Interview with David Gibbs III

Some view the legal profession as a strictly business-oriented institution. David Gibbs III, President of the National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL), joins us today to share his views as a Christian and as a legal counselor.

About David Gibbs III

Attorney David C. Gibbs III is the President and General Counsel of the National Center for Life and Liberty, a ministry organization that defends life and liberty freedoms nationwide.  Mr. Gibbs speaks regularly to audiences in churches and conferences while also litigating cases as a trial attorney. He hosts the weekly radio program Law Talk Live on the Moody Radio Network and has authored five books including Fighting for Dear Life and Understanding the Constitution. 

Attorney Gibbs graduated from Duke Law School and manages the Gibbs Law Firm with offices in Dallas, Texas; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Washington, D.C.  He is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court and numerous federal circuit and district courts nationwide.  He has also been admitted to the State Bars of Florida, Minnesota, Colorado, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, and the District of Columbia.

Attorney Gibbs was the lead attorney in the Terri Schiavo case representing the parents as they fought to save the life of their daughter.  This case went before the United States Supreme Court twice in ten days.  Mr. Gibbs is a frequent spokesperson on radio and television having appeared on many major news and talk programs.

Attorney Gibbs believes “If it’s wrong, fight it.  If it’s right, fight for it.”  His life verse is Matthew 25:40, where Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Transcript

EASLEY: Well recently, David Gibbs the III, was in Nashville and I snagged him to come over to the church office where I work, and we set up a modular studio and captured a great program that I’m excited for you to hear today. David is the President of NCLL, the National Center for Life and Liberty. In his role, he defends and helps churches all around the country in different legal matters. He’s best known for his work with the Terri Schiavo case and if you are unfamiliar with that, you’ll hear about that case on today’s broadcast. David, how long have we known each other, since 2005?

GIBBS: That sounds about right. We’ve known each other for going on ten years.

E: We met over some, legal issues at the time. You and your dad came to see me in Chicago about some matters we were anticipating, and we struck up a great friendship. I appreciate you so much.

G: We enjoyed helping in the legal matters and I’ve enjoyed some personal time with you and your family as well.

E: Absolutely! David, you and Karen have been married over twenty years. You have four children. You are now living in the Dallas area. How have you adjusted to Dallas?

G: You know we are doing quite well.  We were in Florida for a long time, and now Texas. One of the deals I worked out with the kids is that we would get enough dirt, so we’re actually kind of north of Dallas up towards Denton a little bit.

E: When I was a kid that was considered frontier. It didn’t exist.

G: It was nothing. They have some animals in the backyard, so between the horse, the goat, and the cow, they’re happy. They’re having a good time with all that and Dad’s role in all that is to just finance the feeding operation. It made the kids real happy when they sold a goat for fifty dollars and they said to me, “Dad, we made fifty dollars.” I reminded them that it’s not 100% profit, there is a little expense that goes into this goat to get it to this point.

E: As a matter of fact, “I spent two hundred sixty five dollars raising that goat for you to sell it for fifty dollars.”

G: Yeah, but they were quite proud of that fact.

E: That’s cool.

G: So, I didn’t discourage them from their business venture and that they weren’t calculating it correctly.

E: David is the President and General Council of the National Center for Life and Liberty. He also hosts a weekly program called Law Talk Live on the Moody Radio Network and has authored five books including Fighting for Dear Life and Understanding the Constitution.

David you went to Duke Law School. What was that like?

G: I actually went to two Christian colleges for two years and then I transferred.I actually had  surgery and fell a little behind. Actually, Dr. Falwell was offering for me to go to Oxford, so I got to go to Oxford, England. I got caught back up in my studies and completed a semester over there and then came back and graduated. My Dad was an attorney in the area, and I felt lead to go to law school and wanted to help serve churches. So I sent applications out, and Duke was gracious and they accepted me, but at the time it was very expensive. It was well over twenty-thousand dollars a year. For today’s audience, it’s at sixty, seventy thousand a year so it’s a very expensive proposition. I was actually interviewed and Duke was gracious enough to give me a full scholarship, so Duke really did partner with me on my legal education. It was kind of neat. I went and interviewed with some of the board members when they were giving out the scholarship, and I was just absolutely convinced that here I was a Bible college graduate, and I was sure Bible students had never gone to Duke. Also the one professor didn’t believe in the Bible, and he didn’t believe in God. I just thought there’s no way they’re ever going to take a student like me, and a few weeks later they said, “We’re going to give you a fully paid scholarship.”

