By John L. Braese
VALE – He was a former candy salesman turned lawyer.
In 1927, Charles Swan set up a law practice in Vale and a half century later his partners remembered his efforts as they looked ahead for what is now known as Butler & Looney P.C.
Bob Butler and Cliff Looney on Nov. 18 welcomed clients and friends to a celebration of 50 years the law firm has served eastern Oregon, Idaho and beyond. The get together was a testament to two individuals with differing views on about everything who walked into the office each day, building a successful law firm while making friends.
“We differ on politics, the recent election and what cases we choose to take,” said Looney. “But we can start a sentence and the other one can finish it we know each other so well.”
The two came into practice differently. Butler joined Swan in 1967. Looney, after serving one term as the Malheur County district attorney, joined the two in early 1970s.
“We are probably the only firm that has ever taken on the state on level of care at nursing homes and that is one I am extremely proud of,” Looney recalled. “It was a case that was important to the people of this community.”
In that case, Looney argued doctors servicing nursing homes around the state were better qualified to determine what a patient needed rather than a state official in Salem. The court ruled for Looney’s clients.
Even with more than 50 years of practice and a new home in Boise, Looney isn’t ready to step down.
“I have come to the point where I can be picky on what cases I take,” he said. “I plan on going at least one more year. I have clients who are now coming here that are fourth generation. We have taken care of their great grandparents and they still trust us enough to deal with their issues. That says something about the trust we have built through time and the relationships we have in this community.”
Looney takes his profession seriously.
“The law has been here for over 2,000 years,” he said. “Law is absolutely necessary.”
“The law involves personal things with people,” said Butler. “You very often see people at their deepest, darkest moments.”
Like his partner, Butler sees the relationships built through the years as the greatest accomplishment for the firm.
“It is the association we have made with people that is the greatest thing,” said Butler. “Sometimes, we meet people and the chemistry is just not there and we understand that. People come to us when they are desperate and need help.”
Both credit their success to Swan, a friend and colleague until his death in 1994.
Swan was born March 24, 1900, the oldest of six children. When he was 14, his father left for a mining venture in California, never to return. The family farm was foreclosed and the family evicted.
Swan quit school in the eighth grade, taking a job selling candy for the Idaho Candy Company. Travelling to mining towns throughout Idaho, he supported the family.
At age 21, Swan returned to school in Portland after meeting Dr. William Judson Boone, the founding president of the College of Idaho while hitchhiking. Paying his tuition in installments and living in the local YMCA, Swan took two newspaper routes to pay for school.
After completing high school, Swan moved to Salem and enrolled in Willamette University. While there, he met and married Marguerite Fay Spaulding, his wife of 66 years.
After obtaining his law degree, the couple moved to Newberg. With the nation entering the Great Depression, Fay moved to Crane to teach with Swan visiting as often as possible.
In 1927, Swan and his wife moved to Vale as he went into practice with Robert D. Lytle.
In the early 1940s, Swan accepted the position as district attorney, a position he held until 1954. Butler, who grew up next to Swan, joined the practice with Looney entering a few years later. Swan continued to practice law until he was 88. He continued to go to the office with his Irish setter.
“Since I was five, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” Butler said. “I used to go to Charlie’s office with my dad and it was always warm and smelled good.”
“Looking back, if I was not a lawyer, I would have been a history professor,” Looney said. “I was always afraid though I would never be as good a professor as those I learned from. I made the right decision in going into law.”