Procter R. Hug, Jr.

Procter R. Hug Jr., a native Nevadan, has made a lasting mark on Nevada’s institutional, legal, and judicial history. Born March 11, 1931, in Reno, he describes an “ideal childhood,” with parents who nurtured and encouraged a bright, busy, and optimistic child. Judge Hug’s memory of early teachers is an early harbinger of his success as a high school debate champion—fertile ground for the future lawyer and judge. He represented Sparks High School at Boys State and Boys Nation, meeting President Truman in Washington, D.C. He excelled in sports and civic activities in high school and college at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). At UNR, he followed in his father’s footsteps as Student Body President, graduating in 1953. Throughout Judge Hug’s retelling of his early life, he is humble and appreciative of his advantages and opportunities.

After service as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy (1954-55) and marrying his high school sweetheart, Barbara Van Meter, he enrolled at Stanford Law School (1958), where he was on the law review. Hug took an opportunity to take the Nevada bar examination early, passed, and returned for his last part of law school a “celebrity among the law students” who still had a bar exam ahead of them.

Judge Hug is a good storyteller of law practice circa 1959 and through the 1960s, the period after he returned to Reno to practice law. His stories of Reno’s then-small legal community, divorce work, and learning how to use demonstrative evidence such as a skeleton in a box to prove his case, are informative and often humorous. Judge Hug involved himself in civic and political life as his law practice and young family grew. He was active in the state’s “Young Democrats” and enjoyed taking on “the old guard.”

It is a clarifying moment when his interviewer observes that Judge Hug, in his life and career, appears to be an “agent of change.” Judge Hug’s accomplishments include drafting the framework for Nevada’s present-day Gaming Control Act, and, as a Nevada Regent, working to establish the University of Nevada Las Vegas, the UNR School of Medicine, and the National Judicial College. His engagement in establishing these now-mainstream Nevada institutions is related with the quiet pride of an honorable man.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Judge Hug to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. His recollection of his selection is a lesson in Nevada judicial political history. His confirmation by the United States Senate was seamless. In the process he realized that he had “always wanted to be a judge.”

Judge Hug recalls his early days and cases as a circuit judge, the always-heavy caseload, his role models, and his judicial philosophy. He sees himself as a centrist, and tries “to look at what happened to the individual” asking himself, “What is the story?” He sees judicial activism as “in the eye of the beholder,” and the U.S. Constitution as a “living document” that is “evolving.” Ever present in his mind were the serious attempts by Congress to split the Ninth Circuit. A strong advocate of keeping the Ninth Circuit intact, Judge Hug is a defender of the court as an innovative body that has worked hard to resolve problems with always too few judges and overly large caseloads.

In 1996, Judge Hug was elevated to Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, a post he held until 2000. His oral history is a close view of an able administrator and a vigilant guardian of the court. His goals are clear: to keep the circuit together; to fill judicial vacancies; to streamline court efficiency; and to serve the federal district court, bankruptcy, and magistrate judges in the circuit. Judge Hug reviews significant cases and opinions in a thirty-one year judicial career, which is ongoing as of this writing, with an acute memory for detail. A reader can readily see the hand of a judge skilled in the art of persuasion.

At the close of his oral history, Judge Hug acknowledges the importance of his family: his wife, Barbara, a partner throughout every facet of his career; his children—a doctor, lawyer, and teacher; and his grandchildren.

Brad Williams conducted oral history interviews with the Honorable Procter Ralph Hug Jr. in 1995 and 1996, with additional interviews in May 2008, in his chambers in Pasadena, California, and in Reno, Nevada. These interviews were conducted as part of the Nevada Legal Oral History Project, a joint effort of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society (NJCHS), the Nevada Judicial Historical Society (NJHS), and the UNOHP. Begun in 2001, the project was intended to record the life stories of leading members of Nevada’s legal profession and to educate the public about law and the courts by making those stories widely available through various media.

Members of the boards of NJHS and NJCHS compiled and vetted lists of potential narrators, ultimately selecting representatives from both the state and federal benches and bars. The UNOHP, under the direction of Tom King and his successor Mary Larson, recommended interviewers, most of whom were professional oral historians, and donated equipment and transcription services. Brad Williams, of NJCHS, coordinated the project from its inception. Susan Southwick, of NJHS, oversaw that group’s participation. Patricia Cooper-Smith completed the copyediting and introductions. Alicia Barber, Director of the UNOHP since 2009, supervised the project’s final publication and dissemination. The project was made possible by a generous challenge grant from the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, with matching funds provided by the U.S. District Court for Nevada Attorney Admissions Fund, the Washoe County Courthouse Preservation Fund, and the Nevada State Bar. Thanks go to Susan Southwick and the Board of Trustees of NJHS, and to Brad Williams, who interviewed Judge Hug.

Interviewee: Procter R. Hug, Jr.
Interviewed: 1995-1996; 2008
Published: 2013
Interviewer: Brad Williams
UNOHP Catalog #229

This introduction is reprinted with permission from the University of Nevada Oral History Archive, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno. The full oral history transcript was created for the Nevada Legal Oral History Project. Click here for the full oral history transcript.

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