E: Wow!

G: God opened some neat doors there and I’ve been able to take my legal education and to the best of my ability give it back to Him.

E: So, when did you finish law school?

G:  1993. 1993 was a big year for me. I graduated from law school and took the bar exam and got married, got all that done. The bar exam was Tuesday-Wednesday, flew to California Thursday, had the rehearsal dinner Friday, and got married Saturday. So I figured I’d get all the major life stresses done.

E: Was that a Holmes and Rahe stress test?
G: Yeah, It was just to see if we could handle a little bit of stress.
E: You were well over twelve hundred points on that stress test.

G: My wife, Karen has indicated I haven’t slowed down since. I’m not sure that is necessarily something to be proud of. I guess we need to move on. In 1993, that was the year I graduated from law school, and have been involved in cases, involving liberty across a wide spectrum of issues since then.

E: When you graduated or during law school, how did you envision using a law degree as a believer?

G: Well my vision in that, was to help really churches, and pastors, and do it more as a ministry.

G: I’ll be quite honest Michael, I’m an attorney, a trial attorney. I don’t mind. I think it’s a skill and a craft. I know many people do either business or things with it. Just the business side of law was a little unappealing to me. It requires personal service. You can make a lot of money, but you have to do the work,whereas, you know people that run a radio station or people that invent things, they can let the things kind of pop out without all that personal effort involved, and so from a business side, that was not the draw. But what drew me, was this ability to help real people. I probably have a little bit of a social work side in me, like helping people with real problems is what motivated me to law, and obviously I want to serve the Lord. I want to hear “well done.” But the concept of somebody saying, “Wow, thank you,” or “Wow, that helps me,” or “Wow, that burdens off my shoulders,” that’s probably just from my vantage point what gives the practice of law some appeal. It’s probably similar with other professions like doctors, there’s some professions that it’s a good way to earn a living, and there’s others that truly do enjoy that helping and ministering. I guess I have that ministering spirit.

I had a professor, a South African guy, who was a brilliant man at the law school and he warned me. He said,“David, I worry about you. You just seem to care too much. You know law school messes with your head. They want to get you to think both ways,” meaning that there is no right or wrong. That’s one of the philosophies in our legal system. They would say for example, “Alright, Mr. Gibbs, you are going to prosecute the bad guy.” So I’m ready, I’m all prepared, and got my stuff all ready to go. Then on the other side, an individual is going to defend the guy. Well as you would sit down at your table and get ready to go, the professor would say, “Ok, role reversal, Mr Gibbs, you now defend.” “Wait a minute, I’m prepared to  prosecute.” “ No, no, you’re now the defense attorney; the other side is going to prosecute and flip roles.” And the concept that they try to instill within you, and as a believer you have to battle against this, is that there is no ultimate right or wrong, it’s just purely argument and position and the process is what’s important.

E: Well, let’s talk about that a little bit because Christians who have not been embroiled in legal issues, there’s a tension for the average believer. It is not necessarily that lawyers are bad or evil, but they have this view of what I Corinthians 6 talks about, not taking believers to court. It’s it’s almost like there’s this insidious; that is too hard a word, but how can you be a Christian attorney? the rule of law as you’ve articulated?

G: There’s a dynamic, just from a regular lay person’s perspective, not every attorney, that many attorneys do make money off of people’s problems. Let’s say that you just got arrested and you’re getting dragged down to jail. You have a problem! Now someone says, “I’ll help you for a price,” or your spouse just walked in and said, “I’m going to take the kids and I want a divorce.” Now all of a sudden, your marriage, your family, your world’s falling apart and some attorney says, “Well, I’ll fight for you, for a price.” Now, these people are upset anyway. I mean life is not going their way. It could be an accident, somebody’s lost a loved one, or they’re injured. There’s problems and there’s business disputes. The whole nature of law is adversarial as a general rule. I realize that somebody will say, “What about an estate plan?” Of course there are a few exceptions.

