Vol. 34, No. 6
Bar News Highlight
by Margie Wood
The "Highlight" page of Bar News spotlights recent activities and special events around the Bar, and presents brief stories that deal with lawyer activities outside the practice of law. If you have print or digital photos of a recent event to share, if you would like to recommend a colleague to be "highlighted," or if your local or specialty bar or legal organization has marked a notable milestone and there’s a short story to tell about it, the "Bar News Highlight" page might be just the place to showcase the information. For more information or to submit an article, contact Leona Martínez at email@example.com.
Bill Mattoon: Law, Stage, and a Love of Life
by Margie Wood for The Pueblo Chieftain
Reprinted in part by Permission of The Pueblo Chieftain (Nov. 8, 2004, "Classic Pueblo" at 1A). Photos courtesy of The Pueblo Chieftain.
A funny thing happened to Bill Mattoon on his way to becoming a foreign service officer. He didn’t have enough foreign language credits to make that his career, so he decided to give law school a try.
"By the end of the first semester, I was hooked," he recalled. Fifty-odd years later, he’s still hooked.
In addition to a solid, steady career in one of Pueblo’s premier law firms, Mattoon has been an integral part of the Impossible Playhouse ["Imps"], the little theater company he helped found almost 40 years ago.
|Bill Matoon, the actor.|
"Bill has done everything for the Imps," said his friend and fellow thespian Dick Cline. "From acting and directing to backstage work, to legal advice, to building the theater."
Now, some cynics might say acting and being a trial lawyer aren’t so different, but Mattoon wouldn’t agree. "Acting doesn’t really have much to do with trying a case," he said. "Directing does, though—you’re trying to organize a group of people and material to achieve a certain result."
The debate team at Centennial High School was where Mattoon first learned to "assemble the case," as legendary debate coach Homer Bisel put it. In those days when World War II was raging, most of the boys were in ROTC and wearing uniforms four days a week, fully expecting to join the war as soon as they were old enough. . . .
After graduating from Centennial in 1947, [Mattoon] attended Pueblo Junior College for two years—where he became national president of the junior college honorary Phi Theta Kappa—and then went to the University of Colorado in Boulder, again joining ROTC.
When he finished law school at CU, he said, "I got my law degree, my commission in the Air Force and orders for active duty all on the same day."
The active duty was postponed, though, so he came to Pueblo and practiced law briefly before he received a Rotary Foundation fellowship to study in London for a year. Soon after that was completed, he did go into the Air Force as a Judge Advocate General officer in San Antonio. That’s where he met Laura, who became his wife of 47 years, and also where he took up his lifelong affair with little theater, playing the villainous Jud Frye in a local production of "Oklahoma."
"I had done a little acting before that, but I sort of backed into it via singing," he said. "I was a singer of sorts when I was young."
"He was a wonderful singer," Laura said to correct the record. "When I came here everyone knew him as the one who sang (with the municipal band) in the parks."
He also was one of 10 founders of the Security Service credit union while he was in the Air Force. Each founder put in $125 and Mattoon still holds passbook No. 5 in the credit union, which now is about a $3 billion enterprise.
The young Mattoons returned to Pueblo after he finished his military tour. He joined the law firm then called Petersen, Evensen & Evans, and has been there ever since through various combinations of partners. He’s been president of the firm, now called Petersen & Fonda for short, for about 20 years.
He built "sort of the typical small-town practice" and Laura worked hard on civic pursuits, notably the zoo and the arts center, while they raised four children in a big, comfortable house that had been converted from a barn.
Mattoon is proud that he’s been the Pueblo Board of Water Works’ lawyer for 35 years. He represented First National Bank and Centel electric utility for long stretches and also is The Pueblo Chieftain’s general counsel.
Does he have stories? Well, sure, but most of them he didn’t want to see in the newspaper. . . .
Over the years his practice became almost exclusively civil, but he always enjoyed trial work. Some of his favorites were insurance fraud cases.
He’s seen a lot of changes in the legal system during his career, some good and some bad, but said, "I’m not a pessimist. I think the general direction is improving, not deteriorating. The complexity of the thing is the biggest scare. The expense of trying a lawsuit has greatly increased, so much [so] that you sometimes wonder if ordinary folks are able to take advantage of the judicial system.". . .
For fun, the Mattoons love to travel, to indulge in the arts and, of course, the Impossible Playhouse bug has been passed to their children and even grandchildren. . . .
Once, years ago, Mattoon applied for a judgeship, but on reflection he’s glad he didn’t get the job. "I like scrappin’ better than I would have liked judging," he said. "My real interest has been taking one side or the other."
Of course, trial work can keep a person humble.
"I had given my closing argument in a medical malpractice case some years ago," Mattoon recalled, "and the doctor’s nurse turned to me and said, ‘Gosh, Mr. Mattoon, that was great! I wish I could have seen you in your prime.’"
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