Paula Casey Reflects on Legal Career

Paula Casey Reflects on Legal Career
Paula Casey: “Everything in life is just a matter of timing.” (Jason Burt)

After spending nearly 40 years as an attorney, professor and dean, Paula Casey said it was time to retire.

The 65-year-old Charleston (Franklin County) native retired on June 30 from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where she was the interim vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school. She had held that position since 2013.

“Paula Casey is an Arkansas gem who enjoyed a career to which we should all aspire,” Michael Hunter Schwartz, dean of the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law, said in a news release that announced Casey’s retirement. “She was an outstanding public servant, a tenacious U.S. attorney, a beloved colleague, and a wildly successful academic administrator.”

Her highest-profile and most stressful time, though, came when she was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas between 1993 and 2000.

As soon as she took the job, the fireworks began.

“It was very eye-opening to me how reality was just turned just upside down,” Casey recent told Arkansas Business.

She said stories appeared in the national press that then-President Bill Clinton fired all the U.S. attorneys so he could appoint Casey.

But the former U.S. attorney in that position, Chuck Banks, had already announced his retirement, so the position would have been vacant.

“Some of the press acted like it was some Machiavellian scheme on Clinton’s part to put me in there to save him from I don’t know what,” Casey said.

Then the Whitewater investigation erupted. Casey recused herself and the entire office from handling the Whitewater cases.

Still, Casey would field calls from reporters who had been given false information, including allegations that said she was going to be indicted.

“I’ll never forget Nina Totenberg calling me from NPR wanting to know the name of my attorney,” Casey said. “I said, ‘I don’t have one. I don’t need one.’”

Casey said she is proud of the work her office did during that period on prosecuting crimes related to gangs.

In 1997, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force gave Casey a meritorious achievement award.

Her management philosophy has been that “a good manager makes it possible for other people to do their jobs,” she said. “So we just kept trying to figure out ways to do that.”

Return to Law School

After Casey left the U.S. attorney’s office in 2000, she returned to the UALR law school, where she first started in 1979 and had worked as a supervisor of a clinic for law students and served as an associate dean of the school.

In 1990, Casey took a leave from the law school to work for then-U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., as his chief counsel and legislative director.

“It was a very different thing for me,” Casey said. “It’s like having one client, but a very good client.”

When Casey returned to the law school in 2001, one of her duties was coaching the school’s trial competition team. Her team advanced to the championship round of the National Trial Competition in 2009.

In 2012, Casey was named the interim dean of the UALR law school, becoming the first woman to hold the position there. She also had been the first woman to be the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

“Everything in life is just a matter of timing,” she said.

She said that after she graduated from East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, with a degree in speech in 1973, she went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville Law School. There weren’t a lot of women students at the time.

What’s motivated her over the years was her enjoyment of learning new things and doing different jobs. In retirement, Casey said, she plans to spend time with family, traveling and walking her dogs.