E: Option law?

G: Yes, there’s some that have a different dynamics, but as a general rule, the public perception is you’re in trouble, or you got hurt and you need an attorney. I think there’s a natural side of it, where people begin to think, “Well is somebody taking advantage of my problem?” So there are some dynamics. But, number two, I think attorneys have hurt themselves, because instead of really focusing on problem solving, which is what I’ve tried to give my life to, a lot of attorneys will try to look at how do I maximize my economic gain from this person’s problem? It’s funny to me, but why do rich people have to spend three hundred thousand on their divorce and poor people spend twenty five hundred? Well, because the attorney’s figured out, “guess what? They’re rich.They can afford it and we can drag this out.”  The reality is the process oftentimes is not that much more complicated, but it kind of falls into that vein where I think there are people that feel like, “Is the attorney really caring about me?” or “Is he taking advantage?” Now, I’ve tried to be more on the caring side, but most attorneys, you are a number or a file.

E: Paul writes a passage, I know you’ve taught on many times and grappled with. But just to bring us up to speed, as anyone of you when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, and you are not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say to you, it is your shame. And He goes on to warn them not to sue one another, not to defraud and so forth. I’ve taught that from the perspective that we’re talking about, believers in the same local context, local assembly who can’t reconcile that. But obviously, you’ve had to speak on this many times.

G: Michael, I think we have to remember it’s not that there wasn’t a dispute. Let’s even take a divorce, let’s take a defraudment, let’s pose someone, and this is an anonymous person, and they take advantage of me financially. I’ve been defrauded; I have a case; I can go assert my claim. But the concept there is not whether you’re really defrauded or not, or whether you really have a case; the concept is the cause of Christ, the name of Christ, the testimony of Christ is worthy of not letting your disputes be known in the public square. It’s not that David isn’t entitled to the money; the concept is the world which is already going to be anti-Jesus by nature, because that’s how it is.

E: Anything Christians do is fodder.

G: Now I believe that we should be able to have some degree of resolution process that might be private or Christian. So, for example someone in your church defrauded me and if I were to go to you and say, “Pastor, would you help me at least sit down with this individual?” But if that person turns completely cold, completely adversarial, I think you then have to make the decision, “Am I going to honor the Scripture, or am I going to act in my own interest?” I believe that’s a high honor. I personally would hate to go through it and I hate to see people go through it, but better to suffer the loss, than to injure the name of Christ. Now, this is easy to talk about on a radio broadcast, or just esoterically..(unfinished thought).

E: Across the table. When you’re talking about real testimony, real decisions, and even in the marriage context, and again, I certainly don’t want somebody to be hurt or abused or in any situation that is putting them in jeopardy. I think a lot of times there could be more marriages saved, if people had the context that “Wait a minute, God does not want me here, this is not appropriate, this is hurting my testimony,” even for the cause of my kids, for my church, who I am as a believer. I do think we’ve lost the concept of testimony or honor. I’m probably preaching here a little bit, but the reality is our society has become kind of self absorbed. Our society says, “It’s all about me. It’s my money. It’s what I want.”  What the verse there is teaching is, “Wait a minute, you carry another name. You’re not just David Gibbs. You’re  a Christian. That’s the name of Christ. If you’re a follower of Christ, His name is on you.” Maybe the simple way to say this is: remember what you do reflects on Him too.

E: We’ve had situations, David, in the almost thirty years I’ve been “in ministry,” where it’s so complicated for the elders and those who might even be in a mediator kind of role, and leadership, whatever the churches government might be, in that you need a professional legal counsel who knows the law. You listen to two people in a dispute with a group of elders and sometimes these things are very complex and it’s not neglecting the Shepherding role; it’s, we need an expert. I often tell people you need a surgeon; you don’t need the General Practitioner. If you have a particular cancer, you need that specialist to help you. So for us it’s still challenging for the average congregant, and the average church, to comprehend, “Well, isn’t this wrong to begin with?” And of course, as my friend said, “Until you’re the one in trouble.”

