James R. Phelps: 1938 – 2022

April 4, 2022

April 4, 2022

With great sadness, we announce that our firm’s co-founder, leader, colleague and friend, Jim Phelps passed away on April 2, 2022, at the age of 83. Jim is survived by Sophia, his wife of 57 years, his three sons and their wives, Evan and Nicola, Morgan and Mijiko, Michael and Kimberley, and 9 grandchildren.

Jim established the firm with Paul Hyman and Bob Dormer on March 17, 1980. He maintained an active practice until our 30th Anniversary on March 17, 2010, when he took senior counsel status. Although he then split his time between Great Falls, VA and Fort Myers, FL, and spent as much time as he could on the golf course, he was always available to help when needed.

Jim was an acknowledged leader of the food and drug bar, admired by his colleagues, clients, fellow practitioners and even his opponents (despite his tendency sometimes to intimidate them). Jim was an exceptional litigator, a great teacher and an inspiration to all of us in the firm. He had a great ability to identify key issues and to develop creative and effective solutions to them. He was always polite, civil and correct in his demeanor and actions no matter how tense or serious the matter. Jim was so respected as a food and drug lawyer that, for many years after he retired, he routinely was listed among the best lawyers in the field.

A graduate of the University of Cincinnati and its law school, after service in the U.S. Army, Jim began his legal career in 1965 as a Trial Attorney with the Office of General Counsel, Food and Drug Division, of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel). In 1967, Jim became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. He left that office in 1969 to join Burditt, Calkins & Wiley, a leading food & drug law firm in Chicago, where he remained until 1977, when he became vice president and general counsel of the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle, which had a particular need for Jim’s litigation and broad FDA regulatory experience. He left Searle to join the other founders of our firm.

Jim’s practice extended to all areas of the food and drug bar. Jim also advised clients on matters involving controlled substances domestically and internationally, handling matters before the World Health Organization, the International Narcotics Control Board and the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Jim was a member of the U.S. National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization from 1983-1985. He also was General Counsel of the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society from 1982 to 2002.

Jim was a great companion and friend. He was proud of his roots in East Bernstadt, Kentucky, and liked to tease the mostly East Coast “johnnies” he worked with about their limited horizons. Jim was a great competitor in all aspects of life, from the courtroom to the squash court, the golf course and even the card table. His ability and intelligence supported his success in all these fields. He also had extraordinary eyesight, which he used to produce fantastic photographs of birds and other wildlife during his retirement. Some of these photos are proudly hung on the walls of our firm.

It is no exaggeration to say that Jim was the soul of the firm. Those of us who were privileged to know Jim are pledged to carry forward his commitment to the law and to the firm he helped start.

We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his wonderful wife, Sophia, and to his entire family. Jim will be greatly missed.