An Officer and a Gentleman and a Lawyer


Photo, Paul & Margaret Durbin

Paul, with wife Margaret; Mr. Durbin was a divorce and family law attorney in Honolulu, Hawaii

Paul J. Durbin, 1917-2012

The Hawaii bar lost a good one this past weekend.  Paul J. Durbin, passed away on March 31, 2012, at the age of 94.

When I used to litigate cases in Family Court with Mr. Durbin, I didn’t know about his long and admirable military career (fought in France and Germany in WWII, in Korea, and in Vietnam), as well as teaching English and law in Vietnam along the way, or even his pre-war boxing acumen, all prior to starting his law practice in Honolulu in 1970.  No, all I knew was that Mr. Durbin had that thick Kentucky twang and a determined style.  I also noticed that so many of the people that Mr. Durbin represented were people of very limited financial means, people that likely could not otherwise afford an attorney.  I noticed that Mr. Durbin had such a soft spot for people who were in need. Nevertheless, sometimes Mr. Durbin’s style was in friction with my own, and he would sometimes get on my nerves.

One day, while the two of us were arguing a case outside the Court waiting area, he told me a story (you have to imagine it with that Kentucky twang, which I will try to convey — and in no way did I wish to disrespect the accent with the odd spellings below, but wanted to give the flavor of the sound):

Mr. Doi, I was sent to infantry training in Mississippi in World Wahr Two, and those Mississippi boys that were in my unit — now them Mississippi boys you have to unnastand that they weren’t that educated.  They kept tell-ling me, ‘Mr. Duhrbin, Mr. Duhrbin, you shouldn’t be in no infantry, you a law-yah Mr. Duhrbin, you a law-yah!’  Now, ah I didn’t want to make a big thang about it, but they just kept buh-gin’ me and buh-gin me, so I finally go up to my first sergeant and told him ‘now sergeant, I don’t wahnt to make a bii-iig thang about it, but I wanted you to know, ah’m a licensed attorney in the State of Kentucky.’  The first sergeant looked at me, and said ‘that’s fine Mr. Duhrbin, but we ain’t suing nobody in this wahr.’  So I was in infantry.

From all points after the above story was told to me, I could no longer be impatient with Mr. Durbin — it was one of the best stories I had ever heard, and just couldn’t build up any irritability for him.

As I mentioned above, I knew nothing of his distinguished career prior to practicing humble divorce cases with people like me in Family Court.  I just knew that he probably didn’t have to practice law anymore, being in his late 80s, but that he clearly loved to practice.  And that he simply wanted to help people who probably would have otherwise gone unrepresented.  That alone made him a person to be admired, and I will remember him as such.  If the bar in Hawaii and around the world had more lawyers like Mr. Durbin, we would be better for it — and in his absence, we are lesser for it.

In memoriam:  Paul J. Durbin, June 25, 1917-March 31, 2012.


About Gavin K. Doi

Gavin, a founding partner of Doi/Luke, was born and reared in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, graduating from McKinley High School, and receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law in Denver, Colorado. Previously, Gavin worked with the Child Support Enforcement Agency and the AmeriCorps Domestic Violence Clinic. An advocate of pro bono legal work, Gavin volunteers time with Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii and the Hawai’i State Bar Association.In 2013, Gavin co-authored the book Child Custody Litigation and Settlements (Aspatore Books/Thomson West), penning the section "Working with Your Client Towards a Successful Child Custody Case." Gavin is a member of the Hawaii State Bar Association and the HSBA Family Law Section, and was presented with the 2002 Justice Award by the Hawaii State Bar Association, which honors one lawyer annually for their outstanding contribution to the ideals of justice. The Hawaii Access to Justice Commission honored Gavin in 2012 for his pro bono service to the community.Gavin has extensive experience in divorce, paternity, child custody, child support, restraining orders, and other family law matters, and has a Distinguished rating with Martindale-Hubble®/Lawyers.com, and an Avvo rating of 10 out of 10. He can be e-mailed at: gkdoi@islandlawyers.com .

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