The Relationship Between Two Giants of Lafayette Twitter
The following is an excerpt from a 30-page oral history transcript, recorded on March 24, 2015, as Edwin C. Landis Jr., of the law firm Meyner and Landis, founded in 1962 and headquartered in Newark, N.J., reflected on his relationship with the late Robert B. Meyner, former New Jersey governor. For the full transcript and other oral histories on the life and legacy of Robert B. Meyner, visit MeynerCenter.Lafayette.edu.
Edwin C. Landis: I was born January 7, 1935, in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, the fifth of five brothers. I was 11 1/2 years younger than the next oldest one. I was to be my mother’s daughter, but it didn’t work out. I also was the fifth of five brothers to go to Lafayette College. I was the only one who had a choice. The Depression was long over, and my father said I could go anywhere I wanted, but I was discouraged by the alumnus who came to interview me and convince me to accept a scholarship to Yale. So I came to Lafayette because it was home. I lived at home for two years; then I lived in a fraternity house for two years.
During my freshman year at Lafayette, in January 1953, I read in the local paper that Bob Meyner had announced that he was running for governor. He was a Democrat. I had always thought of myself as a Democrat, not knowing that both my parents were Republicans. My father, having survived the Great Depression, always thought very highly of Franklin D. Roosevelt, so it didn’t occur to me that they were Republicans.
I was going to go to law school, so I said, “Gee, I’d like to, I’d like to get involved in politics and perhaps I ought to stop and volunteer to help.” I simply went into Meyner’s office and spoke to his secretary. He immediately knew who I was without asking me because my oldest two brothers were valedictorians at Phillipsburg High School and valedictorians at Lafayette College. So I was given a grand welcome. My father was famous for having put all his sons through college.
Meyner welcomed me with open arms, and we talked and I told him how interested I was. I didn’t know much about state government. But he spent probably 45 minutes with me, which he probably thought might be wasted. But we agreed that I would organize Lafayette for Meyner. He said, “Well, you’ll have some expenses,” and handed me a $50 bill. I put an announcement in the College newspaper, and I got a turnout for an initial meeting.
He thought that I would perform two main functions. One was to travel with him to campaign events, as he felt it would be useful to him. The other was to send letters to Lafayette alumni in New Jersey even though there weren’t that many registered Democrats among Lafayette alumni.
I remember that a handful of us, after he was elected in November, went over to Phillipsburg where there was a big parade. After the ’53 election, I was focused on things at the campus, and I didn’t think any more of Meyner.
In the summer of ’54, one of the rising seniors in the fraternity house was the head waiter at a resort in the Poconos. He came around and said, “Who wants to go work as a waiter in the Poconos?” So, I had taken that job. But on the weekend following graduation, the fraternities would have banquets for the alumni, and Lafayette honored Meyner. I was in the fraternity kitchen, and in comes Meyner with a shout. He said, “Landis! I hear you’re working in the Poconos this summer. You can’t do that. You want to be a lawyer. You’ve got to come work in my office.”
It was a logical arrangement. I had a great time that summer and met all the key people right from the start. I probably learned more about writing than I did anywhere else in my life because Meyner demanded that everybody’s letter be answered intelligently and written crisply to the point, not a lot of extra persiflage, if you will. The job mostly was rewriting letters that had come out of the departments so that Meyner would sign them. That was the job, and it was fun because I learned a lot about state government and I, you know, incidentally learned how to write with clarity.
When I was invited to come back the next summer, my duties expanded in that Meyner occasionally would send me off on fairly confidential investigations. “Go talk to somebody,” he’d say. I got to see a lot of the state that I had never seen and met people. Years later, when I came back to be the governor’s executive secretary from 1960 to 1962, I was starting to become fairly well-known.
I was called a summer clerk, and I did this the summers of ’54, ’55, ’56, and ’57. After my first year of law school, I decided I should go to business school. The business school was then across the street from the law school. So I just walked in one day and filled out the form and applied and was accepted at University of Michigan business school where I would get an MBA in a year and two summers.
In my third year, I said, “I don’t think this is what I want to do. I think I would like to practice law.” So I sent out all my applications for the required nine-month clerkship. I had appellate division judges, a Supreme Court justice, and the biggest law firms. They all were just curious about this guy who had spent four summers working in the governor’s office and now he thinks he’d like to practice law. But most had already done their hiring for the year.
At this point, David Furman was the attorney general and Dave Satz was the first assistant attorney general. So I called Dave Satz for his advice as to finding a clerkship. He said, “Oh, you’ve got to come here. Stop looking. Don’t give it another thought.”
I wasn’t an admitted lawyer, so I think I originally was paid $3,000 a year. When I showed up and reported to him, Satz said, “Well, 90 percent of what I do is administrative, so I’m going to turn you over to the second assistant attorney general, Ted Botter, who is going to teach you how to write appellate briefs for the state.”
During all that time after 1957, I had no contact with Meyner. But he was aware; nobody did anything around the State House that didn’t somehow filter back to Meyner. Then in the summer of 1960, Meyner called Satz and said, “I want Landis to come over and be the executive secretary.”
The first thing I worked on with Meyner was finding the right campaign manager for the 1960 Democratic campaign in New Jersey. It all went well. From there on, my principal job in the governor’s office was vetting and working through the details of appointments, whether as judges or other appointments that Meyner had to make. There were literally, literally hundreds and hundreds of appointments to boards. Every state college had a board appointed by the governor; so there were a lot of those that were processed. It was mostly nonpolitical; it was mostly apolitical. But it was interesting in that I would get a sense of what the different boards were doing, as well as the people involved. It just made my knowledge of state government better.
One day during lunch Meyner said, “Landis, what are you going to do when you leave here?” I replied, “Well, I want to go practice law in Newark.” I then told him the lawyer I was considering. He said, “Landis, you’re going with me. I’m going to open a law office in Newark and you’re going with me.” So that was how my history in private practice started. That’s how Meyner and Landis began.