at your resume, and your time at
Georgetown’s very impressive, but the only
reason we’re interviewing you today is
because you went to NAU.”
“Well,” says a grinning Cunningham,
“the first thought that goes through my
mind was, That was $100,000 well spent.”
His 20-minute interview ended, he
subsequently got an offer of employment.
Before that, he says, he tried to calculate
“the bare minimum that I could earn and
pay my loans and put a roof over my
head.” Bayles called and offered that exact
amount: $40,000. He accepted. The
young lawyer with a growing family was on
He has a good, dry
sense of humor.
He is the model
for No Drama.
“Whit,” as his friends call him, “did not
have a silver-spoon childhood.”
So says Don Bayles, still at the Aspey
Cunningham was born in Georgia, but
his father died while serving in the Marine
Reserves. His mother had remarried by the
time he was 1 year old, when his family
moved to Phoenix. By the time he was 6 or
7, they had moved east, to Mesa. There, his
stepfather eventually opened an auction
business, which the stepfather’s own dad
had established in Arkansas in the 1940s.
The Mesa business still operates, with
Cunningham’s dad and two younger brothers at the helm.
“They’re trying to get my dad to retire,”
says Cunningham, “but at 77,” he keeps
While an NAU undergrad, Cunningham
married a former debate partner. They
returned to Flagstaff from DC and started
a family, but in 2003 they divorced. In
2007, his former wife passed away.
Today, he and his law partner wife,
Jennifer Mott, raise five children—three
girls and two boys.
Fellow Flagstaff attorney Tevis Reich
says the new President’s biggest sacrifice will
be in family time.
“His presidential year will require a huge
commitment of time from him,” says the
former Coconino County Bar Association
President. “But he’s embraced technology.
What will be harder will be his absence from
his kids and family.”
with opposing counsel who is willing to
take the same approach. That’s what’s really
worthwhile about the practice of law.”
Colleagues find his approach refreshing.
The young debater grew into an accomplished trial lawyer. And his lifetime of experience informs his approach to work.
About a third of his time is
taken up as General Counsel to
Machine Solutions Inc., a
Flagstaff firm that manufactures
medical devices. (The firm
describes itself as “the leading
process and testing equipment
supplier to catheter and stent
He also operates his own
practice with his wife Jennifer.
“She is quick to point out
that she doesn’t practice law very
much because she’s taking care
of five kids, but I view her as my
“We’re a ma and pa shop,” concludes
the Flagstaff lawyer. He adds with a smile,
“…that just happens to get to work on fairly
high-dollar interesting things.”
Cunningham says litigating cases is “what
really gets me out of bed in the morning.”
He speaks happily about cases large and
small, but when pressed, he details one from
2001 that taught him a lot about juries and
His client contracted to have a hotel built.
Once erected, it settled eight inches at one
end. The impact on operations was catastrophic.
A three-week jury trial yielded a 100 per-
cent award of damages—“and we collected
all of our attorneys’ fees.”
“Ultimately, when we got it in front of
the jury, they saw who was passionate and
whose ass was really on the line. And they
responded to that.”
Again with the understatement,
Cunningham says, “I don’t always expect to
win—although I really, really hate to lose.”
And then Cunningham surprises by using
the “F” word—fun—to describe what law
practice should be.
“A lawyer who spends any amount of
time either trying to hold cards close to the
vest or wanting to fight about everything just
for the sake of it,” he says, animated, “they’re
missing out on what is really the fun part of
Asked what that is, he invokes a lifetime
of debate and trial preparation: “to define
victory, to identify obstacles, to recognize
the path to success, which can sometimes be
very narrow. And then to go and work real-
ly hard and try to get there.”
Cunningham adds, “There’s not much
that’s more enjoyable to me than to work
Don Bayles points to a fact that must
occupy the thinking of any lawyer locating
their practice outside a metropolitan area:
“A bad reputation in a small town can be a