Long-time Carson City immigration lawyer retiring
March 3, 2013
Frederick Woodside Wright is known by most as a simple “Woody.” Unlike the “Toy Story” character of the same name, he neither sounds like Tom Hanks nor dresses like a cowboy. Resplendent in a suit jacket, a fleece jacket popping up from behind the collar, he sits in his near-empty office, soon to be his former. Wright is nearly 70 years old but he does not show his years, at least in his face, although he professes his body knows.Wright, white haired, said he’s leaving now because “it’s time… I need to stop and focus on doing something else for a while.”He won’t be entirely out of the lawyering game. A few of his clients still have pending cases and he said he’s not the kind of person who is willing abandon a single one of them. About once a month he’ll make it back to Carson City, he said, rounding up. Wright retired, mostly, from his work as an immigration lawyer Friday. He served the Carson City and Reno area since 1997, after he decided to don the suit once again.“I’ve been through most of the tribes in Northern Nevada since ’95,” he said. “Before the turn of the century, I was on the inter-tribal court of appeals for awhile.”Wright was working as a soccer referee, a line of work he ran into when his son, now married with two children of his own, started playing as a child. When his son was younger, they needed coaches. By the time the boy hit 13, they needed more referees, not coaches.In Montana, Wright had been doing many things before he moved to Nevada he had been working in family and criminal law. “There’s a point where you wear out,” he said. The move “was the right timing.”Wright’s wife had been offered a job in Nevada with the state.“I was ready to leave Montana. She got the job and came down. I closed up shop and about 60 days later, came down.” In loose terms, once he came down, he was hanging out. “I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go,” he said. “I just knew needed a break from what I was doing, and after I got here, first thing I did was a soccer referee for a long time. I did soccer refereeing for high school and I later did it for college and the adult leagues … By ’95, I figured I was going to go ahead and continue to be a lawyer but I had to get past the bar.”It wasn’t until 1997 that he finally passed the Nevada exam, although his Montana credentials allowed him to work with the tribes.Wright and his wife started taking a Spanish class at what was then Western Nevada Community College and it must have been in the second semester, he said, that the instructor learned he was an immigration lawyer. She asked him to come down and volunteer for the Nevada Hispanic Services and he stuck around, being careful not to do too much, because he did not yet have his Nevada license.Immigration and Indian law are a lot like soccer. One only starts to learn after being in thick of it, all three being things that are not taught in grade school. Or high school. Or law school, for that matter.“I trained and took the course and became a referee. Then I started learning about soccer, strange as it may seem, after I had become a referee. But that’s typical for United States soccer,” he said.Wright only gave up on the soccer in 2010, when he couldn’t physically do his job, specifically, all the running. Even though his body said no to the physical work, his mind continued to plow on through his contract work with Nevada Hispanic Services, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and a series of other groups. Much of the work was rewarding.“It’s satisfying. I was the tail end of 13 years for one young lady getting her green card, me being the last seven or eight years, of her getting her green card. There is nothing quite like that satisfaction. I won’t say that most of my cases are successes, because they aren’t. My clients are in a situation where it’s a no-win. Basically what I do is buy them some time before they have to go.”Even though he often knows from the outset that despite his work, it will only be a matter of time, the emotional bonds with the individuals still grow deep enough into his 70-year-old heart to wrench it around.It’s hard, he said, “particularly when you’ve worked with a person and maybe their family for a long time and in the end you just can’t do it, it’s done. “It’s only been the last 10 years immigration law has been something people might even talk about or get upset about. It hasn’t been a topic.”Well past 6 p.m. Friday, after the sun had set, Wright walked out to his car and drove away from his office for the last time. Saturday he would be on his way to his new town, Kingman, Ariz. For one last night, Woody was in town.