Chemerinsky Reinstated

Apparently, UCI Chancellor Drake has backed off and has reinstated Erwin Chemerinsky’s appointment as the Dean of UCI’s new law school. Good news for the political independence of universities and for southern California; bad news for us here at UCLA Law School, since we now have a new competitor.

Drake can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth, though: he insists in this new press release that he only had withdrawn the nomination because Chemerinsky “expressed himself in a polarizing way.” This is ludicrous: I don’t agree with much of what Erwin says, but the idea that he is polarizing is nonsensical. Something is very rotten here, and there still needs to be an independent investigation of what happened.

California Chief Justice Ronald George doesn’t come out looking good here, either. George, it seems, had protested the nomination on the grounds of how Chemerinsky understands (or misunderstands) the state’s death penalty appeals process. For all I know, George is right: but it is highly unprofessional for a sitting chief justice to object to a deanship nomination on that basis. George, I should say, is not at all a political judge: appointed by Pete Wilson to the head of the supreme bench, he has drawn admirers from across the political spectrum for his even-handedness, professionalism and non-partisanship. So this is strange.

Boalt Law School Dean Christopher Edley has to answer here as well. Edley defended Drake the other day on the grounds that a dean has to submerge his advocacy when he is a dean. When I was at Yale Law School in 1991, then-Dean Guido Calabresi very loudly and publicly advocated the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court (on the ridiculous grounds that since Thomas grew up poor and black, he would evolve on the bench). Somehow no one thought that was over-the-top. Edley also remarked that Chemerinsky’s August 16th op-ed was what put Drake over the edge: but Drake signed the contract with Chemerinsky on September 4th, only to rescind it seven days later. That dog won’t hunt. Edley led the fight to get the law school slated for UCI: who was he protecting?

And finally, Chemerinsky or the UCI board of trustees have to answer for what seems to be a silly and pointless business plan for UCI Law School: producing public interest lawyers. I have a conflict of interest here, because I teach in the public interest law program at UCLA. But the problem with public interest law is not that there aren’t lawyers to take the jobs. The problem is that those jobs do not exist. Public interest law is horrifically underfunded. Legal services organizations are going out of business because they don’t have the funds to hire attorneys. In the 1970’s the ratio of private bar attorneys to public interest attorneys for starting salaries was 3-to-2; now it is 5-to-1.

If people are serious about enhancing public interest law, then they will take every dime to be given to UCI, and provide fellowships for law graduates and grants to legal services organizations. Making UCI a public interest law does absolutely nothing to solve this problem.

So lots of people have lots to answer for. I’m not holding my breath.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.