Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Moot Court Board 1975-76

I was not as good  a student in law school as I had been in high school and college.  In part, I attribute that to the fact that I entered law school too soon--at age 20.  I had taken extra courses in college, initially because my parents would not approve my marriage to the first serious boyfriend I had ever had until I had graduated from college (they were not fond of him, among other things, because he had a beard). 

By fall of my junior year, said boyfriend, who'd graduated the year before from college, wasn't sure that he wanted me to work and put him through law school as I had offered.  So, I decided that if he couldn't accept my offer, that I would see if I could become a lawyer too.  In October of 1972, we both took the LSAT together.  I did far better than he did and was accepted to all 5 of the law schools I applied to, while he was accepted at only one, the one that I didn't apply to:  Idaho.  We ultimately parted ways during the winter of my last year in college, after he went to Europe for six weeks of travel, and none of the letters I wrote to him ever arrived in time at the American Express offices.  And, I have to admit, because I became interested in other guys at college.

I graduated following my junior year and enrolled in the only law school my father would pay for: the University of Kentucky.  My family had moved to Lexington, Kentucky, a year previous, and in-state tuition was $200 a semester.  My father was anticipating putting my 4 younger siblings through college (2 graduated from Purdue, and one from the Univ. of VA, the last spent a year at Miami University in Oxford, OH) so he was not interested in paying  law school tuition at NYU, the best school where I'd been accepted.  And he would not fill out the financial aid forms to see if I could get loans and/or scholarships because he didn't think it was any of 'their' business what he made.  Since he was paying, I didn't think I had grounds to object.  I also was rather naive about the mechanics of paying for law school, not knowing that if I worked and lived on my own for a year that would emancipate me and  I might be able to get better financial aid treatment.  Plus, I also wrongly thought that one law school was pretty much like another.  Get a degree and you could go anywhere.  That was not then, nor is it the case now, with law schools in the United States.

So, I entered the Univ. of KY,  the fall of 1973 and was immediately gobsmacked by the difference in the attitude towards women at the law school vs what I had encountered at Macalester College.  Initially, I  lived in an ugly rectangular graduate dorm for singles with a non descript roommate and painted cement block walls.  The dorm had a 'get to know you' barbecue at the end of the first week of school.  I remember that I sat down at an outdoor table with a full paper plate, and some other male graduate student joined me and we began exchanging pleasantries.  He asked me what I was doing in graduate school and when I told him that I was going to law school, he exclaimed quite honestly, "W'al ah din' know legal secataries had to go to law skool!"  Welcome to life in the south.

So take a 20 year old, who has been taking double classes and summer school at a northern liberal arts college for 2 1/2 years on top of being an assistant editor of the college paper and other extracurricular activities,  and who is heartily sick of studying, and place her in a southern law school venue where she a large portion of the male inhabitants and some of their spouses are openly hostile toward her and the other women law students because they are females and taking the places that should rightfully go to  males because said males will, of course, be a career lawyer supporting his family, and these brazen hussies are there merely looking for husbands. Or better yet, they are all lesbians. You have a recipe for disillusionment and academic burn out.  I did not do well grade wise my first year.  What I did do was give outrageous parties..
By early second year, I figured out that if I wanted to turn things around for me academically, I needed to put the pedal to the metal and find a way to distinguish myself.  Law review was out because membership was determined by one's grades at the end of first year, and I did not have the requisite marks.  But I could join the Moot Court Board, in my second year, if I entered the competition and my written brief and my oral argument placed me in the top 24 of the competitors.  This was appellate advocacy, so you were given  fictional decisions from the District Court and the Court of Appeals, which you took as a baseline to fashion your fictional appeal to the United States Supreme Court. 

I recall that the issue given us in the fall of 1975, dealt with discrimination and had a procedural question, and a substantive question.  You took one side of the issue and were partnered with another law student and split the writing and argument duties for your side.  My partner, Lew, was a very nice guy but he was even more of a procrastinator than I was.  In fact his part of the brief was not completed at the time it had to be turned in for grading, so I had to make my case to the Board that I should not be penalized for being late along with him.   

