Samuel Porter ’53 Continues to Impact Community
In 55 years practicing law, Samuel Porter ’53 has accomplished plenty. He’s argued significant cases – including one before the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s represented a variety of clients. He’s taught hundreds of future lawyers and mentored dozens more. But the Columbus native – who still goes to the office daily – isn’t ready to stop. Indeed, he appears to be as busy as ever, even though he no longer maintains a full docket of cases.
“I miss not being in the courtroom more,” he said. “I love the variety of problems entrusted to the court system and the people that you meet each and every day – people who are absolutely sure that they are on the right side of the issue.” Sam also explains that being a litigator allowed him to learn about lots of different things. “I had cases that involved everything from operating road graders to untangling complicated medical questions. So I learned how to drive a road grader, and I learned how to hit the medical books.”
Despite easing up on his docket of active cases, Sam has by no means stopped his involvement in the profession. He serves as an arbitrator in cases around the country. In addition, Sam is mid-way through a six-year appointment to the Ohio Public Defender Commission and is active in the American Bar Association as well as other professional organizations.
When asked about his deep commitment to the legal profession, Sam responds modestly: “I think we all have a responsibility to do what we can to better the system. Whatever you’re involved in, I think there are ways that you can give back.”
It was almost inevitable that Sam became an attorney. “I always knew that I wanted to be a lawyer,” Sam said. “When I got out of the Navy, I started applying to colleges because I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” Family influences also played a role. Sam’s father, W. Glover Porter, and his older brother, William G. Porter, Jr., both graduated from Ohio State and worked together at the Columbus law firm of Porter, Stanley, Treffinger & Platt. When Sam finished law school at Ohio State, he joined the firm, too. Boasting 11 attorneys at the time, the firm was one of the largest in Columbus.
Sam quickly realized that he was a trial lawyer at heart and loved arguing before a judge and jury. As his litigation practice grew, though, he began to focus more on utility regulation. He ably served utilities in the rate-making proceedings that first began in the harsh economic climate of the 1970s and handled countless public utility cases for the firm that, today, is known as Porter Wright Morris & Arthur.
But Sam never abandoned his general litigation practice and, in 1979, argued Columbus Board of Education v. Penick before the U.S. Supreme Court. He represented the school board in the dispute that, ultimately, led to racial desegregation of Columbus Public Schools. Reflecting on the landmark case, Sam remarked that “it was certainly a thrilling opportunity, particularly for somebody like me. My job was to advance my clients’ interest, and that is what I enjoyed doing the most.”
Sam now shares the knowledge garnered during his more than 50 years in practice by teaching each year at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. The course, Sam said, rejuvenates him. “I really enjoy working with young legal minds,” he said. “I think the students are interesting, and the discussions we have are quite stimulating. Their intelligence and enthusiasm make the experience very enjoyable for me.”
Since 2000 or so, Sam has volunteered his time by representing murder suspects. Sitting second chair, Sam couples his trial experience with the expertise of attorneys who are death-penalty certified. Sam’s involvement in these matters led to his volunteer work on the Ohio Public Defender Commission. Currently chair of the commission, Sam helps to oversee the office of the Ohio Public Defender.
Not content to limit his contribution to the U.S. legal system, Sam and other American arbitrators traveled last month to Asia to meet with arbitration counterparts in Hong Kong and Beijing. Sam credits this experience as one of the countless opportunities that have arisen because of his legal career. He credits Ohio State, too. “I have great respect for the Moritz College of Law,” he said. “The faculty and students are excellent, and I’m proud to be a graduate of that institution.”
With all of this activity, one might think that Sam is busier than he’s ever been. When asked about the pace that he maintains, Sam chuckled and responded: “I have more time on my hands now than I used to.”