July 25, 2021

This is not the attention law schools want

Pin It

Deans-Arrest-RevisedBy Zoe Tillman, From The National Law Journal

Scandals put law schools in damage-control mode.

Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law this week found itself on a list no law school wants to be on.

Differing in size, location and prominence, these schools weathered the unwanted public attention that comes after a professor or administrator gets tied up in a sex scandal. In SMU’s case, John Attanasio, a professor and the school’s former dean, was arrested on a prostitution-related charge in Frisco, Texas, a Dallas suburb. He was released on Feb. 1 on a $500 bond.

These incidents are rare. The thousands of professors and administrators at U.S. law schools tasked with training the next generation of lawyers and judges typically stay out of trouble with the law. When law schools do face even a whiff of scandal, it tends to make headlines.

Law schools want to ensure a “climate of integrity” on campus, said Deborah Rhode, a professor at Stanford Law School who teaches legal ethics. That means thoroughly investigating misconduct allegations and making sure faculty members follow legal ethics rules as well as any governing university codes of conduct, she said.

At the same time, law schools have to exercise restraint as they go into damage-control mode, Rhode said. “You want to make sure you adhere to appropriate procedural safeguards because individual reputations are at issue.”

SMU so far has kept mum about the allegation against Attanasio. A school spokesman said he was not teaching at the moment and that the school would “gather information and follow university procedure to determine any appropriate action under its policies in such matters.” Attanasio did not return a request for comment.

Here’s a look at some of the arrests, investigations and sex scandals that have involved law school faculty and administrators during the past 15 years.


Villanova University School of Law: Shortly after Mark Sargent resigned as dean in 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that he had been implicated in a prostitution investigation. He was never charged with a crime. Sargent’s lawyer in 2009, Bruce Castor Jr. of Rogers & Associates in Ardmore, Pa., said last week that he lost touch with Sargent and didn’t know what he did after leaving Villanova. Contact information for Sargent couldn’t be located.

In 2013, a Massachusetts court suspended Sargent from practicing law for three years. He was sanctioned for reporting inflated data about incoming students to U.S. News & World Report while at Villanova. He agreed to the suspension. Sargent’s lawyer in the disciplinary case, Samuel Stretton of West Chester, Pa., said Sargent had been doing private consulting work in recent years. A school spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

University of Florida Levin College of Law: John Patrick Shannon, a former associate dean, resigned in 2006 after police raided his home and office in connection with an online child-exploitation investigation, according to news reports. Prosecutors in Florida charged Shannon with two counts of child abuse in early 2007. He entered a no-contest plea and was sentenced to house arrest and probation. He gave up his law license, according to The Gainesville Sun.

Shannon’s lawyer in the criminal case did not respond to an interview request, and the NLJ didn’t immediately find contact information for Shannon. A spokesman for the school declined to comment.

University of California, Berkeley School of Law: John Dwyer stepped down in 2002 as dean after a former student accused him of sexual harassment. Dwyer, according to a statement the school issued at the time, acknowledged a sexual encounter with the student. He maintained it was consensual—if inappropriate. After Dwyer resigned, the school said it would investigate its compliance with federal law in responding to the student’s complaint.

Dwyer now works in private practice at a small firm in San Francisco, according to California bar records. He didn’t return messages seeking comment. A school representative was not immediately available to comment.

Case Western Reserve University School of Law: Lawrence Mitchell stepped down as dean last year amid allegations that he retaliated against a professor who raised concerns about potential sexual misconduct. The professor dropped the case in July after reaching a confidential resolution with the school.

Mitchell remains a member of the law school faculty. His lawyer declined to comment. A school representative was not immediately available to comment.


University of Miami School of Law: In 2007, the university’s student newspaper reported that law professor Donald Jones had been arrested on a charge of soliciting a prostitute. The case was dropped and his record was expunged, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Jones in 2009 sued the Above the Law blog over its coverage of him, but dismissed the case soon after filing it in federal district court in Florida. In 2011, Florida news organizations again reported that Jones had been charged with one count of soliciting a prostitute. The case was dropped, according to court records. Jones, who joined the faculty in 1988, did not return requests for comment.

A university spokeswoman said the school does not comment on personnel matters.

University of Connecticut School of Law: Late last year, adjunct instructor Ronald Murphy was arrested in a prostitution sting. He was placed on administrative leave while the school reviewed the allegations, according to a university spokeswoman. The school “has been advised by legal counsel that it not discuss further details at this time in order to protect the integrity of the criminal and personnel proceedings and the individuals involved,” the spokeswoman said.

Murphy, who runs Advocates Law Firm in New Britain, Conn., and was teaching trial advocacy at the law school, did not return a request for comment.

Georgetown University Law Center: A Washington rabbi who taught as an adjunct was charged with voyeurism last year. Rabbi Bernard “Barry” Freundel, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, was accused of secretly recording women getting undressed near a Jewish ritual bath known as a mikvah.

A school spokeswoman said in a written statement that the university was “horrified by the behavior reported to have taken place at the mikvah” and was cooperating with police and conducting its own investigation.

A third-year law student who took Freundel’s class at Georgetown filed a civil lawsuit seeking to hold the university and Freundel’s synagogue responsible for his alleged misdeeds. Georgetown, represented by Saul Ewing, has asked the judge to dismiss the case.

IMAGE: (Clockwise, from top left) Mark Sargent, Lawrence Mitchell, Ronald Murphy, John Dwyer, John Patrick Shannon, Donald Marvin Jones, Barry Freundel, and John Attanasio.

For more on this story go to: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202717232784/This-is-Not-the-Attention-Law-Schools-Want#ixzz3RFyJKK3A


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About ieyenews

Speak Your Mind