Then the oral arguments were scheduled.  You argued against another team who had been assigned the opposite side of the issue.  I don't remember anything from our arguments at this point, but I made the cut and was a member of the Moot Court Board.  All was going well for my plans to bring me up by my bootstraps.  In the spring of second year, I decided to up the ante, and run for President of the Board.  As I was not good enough to have made the national team (those folks were truly golden tongued orators, and I doubt that even had I worked every available moment, that I could have made the impression that they did), I determined that the way I could distinguish myself was to be elected President.  To my knowledge there had never been a woman president of the Moot Court Board .  It involved lobbying other members on my behalf, which was also a new experience, and in the end, I won by one vote over Herb Miller, a very nice guy.

We all had our pictures taken and displayed in one of the glass fronts on the first floor of the law school.  As President, my major job was to organize and run the the second year competition.  This included passing out the record below to the second year students , arranging partners for those who did not have them and assign sides, set deadlines, get all the Moot Court Board members to grade the briefs, and arrange for them to judge the oral arguments.  I also had to find timers for all of the oral arguments and remember desperately corralling and cajoling  first year students in the hall outside the courtroom to help with timing (thank you Tim!).   But unexpected issues came up.  Like when some of the books that had pertinent cases and writings on the 2d year Moot Court issue  (an antitrust question) kept disappearing from the library. 

Now the library was a place where many law students studied for long stretches of time, and I remember well some of the highjinks that went on to relieve the stress.  Like the time there was an unclaimed  briefcase on a table next to where I was studying, and all of a sudden a wee little voice came from it, saying "Let me out....Let me out!!!"  Someone had left a small tape recorder running inside.  Or the time a senior student came down from the second floor of the library where the study carrels were--they were assigned only to seniors and they were lockable--exclaiming that she could not believe that they were large enough, but someone had just had sex in the carrel next to her.

So, when word came back to the Moot Court Board members that books and cases and  law review articles had gone missing, I convened a committee and we investigated and took names.  We found several culprits and downgraded their briefs as a result, but I don't think we disqualified anyone outright.  It was distasteful and surprising to me, because I had not fully learned how brutally competitive law school could get.

Also during first semester of third year, I quickly got underway with obtaining a speaker for the annual Moot Court banquet in the spring.  This was my responsibility as  president, and I wanted to take care of this as soon as possible to increase our chances of landing  a prestigious speaker.  So I made an appointment to meet with the dean of the Law School, George Hardy.  Dean Hardy was from Texas and he taught Oil and Gas law.  It was a running joke to say you'd  'passed Gas,' not because of the difficulty of the course, but because of the subject matter. When I went and spoke with Dean Hardy, he was quite affable and told me not to worry about a thing because he had arranged for US Presidential candidate, former Texas governor, John Connelly, to come and speak at the banquet.  I was flattered and very excited.  This could gain prestige for  the Moot Court Board program which might help catapult it into the top ranks in the nation, perhaps increasing Kentucky's reputation.  I went away from the meeting a happy little camper.

Spring semester rolled around and the banquet was scheduled for mid April.  I had not heard anything  from the Dean about the speaker, so in early March I had  another meeting with him.  This one did not go so well. He told me that Governor Connelly couldn't come, however he was sure another speaker could be found, but he was busy and I would have to come back another time to discuss it with him.  He was abrupt and imperious and I came away from that meeting despondent and concerned.

While mulling over the missing speaker problem, I recalled an article that had run in the Louisville Courier Journal a week or so prior in its Sunday magazine.  It concerned a Louisville lawyer named Dan Taylor, who was making his reputation a la William Kunstler, defending black men who had been accused of killing white policemen.  The article was very sympathetic and laudatory to the work Taylor had been doing, taking cases no one else in the bar would touch, and sometimes even getting acquittals.  His methods were outrageous--they included giving the finger to a judge in the heat of trial (for which he was locked up in contempt of court)--but this was still a time close to Watergate and Patty Hearst and the Attica riots, among other events, to make such actions as taken by Taylor to seem both outlaw and justified under the circumstances.  I thought to myself, what if we invited Dan Taylor to speak at the Moot Court banquet?  It would give him an opportunity to talk trials to students who were interested in trials and perhaps to explain his behaviour to us as well on a subject of topical importance.  What could go wrong?  I called up his office and asked if he would be interested in speaking at the banquet, and he very promptly replied that indeed he would.  

