Robinson was an amazing talent

10/9/2003 12:18:10 PM
Posted By: Jim Romenesko

From TERRY CARTER: Journalists get good obituaries, fittingly, and today there’s one for Tim Robinson. That would be T. Sumner Robinson. His claim to fame was legal affairs journalism. He’d been an editor at the Washington
Post; he moved on to run The National Law Journal, where he hired me in
1987; and he then ran The Los Angeles Daily Journal, to which I followed
him – enabled by working at home as a widower rearing two young
children — and continued to have great fun. That’s the currency of our

Ideas came off Tim like bubbles from an Alka Selzer in water and, mixing
metaphors, he and I were on wave-length. Tim knew a story and
appreciated the different ways of doing one.

He was an amazing talent, but that’s not enough anymore. The big marker
on Tim’s career path was being at the bus stop when the bus came by,
covering the local federal court for the Washington Post in the 1970s as the Watergate story met the judiciary. Tim was my guru in that wonderful niche of writing about lawyers and the law. I’m sad that we were estranged for the past six years, which can happen when situations change and personalities grow and develop. I had been his boy at The National Law Journal and followed him to The Los Angeles Daily Journal, which Tim liked to point out is, in the estimation of such as Nat Hentoff, the best legal daily in the country. All I know is I was encouraged to write, not just for lawyers, but pure writing. Tim sent me around the country, from my base in D.C, for our take on major stories in the 1990s, such as the trials of Noriega, Marcos and 2 Live Crew, as well as tales of Hillary Clinton’s Rose Law Firm and the abortion-protest battle in Wichita.

He not only encouraged me to write what I saw and felt, he let me do it. Tim could take over a bar-room piano from the hired help and show them up, and he played me like a musical instrument. I was able to write in my lede
that Wichita itself is so dead that if anybody there should be pro-life, it’s the leaders of the chamber of commerce; I could point out that women law professors unable to get tenure faced “bald-pattern maleness.” I was able to say that a lawyer charging $5 a minute to be cursed out by telephone wasn’t, once you talked with him, someone you’d tag with “the Oedipal noun of street-wise disparagement,” – as in m—–f—–. When copy desks protested such license, he said leave it alone. Tim pushed me to cover the workings of the American Bar Association to the extent that when I moved on to the ABA Journal, the Washington Post noted the irony that for years I’d “savaged the American Bar Association’s byzantine internal politics.” It goes on. Tim Robinson’s spark lit others.

Now I’m left wishing I’d made the call to make up. But he knows the story.