In Memoriam

Norman S. Thayer

Norman S. Thayer

1933–2018

by Kelly Brewer

Norman S. Thayer, who helped create and build Sutin, Thayer & Browne into one of New Mexico's leading law firms, died March 2, 2018.  He was 84 years old.

Norman is survived by his wife, Martha, and son, Murray (wife Annette), all of Albuquerque, and everyone at Sutin, Thayer & Browne. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Tanya, in 2013.

Countless other colleagues, friends and admirers will remember Norman as a giant among New Mexico lawyers and a significant contributor to the New Mexico legal landscape. He was acknowledged as one of the finest trial lawyers to ever practice in New Mexico and was a tremendous mentor to numerous younger lawyers. Norman loved the legal profession and took a special interest in legal ethics. 

As a renowned trial lawyer, Norman successfully litigated hundreds of cases over his career. Notably, he represented New Mexico in groundbreaking tax litigation with the United States and in land litigation with the Navajo Nation. He argued a civil rights suit against the National Guard for bayoneting UNM students at a peaceful demonstration on the campus in 1970. He served for many years on the Code of Judicial Conduct Committee, the Disciplinary Board, and the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission. He was inducted into the Roehl Circle of Honor for New Mexico Trial Lawyers, was a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Ethics Reform, and received a Community Service Award from the American Board of Trial Advocates. He received a Distinguished Service Award from the State Bar, an Award of Distinction from the Albuquerque Museum; and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the UNM School of Law Alumni Association. He presented more than twenty Continuing Legal Education programs on legal ethics at New Mexico State Bar conventions, local bars and professional groups. He served twenty years as a judge of High School Mock Trial and was president of his Huning Highland neighborhood association for many years.

As recently as January 2018, Norman came into his office every day, studying history books and advising other lawyers. He entertained the children of the lawyers with toys he kept stashed in his office for their visits. He gave away books and music CDs he had enjoyed, complete with reviews. He enjoyed telling a good story, and he had many to tell.

Norman was born in Jacksonville, Florida. His early years, recounted in his own words in 2017:

"We were living in Florida when I was a kid.  The climate was not good for me, and I suffered chronic bronchitis. My father died when I was 7; an irreparable loss.  Three years later, my mother met and married a man from Raton (New Mexico), who was stationed during the war at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville.  He shipped out on an aircraft carrier in 1944, and the family moved to New Mexico.  I was 11 years old.

"New Mexico was an adventure.  I had never seen a mountain, never seen snow.  The climate was just what the doctor ordered to clear up that bronchitis.  I went to junior high and high school in Raton, graduating in1950.  I took up tennis, and in my senior year won the state tennis tournament.  Twenty-five days after our graduation, the Korean War started.  I was only 17 and too young for military service. 

"I applied to the University of New Mexico, and applied to the NROTC unit there. Accepted to both. Played on the UNM tennis team for all four years.  Went into active duty in the U.S. Navy in 1954 and saw the world! Actually spent almost all of three years in the Pacific Fleet, two years on a light cruiser and the third year on an aircraft carrier – the Wasp. We spent half our time in Japanese waters, visiting Hawaii each time we crossed and recrossed the ocean. The Wasp was reassigned to the Atlantic Fleet in February 1957.  We went around the Horn!  Spectacular. 

"We stopped in Panama, Peru, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro, where we celebrated the last two days of Carnival.  Fabulous!  The Wasp was stationed in Boston beginning March 1957.  I was released from active duty in June 1957 and returned to New Mexico. While aboard ship, I met four friends who happened to be lawyers and listened to them talk about what they had done as lawyers and what they were looking forward to after discharge. That was enough to change my career plans from being a professor of history to being a lawyer."

Norman wasted no time enrolling directly into University of New Mexico School of Law and earning his law degree in 1960. From 1960 to 1964, he served as New Mexico Assistant Attorney General and chief counsel to the New Mexico Bureau of Revenue. While there, he argued a million-dollar case against the United States.

“The court ruled in favor of New Mexico and was affirmed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals,” Norman recalled. “The case was settled by payment of one million dollars. I remember picking up the million-dollar check, putting it in my pocket, and mailing it to the Justice Department. This is one of the most important cases ever decided in New Mexico.  It allowed, among other things, the State to tax highway contractors who built the interstate highway system.  It was the only case I ever handled that was reported in a headline of the Albuquerque Journal. The governor said he was ‘pleased by the way the case was handled.’ The Bureau of Revenue sent me to a conference of the tax administrators of all the western states, at the expense of the State of New Mexico. It was held in Honolulu. It was the biggest boondoggle I have ever scored. 

“More pertinently,” he wrapped up, “it was the single most important fact that led Franklin Jones to offer me a job.”

On June 8, 1964, Norman reported for his first day of work at the firm, then known as Sutin & Jones, at 910 Simms Building in downtown Albuquerque. The firm grew from five lawyers in the summer of 1964 into one of the largest law firms in New Mexico.

On June 8, 2017, Norman cheerfully reminded everyone at Sutin, Thayer & Browne in an email that it was his 53rd anniversary with the firm, saying, "It has been quite a ride."

Memorial service: May 30, 2018 (it would have been his 85th birthday), at French Mortuary on 10500 Lomas Blvd NE. Norman requested that instead of flowers, contributions be made to the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union or a charity of your choice.