I then met with the Dean and told him not to worry, that I had asked Dan Taylor to speak at the Moot Court Banquet.  I got to watch the wheels come off the bus in the next ten minutes of our meeting.  Dean Hardy was not a small man, and I was privileged to see  his face turn red and blow up to twice his size as he told me in no uncertain terms that Dan Taylor was a disgrace to his profession and that if he spoke, all the donors to the law school would withhold their funding and I would be personally held responsible for such a failure.  And that I had better disinvite him.  As politely as I could, I responded that I had  invited him and I didn't think that disinviting him sent the appropriate message.  Dean Hardy said, "We'll see about that," and sent me from his office.

Several days later, I was summoned to the Dean's office.  There, Dean Hardy informed me that he had invited John Rosenberg, head of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund, to speak at the Moot Court banquet and that NOW I had to disinvite Dan Taylor. 

At this point, knowing that events were beyond my capacity to control,  I called a meeting of the full Moot Court Board.  I explained the situation to them.  I set out the facts and told them that this had gotten out of hand, and that I was bringing the issue to them for advice and direction.  We had a several hour meeting/discussion and took a vote at the conclusion.  As I recall, it was unanimous that the invitation to Dan Taylor stand. 

I returned to the Dean and informed him of the action that I had taken.  He told me that in that case, he was instructing the faculty not to attend and that I could take responsibility for everything bad that was going to result from this pending disaster.  I thanked him for his time and we parted ways.  I wrote a note to John Rosenberg apologizing for the mix up, and he was most gracious in his response.

The banquet took place as scheduled.  There were three law professors in attendance as I recall.  Robert Schwemm, who had to be there because he was the Moot Court advisor, John Batt a criminal law professor and an iconoclast himself, and one other, perhaps a Con Law professor.   Steve Bright, the fellow who introduced Dan Taylor, had graduated the year before and his claim to fame at the time, other than being on the national moot court team his senior year, was that he had debated Spiro Agnew on television about the Vietnam War, when he was an undergraduate.  Of course Steve Bright has gone on to be one of the leading lights in the Death Penalty Project and is nationally known as superior advocate.  The introduction that he gave for Dan Taylor was eloquent and forceful and should have been a foretaste of what was to come.  It was not.

Unfortunately, Dan Taylor, while he may have been a great courtroom advocate for his poor, downtrodden clients, was not a very good after dinner speaker.  He was not an orator, he didn't excite in his listeners the sense that great things were being done or that there were opportunities out there.  He was, in short, boring.  It was a letdown after all the sturm und drang that had preceded his appearance.  But that was a life lesson too, I suppose.

You would think the story would be over at this point.  It was for everyone, but me and Dean Hardy.  There was a tradition that the President of the Moot Court Board would apply to clerk for the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court.  And that the Dean of the Law School and one other law professor would provide  references.  I had already obtained one reference from my Wills and Trusts law professor former Dean Matthews,  all I lacked was the reference from Dean Hardy.  So I went to seem him.  I told him that I knew we had our differences with respect to Dan Taylor and I asked him if he could set those aside and write me a letter of reference for the clerkship position.  Dean Hardy told me that he could, and I believed him. 

