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Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Irvine Law School Fiasco, Part IV: Will They Undo the Damage?

Perhaps (good thing they read this blog!)--and more details emerge confirming Professor Chemerinsky's account of what transpired:

UC Irvine officials on Friday were attempting to broker a deal to once again hire liberal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as dean of its fledging law school, just three days after its chancellor set off a national furor by dumping him.

Prominent Orange County attorney Tom Malcolm, a participant in high-level university discussions, said: "I think we are satisfied that if [UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake and Chemerinsky] have a meeting, they can come to some understanding, and [Chemerinsky] can become a good dean...."

An agreement would be an extraordinary development after Chemerinsky contended this week that Drake succumbed to political pressure from conservatives and sacked him because of his outspoken liberal positions. The flap threatened to derail the 2009 opening of the law school and prompted some calls for Drake's resignation.

Also Friday, details emerged about the criticism of Chemerinsky that the university received in the days before Drake rescinded the job offer, including from California Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who criticized Chemerinsky's grasp of death penalty appeals. Also, a group of prominent Orange County Republicans and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich wanted to derail the appointment....

Any deal would therefore require Chemerinsky to "successfully transition from being a very outspoken advocate on many causes to being a dean of the stature that we expect in a start-up law school," said Malcom, a prominent Orange County Republican who was going to be a member of Chemerinsky's advisory board....

Drake acknowledged that Chemerinsky had attracted significant opposition from conservatives, but he would not name the people who had contacted him. He said that their complaints were not the cause for his decision to terminate the dean.The criticism included a letter from the California Supreme Court criticizing a Chemerinsky opinion piece in The Times.

In an interview Friday, George said Chemerinsky made a "gross error" that was "very troubling" to the court in an Aug. 16 article that criticized U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales. Drake offered him the job that same day.

George, an appointee of Gov. Pete Wilson, said that Chemerinsky wrote incorrectly that only one state, Arizona, provided lawyers for death row inmates who want to file a constitutional challenge, known as a habeas corpus petition, to have their sentences or convictions overturned.

George said he was surprised Chemerinsky would make such a mistake. The court asked Court Clerk Frederick K. Ohlrich to write a letter to the editor to The Times to correct the piece.

"None of us could understand how somebody, let alone someone who is very bright and a fine legal scholar, could get that wrong," George said. "It had nothing to do with his philosophy. I certainly feel he is an outstanding legal scholar and a fine advocate."

The Times has no record of the letter being received as a letter to the editor or as a request for correction....

[Chemerinsky] stood by his article. "My op-ed was accurate in saying California does not comply with the federal standards for providing counsel to those on death row in their post-conviction proceedings, and Arizona is the only state deemed in federal district court to have met the federal standards."

Michael Schroeder, one of Orange County's most powerful GOP political players, said a group of 20 prominent Republicans organized against Chemerinsky in recent weeks, believing him to be a "longtime partisan gunslinger" and too "polarizing" for the job.

Another member of the group, who asked not to be identified, said Drake's cellphone number was distributed so the protesters could call the chancellor.

Antonovich said he too worked to derail the appointment by sending an e-mail to a small group of supporters and urging them to contact the university....

[N]ow [Chancellor] Drake is fighting for survival, which depends in large part on whether he can regain the confidence of the UCI faculty.

Part of Drake's problem is that he appears to have given conflicting reasons for his decision, at one point apparently attributing it to expected opposition by the UC Board of Regents when it was to meet next week.

Members of the board, however, said they were unaware of any opposition to Chemerinsky's hiring.

Given the facts that are now coming out--which make clear that the Chancellor (his increasingly incredible protestations to the contrary notwithstanding) caved into the most venal kind of political pressure from partisan hacks outside the university--it's getting hard to see why anyone would want this job. 

UPDATE:  Those who thought that brainless neanderthals were strictly a phenomenon of "fly over" territory ought to take note of the really remarkable performance by Michael Antonovich, the Los Angeles County Supervisor, who was one of those trying to derail the Chemerinsky appointment:

Making Chemerinsky the head of the law school "would be like appointing al-Qaida in charge of homeland security," Michael Antonovich, a longtime Republican member of the county Board of Supervisors, said in a voicemail left with The Associated Press.

He was not available for further comment on why he was getting involved in the situation at a campus located outside his jurisdiction in Orange County.

Antonovich's e-mail "expressed his dismay with the choice for the dean of the law school and suggested that this was the wrong decision and it should be changed," said Tony Bell, a spokesman for the supervisor.

Antonovich, a local GOP stalwart, was first elected in 1980. He is a staunch conservative who has supported crackdowns on illegal immigrants, and voted against tax increases and HIV-prevention programs that distribute free syringes.

He clashed with Chemerinsky in the past when the professor supported the removal of a cross from the county seal.

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