He Loved the Law … and This Journal

The passing of Don Paine last November reverberated through the legal community as his colleagues, students and friends poured out their hearts about what he had done for them either directly or indirectly (read many of the tributes at www.tba.org/news/legal-community-mourns-don-paine). He changed the law and the way many practice it, through his teaching, writing and doing. This magazine you are holding (or reading online) is just one of the ways Don Paine helped improve and advance the legal conversation in Tennessee.

The Journal is what it is today, in large part, because of Don, his vision and his extreme care for what was published and how it was written.

He was a founding member — it was his idea, in fact — of the Tennessee Bar Journal Editorial Board, which was formed in 1989. It was a project Don had put in the works not long after he was president of the Tennessee Bar Association in 1986–1987. Instituting the board was a move that revolutionized this magazine, giving it a broader depth of knowledge and raising the standards for what would be published.

Earlier the same year, Don began writing his column, “Paine on Procedure.” It first ran in the January/February 1989 issue of the Journal. That column, “Nonsuits Don’t Necessarily Save You,” included a tag that said the new column would run throughout that year, which would’ve been a total of six columns. I don’t recall discussing renewal; Don just kept right on writing and readers kept eating it up, and here we are 25 Januaries later.

The first board was three members – Don, Bill Haltom and Mary Martin Schaffner, who was followed by Lucian Pera. The board later grew to five and then to its current number of seven.
In the beginning, the article review system worked this way: I would mail hard copies of each submission to the board for comment. Weeks later, I’d have their responses. If there was dispute or discussion, add another several weeks. (The magazine was published six times a year then so we had a little time to play with.)

Turnaround time was cut shorter when the TBA acquired a fax machine, although Don did not trust the new technology right away so I continued to mail his copies. You can imagine how he felt about email, but fortunately by that time he had embraced the fax machine. More recently and up until the end of last November, I walked to the fax machine only once a month, when I sent Don a proof copy of his column.

It was during this routine that I first learned of Don’s death from his long-time assistant Karen Roberts. I had not heard from Don after I faxed him the Friday before with his December column’s proof, and this was unusual. It was Don’s habit to call either me or our publications coordinator, Landry Butler, to discuss any changes shortly after he received the fax. Or we would receive a reply fax with marks all over it. I had a bad feeling that morning when there was no fax or voice mail to either of us.

Don wrote 237 columns, 31 feature articles and 30 book reviews for this magazine. In 2007 he took emeritus status on the board but never waivered in production of his writing. He had a column, feature article or book review (and sometimes two of those things) in every issue since 1989. Counting the president’s columns he wrote before that and the ones we will publish posthumously, he has been a part of 246 issues. (The Journal became monthly in 1999, and when Don learned he would need to write twice as much, he just dug in and wrote faster.) That’s more writing than any other person has done for this magazine.

He was a stickler for detail and being correct, for which I am grateful. If he found a problem, sometimes it was my error (and he extended exceptional grace to me more than once), but more often it was our difference of opinion on style. He would insist, for example, on the capitalization of certain words or the inclusion of the dreaded (in my opinion) Oxford Comma in a simple series. I have had more conversations with Don about commas than with anyone, and believe me, I have talked about commas a lot. He viewed the Associated Press Style, which the Journal uses, with disdain. But if I could cite to a reference as to why I did something like I did, and if we were consistent, he would give in.

With his stylish exclamation points that looked like alarmed triangles, he would fax the proof back to correct my mistakes or omissions with short hand-written instructions: “Quotation marks needed!” If he had left off the quotation marks himself, he was quick to admit that.

Don had always worked ahead, having two or three columns in the can long before they were due. But when we got his submission recently for the April, May and June issues, I have to admit I noticed that was farther out than he’d ever written.

A few days after he died, his reply fax for the December proof appeared in my mailbox, which he had in fact sent the afternoon before he died. Someone must have picked it up by mistake and finally put it in my mailbox. The final magazine proof had already been signed off to our printer and there could be no changes at that late date, so I picked it up gently, wondering what he had marked and would’ve been disappointed to know would not be changed.

Scrawled at an angle across the top, it was as if his dear, scratchy voice was coming through loud and clear. It said, “Looks good, Suzanne. – Don.”
 


Suzanne Craig Robertson is editor of the Tennessee Bar Journal. Read Mr. Paine’s obituary.