TU Law Alumnus Mike Turpen Inducted into Oklahoma Hall of Fame

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Mike Turpen (BS ’72, JD ’74) was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame during a November banquet and ceremony in Oklahoma City.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut presented the award to Turpen. Turpen and the other five inductees joined 635 others who have been inducted into the Hall since 1928. Inducted with Turpen were actress Kristin Chenoweth; Robert Hefner III, founder and owner of The GHK Company; Edward Keller, the chairman of Summit Bank of Tulsa; Judy Love, the co-founder of Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores; and Lew Ward III, chairman of Ward Petroleum Corp.

Mike Turpen

Turpen was pleased to have his family, including his wife Susan, their three children, and his 83-year-old mother, at the ceremony. He said he was very grateful to be inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

“I have learned that longevity is a good ally,” Turpen said. “If you live long enough, it seems that this kind of recognition may come your way.”

More than longevity produced the honor for Turpen, who had a distinguished public service career, which included service as Muskogee County District Attorney from 1977 to 1982, and Oklahoma Attorney General from 1982 to 1986. A former Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman, Turpen appears on the weekly political and public affairs television program, “Flashpoint,” along with the former Republican Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys and host Kevin Ogle on Oklahoma City NBC affiliate KFOR. Turpen is currently an Oklahoma State Regent for Higher Education.

He has been a partner in the law firm of Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison and Lewis in Oklahoma City since 1987. “I will be forever grateful to Riggs, Abney for the opportunity that this firm gave me – to head up a new Oklahoma City office right after I lost the governor’s race in 1986. We have grown to more than 100 lawyers, but as we get bigger and bigger our goal is to seem smaller and smaller as far as the personal touch we deliver to each client.”

Turpen has received many awards, honors, and appointments, including a 1992 appointment by President Bill Clinton to the President’s Advisory Council on the Arts at the Kennedy Center, the 2007 Oklahoma Bar Association’s William Paul Distinguished Service Award, and the 2008 Oklahoma Arts Council Governor’s Award for Community Service. He was named in 1999 a TU Distinguished Alumnus, which is the university’s highest honor. In 2004, the TU College of Law moot courtroom was renovated with funding provided by Turpen and his lifelong friend, Stuart Price (JD '82), and was named the Price & Turpen Courtroom.

A native of Tulsa and a graduate of McLain High School, TU was a natural choice for undergraduate and law school. Like many, he entered law school inspired by the courage and compassion of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. His law school class began downtown and then took the first classes at John Rogers Hall, which was built in 1973.

“What an incredible transformation,” Turpen said. “The power of place really matters. Just being in the new John Rogers Hall was absolutely uplifting.”

Turpen encourages TU law students to utilize all the opportunities available to them outside of the classroom “to expand their horizons,” such as law review, the Student Bar Association, the Boesche Legal Clinic, clerkships, internships, and moot court.

“You have to get involved in the real world,” Turpen said. “Not just the classroom. It matters.”

His highlight at TU Law was being selected to the National Moot Court team with Neil Wallace (JD '75) and Bob Sullivan (JD '74). They made it all the way to the national competition in New York with the tutelage and encouragement of TU College of Law Dean Joseph Morris and Adjunct Professor of Law William Morgan.

“A few years later as Oklahoma Attorney General, I had the opportunity to argue in front of the United States Supreme Court,” Turpen said. “I felt more than adequately prepared for that experience. I am proud to be an attorney and counselor at law, and I am very proud to be a graduate of The University of Tulsa College of Law.”

Turpen believes his experience as a young lawyer is instructive for TU law students. He wanted to be an assistant district attorney in Muskogee County under Julian Fite, a young reformer. But his first job out of law school was as Muskogee Police Legal Adviser.

“I learned that to get the job you really want, you may have to take the job you can get,” Turpen said. “After a year with the Muskogee police, Julian Fite hired me as his assistant district attorney. He later became U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, and that’s when I was promoted to the D.A.’s job by Governor Boren.”

Turpen had valuable experiences with the police department in that first legal job that made him realize that crime victim’s rights should be inscribed into Oklahoma law. As president of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, he led the effort to pass the Victim Bill of Rights, including the passage of the Victim Compensation statute, a measure dear to Turpen’s heart that has paid out more than $25 million to innocent victims of violent crime. Tulsa County District Attorney S.M. “Buddy” Fallis and Turpen then implemented Victim/Witness Centers in every courthouse around the state, where victims could be treated with respect and compassion.

“So new ideas create create new realities – all because I took the job that I could get, instead of the job I really wanted,” Turpen said. “I guess patience really is a virtue.”

Turpen has some simple advice for those wishing to be successful: “Be a firm believer in T.G.I.M. – Thank Goodness It’s Monday – All successful people believe this. You’ve got to do something to be something. Destiny does not make house calls.”

Scott Been