Bob Buckley for The Examiner: Local and National History Flows Through a Work of Art

February 3, 2022

Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley assess a prominent local painting and reflects upon the notable men depicted in it.

The article, Local and National History Flows Through a Work of Art, was published in the January 29 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.

Thomas Hart Benton, one of the great artists in American history, is known to us for his mural on what used to be the entrance to the Truman Library, entitled “Independence and the Opening of the West.” Another Benton painting famous among lawyers in the Kansas City Bar is his painting “Trial by Jury.” The painting was willed by Benton to the Nelson Art Gallery and Museum.

Benton did this painting during an actual trial in 1964 in Division 12 in an Independence courtroom. It later became Division 16 and still is. The trial in 1964 was a civil case, Brown v. Smith, and was a suit for $80,000, a significant sum of money at that time. It arose from an automobile accident. Lyman Field, a legendary lawyer in Kansas City was one of the lawyers in the painting. Field was Benton’s personal attorney and was well known in the Kansas City legal community.

As a young attorney I had the privilege of eating lunch on several occasions with Mr. Field at Jenny’s Italian Restaurant. I oversaw a project sponsored by an organization called the Missouri Institute for Justice. Field was one of the board members. Every three months they had a “board meeting” at Jenny’s, and in attendance were some of the most notable attorneys in the bar, including two appellate judges, Anthony Nugent, and Charles Shangler, one of the best appellate judges in Missouri history. Field’s partner, Jim Benjamin also a legendary lawyer and a golfing buddy of my uncle, was also in attendance.

Judge Shangler was the ultimate gentleman and was well known at Jenny’s because of his connection to the north end of Kansas City. I was charged with the responsibility of overseeing a project in several small cities to codify ordinances and was invited to come to the lunches by the board to give a report on the project operated by UMKC law students. The board members were most gracious and entertained me with their stories. It was apparent that they had been friends for many years. To be in the presence of four of the legendary lawyers in the history of Kansas City was an honor and a privilege. They did not treat me as some interloper or young whippersnapper. I always had to go home and take a nap after our lunches as the wine flowed freely and the food was plentiful.

Field was a World War II veteran and a friend of President Truman. When Truman beat Dewey in the 1948 election, he had spent the night at the Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs and headed to the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City to celebrate his victory. David McCullough, Truman’s best-known biographer, reports that Field was among those who greeted the president in a 17th floor suite at the hotel. McCullough wrote: “young Lyman Field, who had been barnstorming for Truman on his own all across Missouri, and who now, as the one nearest the door, had the honor of being the first to shake the President’s hand and wish him congratulations.”