Sutton graduated from UT’s law school in 1941 after meeting his wife Nancy. Sutton went on to serve as an agent for the FBI during World War II, and later in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the U.S. Army Reserves during the Korean War.
After his service, Sutton joined the law school faculty in 1957 and continued teaching until his retirement at the age of 85. Sutton served as dean from 1979 to 1984 .
“He got the law school through one of its worse times,” law professor David Anderson said.
Those times began when the law school was searching for a new dean. Several members of the faculty, frustrated at the list of candidates, were threatening to leave. But Sutton’s appointment and his leadership afterward helped ease tensions and restore order.
Anderson, a colleague of Sutton, said they used to go watch quarter horse races in Texas and across the country. Besides being a close friend, Anderson said Sutton was clear, helpful and an enthusiastic teacher.
Law professor John Dzienkowski was both a student and colleague of Sutton’s.
“He was very faculty-focused and very much a consensus leader,” Dzienkowski said. “As a scholar, he was one of the early teachers of a subject called professional responsibility.”
Sutton’s development of professional responsibility, which teaches students about the ethics of their future profession, is now a specialty area taught at the law school. According to Dzienkowski, Sutton also created an ethics code during the 1960s, and it became one of the major codes lawyers were governed by.
“He was a very learned person,” Dzienkowski said. “In my mind, he was a dean that brought a lot of stability to the law school. He brought national recognition to UT’s law school.”
From judging ethics codes to legal cases to horse races, Sutton exercised sound judgment.
“The thing about lawyering is that many people can look up the law, but few people have good judgment,” Dzienkowski said. “John had excellent judgment.”
Sutton is survived by his wife Nancy, their son and daughter, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held for Sutton on Saturday in San Angelo.