Right before the Moot Court banquet, I was approached by the President of the Student Bar Association, who asked if I had been given a copy of the letter of reference that Dean Hardy had written for me.  I said I had not.  Well, she  suggested, you might want to see it.  So I went to the Dean's secretary and asked for a copy.  It was a letter, but there was no recommendation in it.  The Dean wrote implying that I was mentally unbalanced because I had cried in the office of the Associate Dean, my first year in law school.  I had cried in the Associate Dean's office first year of law school, but I had thought that was a private matter, one where I had unburdened myself to the Associate Dean about my disappointments with how law school seemed to be a cold, uncaring place.  That the Associate Dean had told this to the Dean, in this day and age, seems incredible.  And given that those  tears had been shed over two years prior, but I had continued to complete law school and in fact was actually doing much better, thank you, might indicate that I was mentally balanced But there the non recommending  reference letter was, like a turd in the punch bowl.  Suffice it to say, I did not get the job.  It was devastating at the time. But I said nothing to the Dean, although I let other members of the Moot Court Board know.

Then came time for graduation:

The valedictorian of our class, was Katherine Ransel.  Katherine, despite being the individual with the highest grade point average in the class was not the editor of the Law Review, as had been the case in all instances before her.  That was because when it came time to make the law review appointments, the faculty in charge could not bring themselves to take the step of appointing the first woman to be editor in chief of the University of Kentucky Law Review.  In addition to her own experience, Katherine was well aware of the controversy surrounding the Moot Court Banquet because she was dating Steve Bright, and had attended the Moot Court banquet with him.  And she made the issue of the Moot Court banquet speaker part of her address to the class, talking about what we had learned, not just from books but from real life experiences.  She talked about the invitation of Dan Taylor to speak in terms of having learned first hand about the First Amendment.  And at that point, all my classmates rose and gave  a standing ovation.  I sat in my seat dumbfounded. 

At the reception following the graduation, I took my parents, at their request, to meet Dean Hardy.  As we made small talk, the Dean asked if I would come and see him the next Monday.  I agreed and met him at the pre arranged time.  He apologized to me for his  letter of non-recommendation and asked if there was anything he could do to rectify it.  I told him no, that I had a job and that things were going well for me.  In retrospect, I wish I had asked for a new letter of recommendation just to see what he would write.  But at that point, I was ready to take off and leave law school behind.  And I did not want to be beholden to Dean Hardy.  He left Kentucky a year or so later and relocated back to Texas.  I have no idea what happened to him, but I was tempted three years later, when I graduated cum laude from the LLM program at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, third in my class, to send him an announcement.  Just to let him know that  I was a real academic success too.

My brothers, our dog Maggie, and me in our parents' backyard at my graduation from UK Law School, 1976.

1 comment:

Dan Matyola said...

That is a great story, and well written. Thanks for sharing it with us.

We went to law school only 5 years apart, but I am amazed at how different our experiences were. My school was in an urban center (Newark) and lack any amenities, such as dorms and social areas. I was on law review (largely because most of my classmates were stoned or out protesting), but it was pretty much all business -- no banquets or anything of that sort. The curriculum was designed to be as close as possible to that of Harvard, so there were no local courses, relating to NJ, and certainly nothing as unique as gas and oil law.

I did have a close and friendly relationship with the dean, who was a Korean War vet, and fought hard to admit as many Viet Nam era vets as possible. Our class was the first to be purposely diversified, so we had a lot more women (about 1/3) and minorities (1/4) than previous classes. In fact, I took an invitation-only seminar on race, gender and the law, taught by one of the schools best known professors, which has three white males, three black males, three white females, and three black females. Much of the class revolved around arguments among two of the black women and the other blacks over whether gender equality was a real issue or just a distraction from the fight for racial equality.

I'm not surprised to hear that you were a "trouble-maker" given the environment there. I, of course, was a bit of a trouble-maker in my own way. Although Rutgers had its limitations, I had some great teachers (and also Ruth Ginsberg). Mostly, I liked it because it was cheap. It was exciting to be there to hear Artur Kinoy (my Con Law Prof) talk about his then recent victory in Powell v McCormack.

I'm glad you defended Dan Taylor. [You do remember that Dan Taylor was the name of "Lt Dan" in Forrest Gump, Don't you? ]

Have a relaxing week away from chemo, and keep up the good fight.