G: Well, and, let me add one more thing, Michael, that complicates it. It’s this thing called insurance. Now all of a sudden you’ve got somebody who drove over your leg with their vehicle. You should be properly compensated for your injury, not that you’re trying to go to the doctor.Your insurance won’t cover it because this guy drove over your leg and his insurance company says, “We’re not going to do anything, till you sue us.”

So it does add some complexity to the whole dynamic, and so I look at it in terms of what does my testimony for Christ look like when we’re going after another believer directly. But remembering the cause of Christ is paramount. I think with the verses you read, there’s no question that it’s better you suffer the loss, then you drag the name of Christ in it. Now one thing we have at our ministry at the National Center for Life and Liberty or the NCLL, is people want to sue their church. I mean they want to and you have to stop right there and say, “Can we find a more, injurious, you know,“I’m upset with how the pastors doing this” or “I’m upset with what the boards done here,” or “I’m upset.” Please understand, I think churches should treat people well; I think you should follow your doctrine; I think it should be done as a matter of testimony decently in order, but if something goes haywire at church that doesn’t give you the right to now turn around and become litigious. That is almost like saying, “If I don’t fight for me, nobody else will.” I think the Scripture talks about dying to self and  by this shall all men know that you are my disciples by how you love, and so the ultimate act of love is forgiveness. If you think about it, we’re filthy sinners, and God in His grace said, “I will love and I will forgive.” We have nothing to give Him, and that’s that grace.

E: Right.

G: I think sometimes in our world, we can become quite the little legalist. Ok, so we’re going to hold on the law. The law says you must pay and you’ve done wrong.  Sometimes the greatest testimony is saying “You know what, I forgive. Yes, you did steal money and you think about the Prodigal. I mean what did he do? He defrauded his family. Well maybe he didn’t defraud them, but he certainly squandered his inheritance. His father said, “I forgive.” It’s kind of interesting that older brother concept was a little like (unfinished thought).

E: More an error in some way.

G: “Hey, I’ve been the good guy. Why are we celebrating?” And you know what? It’s that concept of grace and love and forgiveness. Again, people will bristle sometimes. People feel like if you give grace, you’ll be taken advantage of and you know what?  Sometimes that’s what real Christianity is all about, it’s that vulnerability where you say, “You know what, I’m willing to let somebody walk on me.” I help people for free; I’ve been lied to; I’ve been taken advantage of; I’ve had people do things, and I’m sure you have too in your ministry as a pastor and a leader. That’s part of being willing to say yes, you’re free to hurt me; you’re free to take advantage of me. I’ve got to be a steward of my life and energy, but the reality is, I’m willing to let that happen. That really then does model what Christ did for us.

E: Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about Terri Schiavo. So David, what brought on the Terri Schiavo health issues?

G: Terri Schiavo had a collapse, a temporary deprivation, of blood and oxygen to her brain at age twenty-six. Nobody quite knows what caused that, but she was rushed to the hospital and   put on life support. They thought she was going to die. Her parents were there with her. She was on a ventilator; she was on a heart machine; they took extraordinary measures to preserve her. They removed the ventilator; they removed the heart machine and waited for her to die. She didn’t die.She was alive. Her heart worked. Her lungs worked. Her body worked. They worked diligently and you see this in brain injured people. You can see a lot of recovery in the early stages and then it slows down. I didn’t know her at this point, but Terri was walking with the help of parallel bars and she was speaking small word sentences, among other things. Again, this is from her family, so she was a disabled woman. She was married and what ends up happening, is that her husband at a point made the decision that he doesn’t want her to live anymore. Her case really was kind of the perfect storm. She is alive and she’s not sick. Her life expectancy would have been seventy some years and she only needed food and water to stay alive. She’s not on a ventilator. She ‘s not on a heart machine. She just needs eating assistance and you could feed her. But it was slow, you know, by mouth and it would take a long time. And so what came up before the courts and it was really a case of first impression in this respect, is can you take away food and water from someone who’s alive and not dying? There’s no disease in her body. It’s kind of interesting, because euthanasia, the deliberate killing of an individual is against the law. But can you just remove the food and water? Well what happens, they starve and dehydrate. In Terri’s case, she went thirteen days without food and water and ultimately died from dehydration and starvation. The case is still remembered, Michael, for a couple reasons. Number one: It’s the first civil non criminal death order in American History. We’ve never ordered someone to die that was not a criminal. It’s always been capital cases, killers.

