The Jesse A. Udall Family and Their Tradition of Law
Part 1 of the Series: Families in Law
David Lloyd Udall graduated from the University of Arizona Law School on May 17, 2014 as his parents and grandparents looked on. This event in Centennial Hall brought back memories for David Lloyd's father, David King Udall, who had graduated from the same law school in 1988, as had David King's brother Bill in 1989. They were not the first generation of Udall's to graduate from U of A law school, either. They were preceded by David K., in 1963, and by the patriarch of the family, Jesse A. Udall, the father of David K., in 1924. Four generations of Udall's graduating from the same law school is quite remarkable, and given that David Lloyd has a son, David Hyrum, this tradition may continue.
The one who started it all, Jesse Udall, came from a dirt poor family in northern Arizona, where ranching or farming was the family profession. His life was changed during the First World War when he was assigned to be an ambulance driver in France. His association there with doctors and other professionals convinced him that he should aspire to a professional career. Nevertheless, after he returned from the war he put down $15,000 on a farm in Pima and tried farming for a year. When the depression hit in 1920, he lost his investment. Luckily, his creditor forgave the loan, freeing Jesse to pursue further schooling. He headed to Los Angeles to try dental school but it was full. On his return drive, he had the idea to try law school and fortunately, the University of Arizona Law School had a place for him.
Graduating in 1924 at the age of 31, Jesse could not find a job. Now married to Lela, his little family entered into, as he called it, "a period of starvation" through the summer. Desperate, he ran for County Attorney and was elected by a margin of 212 votes. "We thought we are on top of the world," Jesse stated. He believed they were on their way to financial success. He now had a rent-free office in the courthouse, with a secretary where he not only conducted the legal affairs of the county, but was able to handle private legal matters as well. In addition, his in-laws fed them often. Of this time, Jesse said, "We surely prospered and were blessed from that time forward."
And prospered, he did. When reviewing the history of leading Arizona lawyers and judges, few stand taller than Jesse A. Udall. After his time as Graham County Attorney, he became an Arizona legislator, Judge of the Superior Court, WW2 Military Judge, and finally a Judge on the Arizona Supreme Court for 13 years, including terms as Chief Justice. Jesse set the bar very high, for judicial integrity and commitment to community. His professional legacy is so remarkable that the Phoenix Chapter of the Law Society decided some ten years ago to create a distinguished service award for a lawyer who has given much beyond just the regular practice of law. They named it the Jesse Udall Award.
Jesse's example had a strong influence on his children, who all graduated from college. David K. even had a similar experience to his father's. Upon his graduation from the U of A Law School in 1963, David K. was beginning his career at a firm when he was recruited by Democratic County Attorney, Charlie Ronan, to be Mesa's first full-time Deputy County Attorney. After he lost, the new County Attorney, Bob Corbin, asked David K. if he would work with him as half-time Deputy for $500 a month, which would allow him to start his own practice on the side. From that humble beginning came the successful firm of Udall Shumway, currently a thriving 28-attorney firm in Mesa. In his distinguished career, David K. has also served as an 8-year member of the Mesa City Council, been President of the BYU Alumni Association, written the Mesa City Charter with others, and in 2014 was inducted into
The Udall family's commitment to education continued to the next generation, and thirteen of Jesse's granddaughters and grandsons graduated from law school. Many of these attorneys continue the legacy of public government service. Milan D. Smith, Jr. (University of Chicago Law School) serves as a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and David Jesse Palmer (Brigham Young University Law School) and David King Udall (Arizona State University Law School) serve as Arizona Superior Court judges. Gordon H. Smith (Southwestern School of Law) represented Oregon as a US Senator for twelve years. Brad Palmer (Arizona State University) serves as an Air Force Judge Advocate General. Many have served in the J. Reuben Clark Law Society with Judge David King Udall having served as its Phoenix Chapter Chair.
Jesse Udall was an ordinary man who gave extraordinary service to his family, the judiciary, the military, and the state. This legacy will flow to future generations in large measure because of his determination to better himself.