By Nick Bray, Staff Reporter
There probably isn’t anyone in the state of Maine with a resume quite like Walter “Woody” Hanstein’s. In the fall semester, it isn’t unusual for Hanstein to work a full day at his law practice, then head down to the rugby pitch at Prescott Field to coach the Women’s rugby team, then to a classroom at UMF to teach his weekly law seminar.
Hanstein’s law career began in 1979 when he graduated the University of Idaho with a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Hanstein is a former navy JAG and former assistant district attorney for the state of Maine. He began his own law practice in 1987 in Farmington.
Throughout his time in school and while in the Navy, Hanstein played and coached rugby. In the late 1980’s, Hanstein coached rugby at Colby College. Hanstein approached UMF’s athletic director in the early 1990’s about starting a rugby team. His law partner at the time, Pat Joyce, had a son, Kevin, who was currently attending UMF. “Kevin had played football at Mt. Blue,” Hanstein said. “So he and a few of his friends and myself started the team in 1991.”
The UMF rugby program is known for being successful but they are even more known for their unique green and gold uniforms. “We have almost exclusively played in the colors of green and gold because it was the only set of rugby uniforms available just a few days before our first game,” Hanstein said.
Starting as the coach of the men’s team, Hanstein switched to coaching the women’s team after their coach left and the assistant coach became the men’s head coach. President and Captain of the Women’s rugby team, Emily Gray, has been involved in the team her entire time at UMF. “Woody teaches you a lot about the game,” Gray said. Not just the skills but he wants you to know how the game works and helping to increase players’ rugby knowledge. “
Hanstein has also been teaching law courses at UMF since 2000, drawing on his experiences as a lawyer to educate students about the legal system. Hanstein believes that using real life cases to make points about the legal system makes it easier for students to relate and understand. In addition to playing rugby, Emily Gray has also taken Hanstein’s law class. “Woody always has little anecdotes and they always come up when he’s teaching or coaching,” Gray said. “He coaches a lot like he teaches, by teaching by example”.
Cadi LaCourse is another student who took Hanstein’s course. LaCourse agrees that Hanstein’s teaching style helped her learn more about the legal system. ”It was much more interesting than reading a text book,” LaCourse said. LaCourse believes she learned more because he is a practicing attorney. “A lot of the course was Woody teaching us to think for ourselves, to use the facts and evidence to support our theories and opinions.”
His law and the legal system course provides an overview of the justice system, but also puts an emphasis on civil rights.“It’s a fine line between informing people about their rights, and explaining to them how to get away with breaking the law,” Hanstein said. “I think a course like Law and the Legal System should be mandatory before students finish high school. They should be able to understand their basic legal rights.”
Hanstein says several students who have taken his course have gone on to law school and are now practicing lawyers in Maine. “I recently saw an assistant district attorney in Kennebec county who I had to beg for a plea bargain, and he took my class,” Hanstein said. “I was trying to remember if I had been nice to him.”
In his spare time Hanstein pursues other interests including fiction writing. He is the author of six legal thrillers featuring small town lawyer Pete Morris. In addition, Hanstein serves as a member of the Titcomb Mountain Ski Patrol. He also directs the Smiling Goat Precision Juggling Corps. “I like to say I am the international founder of parade marching juggling,” Hanstein said. “Nobody else would have bothered to try.”
They march in local parades including the Wilton Blueberry Festival and the Chester Greenwood Day parade. To entertain lawyers at the bar association, Hanstein created a youtube video titled “Juggling for Lawyers.” Hanstein’s brief, four minute tutorial was filmed in the historic Franklin County Superior Courthouse.
Hanstein knows he made the right decision in moving to Farmington. “After getting out of the Navy I could have been an ADA in Portland, Machias, or Farmington,” Hanstein said. “My wife and I came to Farmington and we knew right then this was the place for us. We were right.”
Between his involvement in Rugby and his teaching, Hanstein spends more time with people who are significantly younger than he is than people his own age. Hanstein believes this keeps him young. He even takes life lessons from his students. “You take less for granted. When you see someone see something for the first time that you’ve seen forever, you just appreciate it that much more.”
Through his capacity as coach and teacher, Hanstein has had the opportunity to serve as a mentor to many students. “Woody is an adult in my life I look up to,” Gray said. “He is always ready to help anyone on the team, with anything. If I have an issue I’m not afraid to call Woody and talk about it.”