affection for Julia, supported his decision.  Smitty’s mother died in 1982 at the age of 96. A few months later, Sandy and Smitty’s 24 year engagement ended when they were married by Fr. Frank Costello S. J. in the Gonzaga Chapel.

As anyone who knows them will tell you, you cannot really understand Smitty without reference to Sandy and vice versa. They are the true light of each other’s lives – the perfect compliment. But their love is not the exclusive kind.  With her outgoing personality, her intelligence, wit, warmth and verve , Sandy insures that you can never be just their acquaintance. It only takes about sixty seconds, a few engaging words and a warm hug from Sandy to initiate you into their large and diverse extended family.  They are a generous couple who take time to visit the infirm, to encourage those going through difficult times, and to celebrate birthdays and special occasions in other people’s lives.

Later Life

At one of several parties held in honor of Smitty’s ninetieth birthday, a diverse group of hundreds of friends gathered to celebrate with the Myers. Whether measured in terms of age, ethnicity or occupational status, it was as diverse group as could be imagined. The thing they had in common was their great affection for Smitty and Sandy Myers. That was the only real reason they needed that evening to interact and enjoy the company of otherwise total strangers.

By any measure, Smitty Myers has enjoyed a career that is as remarkable for its breadth as for its longevity, and he has received his share of accolades. His alma mater has honored him with the Gonzaga Law Medal and the Distinguished Alumni Merit Award. Last year, it conferred upon him the title of Dean Emeritus. The Washington State Bar has recognized him with their Award of Honor and Merit as well as the Professionalism Award. Not only did the Spokane County Bar make Smitty Myers the first recipient of their professionalism award, but they named it in his honor.

Smitty Myers is not one given to self promotion. It is simply not in his nature. He has never sought recognition or even great accomplishments. He has simply and generously put his considerable abilities at the service of others for all the right reasons. He has not only been a wonderful lawyer, teacher, judge and dean, but he has been an exemplar of what a lawyer should be. He has won our great respect and our deep affection. By virtue of his example, he has made his professional colleagues proud to be attorneys and the graduates of his alma mater proud to be Gonzaga lawyers.

Timeline of Achievements:

  • 1914 – born in Cheyenne, WY
  • 1932 – graduated from Lewis & Clark high school
  • 1936 - graduated from Gonzaga University
  • 1939 – graduated from Gonzaga Law School
  • 1942 – served in World War II
  • 1945 – began working at the Washington State Attorney General Office
  • 1948 – entered private practice in Seattle
  • 1955 – became dean of Gonzaga Law
  • 1957 – met the love of his life, Sandy Sandulo
  • 1959 – started dating Sandy
  • 1965 – appointed US Attorney for Eastern Washington
  • 1969 – returned to private practice
  • 1975 – returned to Gonzaga Law as dean
  • 1978 – stepped down as dean and appointed US magistrate
  • 1980 – received the Gonzaga Law Medal 
  • 1982 – married his love, Sandy Sandulo
  • 1987 – retired from judicial duties
  • 1989 - was given the Washington State Bar Association’s “Award of Honor and Merit”
  • 1990 – awarded the Distinguished Alumni Merit Award by Gonzaga University
  • 1995 – retired from teaching
  • 2004 – celebrated his 90th birthday
  • 2010 – Smithmoore P. Myers Tribute at the Patsy Clark Mansion
  • 2014 – celebrated his 100th birthday
  • 2015 – celebrated his 101th birthday