A Profile: Judge Paul Spinden To Know the Law and the Lawgiver

December 01, 2011
Author: Katherine Charapich

Teaching: A High Calling

“It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11) When that apportioned gift is humbly and unselfishly shared with others for Christ’s glory, the blessings that go forth have an impact that though not fully measurable within the earthly realm, enhances lives and establishes unshakable foundations.

Teachers are often thought of as those who instruct others in the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The scope of instruction far exceeds that limited list. Teachers are those who guide and instruct, sometimes within the “traditional concept,” but for good or ill they take on the position of role model, and in both their instruction and their lifestyle they guide their audience.

Some teachers have a special understanding of their role and are responding to God’s calling on their lives. They believe, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.“ (2 Timothy 3:16-17) These teachers realize that when instructing students in the truths of wisdom, they bear witness to the ultimate Gift, thus thoroughly equipping students for a life of service.  

Christ was the greatest Teacher of all time and the ultimate role model and His commandment was, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:13-14) Some very special individuals combine obeying Christ’s commandment and instructing students in such skill areas as literature, arts, science, medicine, or the law. They claim the mantle of Christ in that, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15) These teachers recognize that a person can be wise in the ways measured by the world, but that true wisdom is of Christ’s truths; that “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7

Judge Spinden: A Model Teacher

The students at Liberty University School of Law, who have had the great honor of having Judge Paul Spinden as their law professor, recognize that Judge Spinden boldly follows Christ’s commandment as he faithfully teaches what is recognized as civil law and, in so doing, the truths of the Lawgiver. It is because of Judge Spinden’s gift of and commitment to teaching life lessons that prompted the inclusion of a profile article about him in this print edition of the Liberty Legal Journal. Notwithstanding Judge Spinden’s protest against its inclusion, the article and its idea was unanimously endorsed by the Journal board. 

Most of society recognizes that to rise to the level of a judgeship or a law professor one should be learned, discerning, truthful, honest, and of unquestionable character. In Judge Spinden the students find a man who embodies these characteristics, is a dedicated and creative teacher, and has a steadfast faith in God.  

Prior to joining the faculty at Liberty University School of Law, Judge Spinden, upon appointment by then Missouri Governor John Ashcroft, served for 17 years as a judge on the Missouri Court of Appeals. His experience as an appellate judge provides a depth of understanding of the law from which the students benefit greatly. While an appellate judge, Judge Spinden authored nearly 1,300 opinions involving every aspect of civil and criminal law, including issues of federal and state constitutional law, administrative law, family law, business and contract law, and employment and labor law. Judge Spinden also served for six years as a Missouri administrative law judge. In that position he presided over hundreds of adjudications involving some 50 state administrative agencies, first with the Missouri Department of Transportation and then with the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. Prior to that time, he served for three years as chief counsel of a division of the Office of Missouri Attorney General and supervised 17 attorneys in defending and prosecuting various state agencies and officials, including the Governor.

Judge Spinden draws from that vast experience as he teaches Civil Procedure, Administrative Law, and Individual Income Tax. The stories that students like to recount among themselves about Judge Spinden range from anecdotes about his classes, to his direction during study groups, to his “open-door policy” believing that extra chairs always can be pulled into the room and that there is always time to learn. Perhaps this dedication stems partially from his experience of nearly 20 years of teaching Constitutional law and business law courses as an adjunct professor at Westminster College, William Jewell College, and Webster University.

For Liberty law students, Judge Spinden brings Civil Procedure, a subject foreign to most 1Ls, to life. The shared experiences of students who have had his classes will live on in their memories for lifetimes as the stories are recounted from one generation to another. They often begin with the cases of Pennoyer v. Neff and International Shoe Co. v. Washington and what students term “Spinden’s Five Fingers,” which was a visual device used to help us understand the concepts of minimum contacts and personal jurisdiction. Students reflect on Judge Spinden’s lively delivery accompanying his diagrams of a bus, emphasizing the point that under the issue of preclusion the doors of the bus must be open to get all relative issues and claims on board. It was on that very layered issue of preclusion that, when students grasped the fundamentals, the celebration was palpable and Judge Spinden would break into what students call “The Spinden Shuffle,” his version of a Fred Astaire dance step.  

The efforts of working hard to understand cases and concepts were further rewarded by “Spindenisms,” his priceless nuggets intended to help students remember a life lesson. To be reminded in negotiations that “half a loaf is often better than no loaf,” and in life and in law, “you only get one bite at the apple,” are words that we will remember again and again.

A Dedicated Public Servant

In addition to the students’ admiration of Judge Spinden’s dedication as a teacher is their respect for his contributions to the legal profession. While serving as chief of Missouri’s Administrative Hearing Commission, the agency received the governor’s special commendation for eliminating a two-year backlog of cases and reducing the average time for decisions from nine months to 27 days. Recognized for his expertise in administrative law, Judge Spinden authored a chapter titled “Judicial Review” for the Missouri Bar publication, Administrative Law. During his tenure as a judge, the Supreme Court of Missouri called upon Judge Spinden to chair its educational program for Missouri’s appellate judges and its commission on judicial resources. He also served as a member of Missouri’s judicial records committee and was a frequent instructor and speaker at judicial seminars and fora.

Judge Spinden quietly tries to side-step these recognitions. He demonstrates a deep understanding that his efforts are Christ-centered and that, “Christianity is not like a cloak that one can remove.” Judge Spinden has been faithful to the calling to teach the law and to be a witness of the Lawgiver.  He has claimed the mantle of Christ’s example and one day we trust that he will be in humble receipt of the Lord’s words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)