On Being Called to the Law

June 26, 2004 | 12 comments
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War, peace, gay marriage…whatever…lets talk about something important and interesting: My great, great grandfather.

My great, great grandfather was Justin David Call. He ended his life as a circuit court judge in Brigham City, Utah. The story of how he got there is an interesting study in the concept of “missions” in the church. Grandpa Call grew up in Davis County, where his best friend was the stake president’s son. From him he learned that the Church had a secret plan afoot. At the time, the People’s Party (Mormons) and Liberal Party (Gentiles) were battling for control of Salt Lake City. With the assistance of federal officials, the Liberal Party had control of the city election machinary and had begun the wholesale purging of Mormon voters. The Church responded by bringing in young Mormon men from outlying settlements, providing them with jobs, and getting them registered to vote. The word went out to the Stake Presidents of Zion: “Pick a few trusted and discrete young men and send them to Salt Lake.” When Grandpa Call heard about this he thought it sounded like a pretty good way to go to the big city and to get a job. He talked with his friend’s father and got himself called on his first mission for the Church. He was sent to Salt Lake City as a voter.

In Salt Lake he was employed by the Church Historian’s Office, which at the time was run by Elder Franklin D. Richards. Family lore does not record any details, but I think that this association later proved decisive. Many years before, Franklin D. Richard’s son, Franklin S. Richards, was walking down the streets of Salt Lake City when he was stopped by Brigham Young. Brigham asked him what he was doing with his life. “I am training to become a doctor,” young Franklin S. replied. “You should quit doing that and study law,” counseled Brigham. “The time will come when the Latter-day Saints will need lawyers of their own to defend them.” Franklin S. dropped medicine and studied law. He later became the Church’s general counsel and the legal master-mind of Mormon litigation strategies during the Raid. Hence, Franklin D. Richards was the apostle who was the GA link to the legal profession. And he got to know my Grandpa Call.

Fast forward a couple of years. Grandpa Call has been studying at the University of Deseret and teaching school in southern Utah. He gets a summons to the office of President Wilford Woodruff. President Woodruff informs young Brother Call that he has a mission for him. Grandpa Call needs to become a lawyer. The Church has just finished suffering through the ordeal of the anti-polygamy battles and the Brethren feel impressed by the Spirit that there need to be more Mormon lawyers and (more importantly) more Mormon judges. So off to Cornell Law School goes my Grandpa Call with the blessing and on the errand of the First Presidency.

He returns to Utah and sets up to practice law in Brigham City. He does well and gets elected Circuit Judge. He is active in Democratic Politics and is nominated for governor in the first ballot of the Democratic Convention that ultimately picks Bamberger as their candidate. (Bamberger became Utah’s first — and to my knowledge only — Jewish governor.) He lives his life out as a judge. My father has the book cases that he kept his law books in, and I have elaborate plans about how I will steal them as soon as my wife and I own a home.

Do I have a point here other than the mindless recounting of family history? Probably not. On the other hand, when I was in law school surrounded by fourth generation law students, I took a secret pride in the fact that what thin legal heritage I had (most of my progeniturs were farmers and ranchers) was tied up in this odd Mormon tradition of calling people on missions. It is also a fact that I take solace in every time people launch into the how-could-a-good-Mormon-be-a-lawyer routine. Brigham and Wilford evidently thought so, despite the fact that you can find in Brigham’s sermons the harshest anti-lawyer polemics in all of Mormon literature.

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12 Responses to On Being Called to the Law

  1. lyle on June 26, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    Nate, I find your story endlessly fascinating. warn you though, if you don’t write a good BYU Studies article on “Legal Missions” soon then I will. :)

    Or perhaps a more comprehensive article that lists all of the “Mission” types that individuals have been called on.

    Adam might find this interesting…he is waiting for his call to be Colonial Governor of Space Outpost Zion [I’ll go along to be his private secretary & garbage collector]. :)

  2. Jim F. on June 26, 2004 at 11:03 pm

    I’m waiting for the teach-French-and-German-philosophy mission.

  3. Kaimi on June 27, 2004 at 12:09 am

    So, are you related to Greg?

  4. Nate Oman on June 27, 2004 at 12:16 am

    Probably very, very distantly. All Mormon Calls seem to be descended in one way or another from Anson Call. My paternal grandmother was a Call.

  5. Nate Oman on June 27, 2004 at 12:17 am

    Probably very, very distantly. All Mormon Calls seem to be descended in one way or another from Anson Call. My paternal grandmother was a Call.

  6. Susan Staker on June 27, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    A story I hadn’t heard, believe it or not. I can see now why you didn’t become a literary critic.

  7. Susan Staker on June 27, 2004 at 5:52 pm

    A story I hadn’t heard, believe it or not. I can see now why you didn’t become a literary critic.

  8. Greg Call on June 28, 2004 at 3:22 am

    Thanks for sharing this Nate. When I decided to go to law school I asked my parents whether there were any lawyers among my ancestors or relatives and they couldn’t think of any. My connection to Justin David may be pretty slim, but it’s nice to know of him. (I did a quick check and it looks like Justin David was the son of Omer Call, Anson’s brother. My great grandfather is Willard Call, one of Anson’s 25 (or so) children.)

  9. Greg Call on June 28, 2004 at 3:28 am

    Thanks for sharing this Nate. When I decided to go to law school I asked my parents whether there were any lawyers among my ancestors or relatives and they couldn’t think of any. My connection to Justin David may be pretty slim, but it’s nice to know of him. (I did a quick check and it looks like Justin David was the son of Omer Call, Anson’s brother. My great grandfather is Willard Call, one of Anson’s 25 (or so) children.)

  10. Adam Greenwood on June 28, 2004 at 10:08 am

    Lyle,
    That would be ‘Colonial *Governeur*’ If we’re going to do these things, let’s do them right. :)

  11. lyle on June 28, 2004 at 10:13 am

    yes boss! look…da colony ship, da colony ship! [said in fantasy island tv show voice…]

  12. Ryan Bell on June 28, 2004 at 12:30 pm

    I used to fantasize that I was called to the New York, New York whistling mission. Kind of weird I know, but it warms my heart to imagine a whole two years of whistling the gospel to the masses.