James B. Deutsch had no specific career path in mind when he entered law school. In fact, he said, he hadn’t seriously planned to go to law school at all — but he was accepted, and so he went.
“I came out wanting to be a lawyer,” he said.
Deutsch, who served in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 1970, graduated cum laude from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law in 1978. He became a staff attorney for the Great Plains Legal Foundation, where he primarily focused on federal administrative law and procedure.
While there, he said he gained a great deal of experience, but he left the think tank after deciding he was not accomplishing his self-imposed goal.
“I’d had enough thinking and wanted to be a lawyer,” he said.
In 1979 he joined Dowell, McNearney, Desselle and Calton, handling everything from cases in collections court to appellate work. During that time, he also served as the assistant city attorney in Greenwood.
In the early 1980s, Missouri was running out of money. Deutsch moved to Jefferson City to serve as general counsel for the Missouri Department of Revenue, which faced a huge backlog of tax cases, he said.
“We tried to turn them into some revenue for the state of Missouri,” he said.
Due to Deutsch’s tax experience, in late 1983 then-Gov. Kit Bond appointed him as a commissioner on the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. During his six-year appointment as an administrative law judge on the commission, he presided over the well-publicized case involving the collapse of the Hyatt Regency Kansas City Skywalk. He was assigned to the case despite his relative lack of seniority.
“That was kind of an opportunity presented to me,” he said.
Nearing the end of his appointment in 1989, Deutsch was approached by law-school classmate and then-Attorney General William Webster to serve in the attorney general’s office.
As Chief Deputy Attorney General, Deutsch coordinated multistate litigation, reviewed legal opinions and stood in on occasion for Webster, who was running for governor at the time.
His tenure at the attorney general’s office also presented the opportunity to accomplish a goal many young attorneys set for themselves: to argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet while looking back on his career, Deutsch spoke more about hiring and educating young attorneys than his time in front of the high court.
The nature of working in the attorney general’s office led to considerable staff turnover, he said, and he frequently hired and mentored new, young attorneys. It is a job he has carried through to the firm he founded, Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch.
“His leadership and management style is encouraging and respectful to all individuals,” according to a peer who nominated him for the ICON Award.
With retirement looming, Deutsch said he is looking forward to passing the torch to young attorneys he has mentored and to continuing his work with the International Masters of Gaming Law. Deutsch helped to found the IMGL, which brings together gaming attorneys, regulators, educators, executives and consultants from around the world.
“[IMGL] is a great source of pride and satisfaction to me,” he said.