Retired Dodge City attorney publishes first novel
by Charlene Scott
Jack Dalton of Dodge City was the first attorney in Kansas to try a case in which in-court photography was included, and now he has written a novel about the experiences of a country lawyer.
“It was the first time that cameras were allowed in court,” explained Dalton, who served as Kansas Bar Association president in 1976-77, and was honored by the Kansas Bar in 1983 for “continuous, longstanding service on behalf of the legal profession, the public, and the association.”
His book, aptly named A Country Lawyer, was published Dec. 9, 2009 by Strategic Book Publishing in New York. Dalton, 81, began the book after he retired from law 17 years ago. He admits that his book is autobiographical as well as fictional.
“A friend read it, and said, ‘I can’t tell what’s true in it and what isn’t.’” With a grin, Dalton admitted: “It’s a novel and an autobiography!”
The truth in the book – as in Dalton’s life – is as exciting as the fiction. Dalton has handled all kinds of cases, and traveled the world in his pursuit of his hobby of scuba diving. His experience from both endeavors is expertly woven throughout the book.
Commenting on the book, Ray Call, retired executive editor of The Emporia Gazette, wrote: “This first novel lures readers with an affectionate look at the author’s beloved western Kansas, and the hard-working, honest folk who live there. Well, mostly honest.”
The young attorney who is the hero of the book also has the hobby of scuba diving. One of his dives leads to an adventure involving drug-runners, a gun battle, and the CIA.
“My interest in scuba diving began in 1974, and by 1980, I became intensely interested,” Dalton recalled. “My wife, Jane, was very tolerant! I went all the way to the Fiji Islands, always with a scientist, professors, or photographers on board. I began the book in Hawaii, and it took me nine years to write it.”
Dalton, who graduated from Kansas University law school in 1953, has had his share of real excitement from the cases he handled in Jetmore for 12 years and in Dodge City for 28 years.
“One of my most complicated cases concerned a client from a holding company that owned part of a bank. An officer of the bank had embezzled $600,000. The bank filed a claim against the bonding company for reimbursement, but the bonding company refused to pay. Criminal charges were brought against the officer, but the bank was lost.
“I filed suit on the theory that the loss of the money from the bonding company brought about the loss of the bank. I said we should be reimbursed not only for the $600,000, but also for the loss of the bank. The trial lasted for a month, and I never will forget the verdict: my client won a total of $5 million.”
That wasn’t the end of the story, however. The case was appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled in the bonding company’s favor. The case then was sent to the district court, which affirmed the original verdict. The case dragged on, until the day Dalton received a call from the opposing attorney asking to meet with him.
“I had decided to settle for a million,” Dalton said. The other attorney offered $2.2 million before Dalton opened his mouth. “I told him I would think about it for a while!”
One of Dalton’s criminal cases involved a 21-year-old who was drinking with other young men on a city street.
“He took a night stick away from a policeman, and hit him in the head,” Dalton explained. “He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. I got a call from the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, saying the case came back to him from the U.S. Supreme Court. He asked if I would take the case.
“I was searching for appealable grounds for defense. I went to see the kid in Lansing, and I thought it was unfortunate [for him]. I also visited the police department to see the night stick in the exhibits. I wondered, could a Billy club that broke really be a deadly weapon? I argued that it could not, but we lost the case. The young man served 15 years in prison, and lived a good life after he got out. This was one of my toughest criminal cases.”
Dalton is known locally for suing the City of Dodge City and Ford County, asking the District Court of Kansas to direct the city and county to build the special events center that voters had approved as part of the Why Not Dodge? package. Dalton won this case, which he filed as an individual citizen.
“I told my wife, ‘Something has to be done about this,’ and she said, ‘Not by you!’
“I asked the court to instruct the city and county to build the center. All the judges in Ford County had to disqualify themselves from hearing the case. A retired judge from Wichita came to hear it. I said that under the first article of the U.S. Constitution, the city and county cannot change or impair any contacts they had incurred.
“This case demonstrates the lawyer’s ethical duty to disclose all relevant cases, whether favorable or not. Since most issues had been resolved, the County Attorney Glenn Kerbs, City Attorney Ken Strobel, and I agreed to each take a separate brief. Glen’s research brought forward the key to the important issue, and the judge ruled in my favor.”
Thus, Ford County citizens will enjoy a special events center. And they will enjoy Dalton’s book, written by a dedicated country lawyer about another country lawyer.