INTERVIEW CONDUCTED AND EDITED BY ROSS PFUND
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIP MALONE
RICHARD W. HUGHES OF ROTHSTEIN, DONATELLI,
HUGHES, DAHLSTROM, SCHOENBURG &
BIENVENU IN SANTA FE SHARES HIS THOUGHTS
ON INDIAN LAW, THE PETER MACDONALD CASE,
AND GETTING A LEGAL SERVICES JOB BEFORE HE
HAD HIS LAW DEGREE
Q: What got you interested in the law?
A: I was one of those totally naïve sorts who
went to law school thinking, “Oh, I don’t want
to really be a lawyer, I’d just like to have the
background of the law degree and go into
government or something.” I got to my third
year and I was actually looking for a legal job;
I was also in the midst of a little tussle with
my draft board at the time for my suitability
for military service. So I ended up sort of by
accident taking a job on the Navajo Reservation
with Legal Services. And that really got me into
the field of Indian Law, which just became an
abiding, very consuming interest.
Q: So you took that job on the reservation
before you really knew that you were
interested in pursuing Indian law?
A: I didn’t even know that there was such
a thing as Indian law. In fact, at that time,
there really wasn’t much of anything called
Indian law. The field was very much in its
infancy at that time. I sort of grew up with it.
Q: What did you learn there? Sounds like it
was a completely new experience for you.
A: It started off as a typical kind of legal
services experience. I got to Shiprock, which
was a three-lawyer office of DNA, but all
three lawyers had resigned within the
previous two to six months, so there was
nobody there. There was a law clerk. So I
just walked in to this place with a couple
hundred active files and more clients
coming in every day.
The other peculiar aspect of it was that I
didn’t actually have my law degree yet. I finished
my third year in 1970. It was the year of the Kent
State shootings. That led to some disruption
of the regular routine at the school. To make
a long story short, I finally got my degree in
February of ‘71, just hours before taking the
Colorado bar exam, to the consternation of the
Colorado bar examiners, I can assure you. So
anyway, there I was—not exactly legitimate in
any respect, and had no idea what I was doing
in this Legal Services office.