Clovis attorney practices ‘country law’

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Fred Tharp, 75, is beginning his 41st year as a lawyer in Clovis. “For an old man, I always seem to keep something to do,” he said.

By James Mentink: CNJ Correspondent

It would be tempting to think of Clovis attorney Fred Tharp as a hero in a John Grisham thriller if it weren’t for the fact he sounds like a cowboy and lives nowhere near Grisham’s normal Deep South settings.

He’s a man who spends spare time tinkering with old Mercedes automobiles and his work days practicing what he refers to as ‘country law.’

“It’s a lot easier to say what I don’t do than to say what I do,” Tharp said.

Included in Tharp’s list of cases he doesn’t handle include personal injury, bankruptcy and corporate law. He loves doing adoptions. He’s entering his 41st year of practice and recently was honored with a reception for his 75th birthday, an event that drew 250 people.

“That would definitely be one of the high points in my life,” he said.

Born and schooled in Clovis, Tharp worked in Gallup as a claims adjuster for an insurance company before becoming a manager. He received his law degree from the University of New Mexico and also attended Hardin-Simmons University, where he majored in elementary education with minor studies in English and history. As a result, he is highly knowledgeable in law and history, especially medieval England, where American law finds its roots.

Driven into law by a love for people and a desire to solve their problems, he calls to mind quickly the term used for some attorneys: counselor. Despite his close association to the industry, he is quick to point out that Americans are living in a highly litigious society. When he began practicing law, there was one judge for the district — now there are five.

“The population has far less than doubled,” he said. “Yet we have five times the judges we had 35 to 40 years ago.”

In reference to society’s quickness to file suits, he adds, “I’m sick and tired of hearing we are a nation of laws, not a nation of men.

“Courts don’t solve problems, men solve problems.”

Tharp said he has no regrets about the way he’s practiced law over the years. Early in his career, he was a clerk to the Honorable Joe Wood, an appellate judge, and Tharp also became New Mexico’s first public defender.

The highest fee he ever collected was $250,000 in an $11 million settlement in a family trust case, where he was one of several lawyers.

Fern Tredway, Tharp’s assistant for more than 18 years, said when she was hired she was told family was more important than work, and if she didn’t feel that way herself she should probably seek employment somewhere else.

“Fred’s always understood if I’ve needed to take time for family, the kids and other things that have come up,” she said.

Tredway also notes that Tharp has a history of helping people even when they couldn’t pay him.

In Tharp’s reception area, a plaque hangs on the wall. On it is a quote by Abraham Lincoln, which originally appeared in his Notes for a Law Lecture. Phrases such as ‘Discourage litigation,’ ‘Persuade your neighbors to compromise’ and ‘As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity to be a good man’ are strewn across its face.

The plaque, he said, is his life motto.

Tharp said he ‘may have outlived his usefulness’ but doesn’t see himself retiring.

“I just keep coming in as long as there are people to help.”