E: Wow!

G: Number two: It’s the only case in history to go to the supreme court and back twice in ten days. It really had a lot of urgency. I lived through it. You remember it.

E: Yes, I remember it well.

G: The President got involved, the Congress got involved. There was a lot of political interplay between the governor. The Governor of the State of Florida and the President were brothers at the time, the Bush family. World leaders were weighing in, the Pope from Rome is setting an example, issuing policy, trying to save Terri Schiavo. So it had a lot of international intrigue and many people called it the number one news story in the world back in 2005. Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005, after going thirteen days without food and water. It was a bizarre issue because it wasn’t just (unfinished thought). People often think of the religious right or the pro-life community and it clearly troubled them, but it was also heavily supported by the disability community. For example, it went through the Senate at that unanimously.

E: Wow!

G: For example, our current President, Barack Obama, voted in favor of it, Hillary Clinton voted in favor of it, now deceased Ed Kennedy the architect of healthcare voted for it. We need to remember this wasn’t just a “right wing” issue,

E: Right to Life.

G: This was a disability life. It really did capture across the political spectrum because there was tremendous concern that as a nation what protections are in place for the disabled? When is it okay for either a family member, or doctor, or somebody else to come in and make these life ending decisions?

E: And as an observer, David, one of the things that concerned me, is that you had her parents who were two willing, healthcare, homecare providers. It wasn’t as though she was being abandoned to some institution or institutionalized for a lower quality of care. She had her folks willing to take care of her.

G: In this case, the husband refused to cooperate and we’re not here to bash him. He had moved on with his life, and he was living with a woman and had a couple kids with her. I mean, he was kind of done with her. He did not want to deal with it. The easiest thing in the world for him would have been for him to walk away, or say, “Here let the parents take care of her.” By the way, I offered that and we battled for that. I still  am sad, Michael. I remember being in there when Terri was dying with her mom there and you look at the sadness of all that. I watched Bob Schindler die after all of this. He died of a broken heart. His health just collapsed and these dear people going through all of this loss, and they just wanted to take care of their girl. Again, we are seeing in our culture right now, this interplay, government, healthcare, individual decision making, and one of the questions that’s just simply put is, who gets to decide? I mean, you know you’re in the hospital and you have an issue, was that your wife’s decision, is it your children’s decision, is it the doctor’s decision, or is it the government worker, insurance company decision? Who gets to make these decisions? We’re in a society right now, where I think we’re losing something that was tremendously important to our Founding Fathers, which is if you don’t protect innocent life, you really don’t have any other liberty. I mean they came from the King in England who could say, “Off with your head.” Guess that is what that meant? It was done.

E: Monarch.

G: That’s why their battle cry wasn’t “Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness;” their battle cry was “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Without the protection of life, you really have no other liberty.

E: We’re talking today with Attorney, David Gibbs, who is the President of the The National Center for Life and Liberty.

G: Now Michael, if somebody says, “That’s a long name,” let me help you out, NCLL. Now in College sports, I’m a Duke grad, NCAA, they get it. NCLL, Life and Liberty. If they go to NCLL.org, they can get our newsletter; they can get resources; we help churches; Christians, and we fight in these cases. I would encourage folks to pray. I would encourage folks to support their pastor, to be bold, to speak up. We are there to help stand up with you. We’re certainly honored to stand and we appreciate your voice in leadership. You’ve been not just a dear friend, but you’ve been a hero to me in the sense of, that you have with a great spirit proclaimed the truth of God’s Word, and I really admire the great work that you do.

E: Well it’s a privilege to have you. You can go to the inContext website. Thanks again for listening. Join us on the website and we’ll see you on the next broadcast.

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