News & Events
Posted Dec. 6, 2012

Top 10 UVA Law Stories of the Year


Top 10

A professor wins a Supreme Court case, the capital campaign surpasses its goal of $150 million, an Innocence Project Clinic client is exonerated and votes for the first time, and don't forget the honeybees in Slaughter Hall — 2012 was a momentous year for the University of Virginia School of Law community. Here are our picks for the top 10 stories of the year.

Contact: Brian McNeill

The Law School and the Supreme Court
Court Backs Ministerial Exception in Case Argued by Professor, Chooses Two UVA Alumni to Clerk, Hears Supreme Court Litigation Case

The Supreme Court in January unanimously sided with UVA law professor Douglas Laycock in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, one of the most important religious liberty cases in recent years.

The court found that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion limits the ability of employees of religious institutions from suing their employer for employment discrimination. Laycock was the counsel of record for the Hosanna-Tabor church and school in Michigan.

In other Supreme Court news:

Innocence Project Clinic Clears Name of Wrongfully Convicted Client

The Molly Pitcher Project

The Innocence Project Clinic with
Bennett Barbour (second from

In 1978, Bennett Barbour was convicted of raping a College of William & Mary student. In May — 34 years later — the Supreme Court of Virginia granted Barbour a writ of actual innocence, thanks to the efforts of the Law School's Innocence Project Clinic.

Barbour was excluded from the crime on the basis of DNA evidence, as his case was part of a backlog of roughly 1,000 DNA samples ordered tested by then-Gov. Mark R. Warner. After the results came to light, the clinic took on Barbour's case and successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of Virginia to exonerate him.

"I can't thank [the clinic] enough," Barbour said. "I love them. I respect them. We were strangers, but once they talked to me we became friends. And I know, totally, that there is hope through them in the justice system … They're my heroes."

Then, in the fall, Barbour discovered that he was not eligible to vote despite registering, due to his less-serious felony convictions. Gov. Bob McDonnell offered to restore Barbour's voting rights if he paid $1,075.07 in court fees that were unrelated to the overturned conviction.

Second-year law student and clinic participant Alexandra Meador organized a fundraising effort and quickly collected enough money to allow Barbour to vote. On Nov. 6, he voted for the first time.

Knockoffs Spur Innovation, Professor's Book Finds


Christopher Sprigman

A new book co-authored by UVA law professor Christopher Sprigman explores how a number of industries — such as fashion and cuisine — have managed to thrive and innovate without copyright and patent law, even amidst widespread copying.

"Copyright doesn't cover fashion designs," Sprigman said. "And so fashion designers are free to copy and take inspiration from their rivals' designs. And there is lots of copying in the fashion industry, but there's lots of innovation and there's lots of profits. We wanted to understand how that was possible."

"The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation," which Sprigman co-wrote with Kal Raustiala of the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that creative industries can thrive without legal protections for intellectual property and that the absence of intellectual property is sometimes better for innovation.

Law School Completes Capital Campaign, Surpasses $150 Million Goal

The Law School wrapped up its eight-year capital campaign this year, raising a total $173.9 million to enhance the student experience.

The campaign, "The American Ideal in Legal Education," concluded on June 30 and exceeded its goal of $150 million. In the final year of the campaign, 8,669 graduates — or 52.75 percent of alumni — made gifts to the school for an annual fund total of $11.3 million. More than 71 percent of alumni made gifts during the campaign.

UVA Law Project Inspires Lawsuit to Allow Women in Combat

The Molly Pitcher Project

The Molly Pitcher Project

A lawsuit inspired by a UVA Law project was filed in federal court in May and is seeking a reversal of U.S. military policies that forbid women from serving in combat positions. Last week, the ACLU filed a similar challenge to the military's combat exclusion policy.

The lawsuit, which was brought through the efforts of the Molly Pitcher Project at the Law School, alleges that the U.S. Department of Defense and Army are violating the law and infringing on the constitutional rights of military servicewomen by excluding them from certain ground combat units and other jobs solely on the basis of their gender.

"We want to eliminate this last vestige of formal discrimination against women by the federal government, and ensure that women in the military have the same opportunities and the same obligations as men," said UVA law professor Anne Coughlin, who is leading the project. "No other employer in the country may tell a woman that she is barred from the job merely because she is a woman. It is time for the Pentagon to stop relying on sex as a proxy for fitness to serve."

Geis Becomes Vice Dean; Magill Named Dean of Stanford Law School

Professor George Geis took a new leadership role as the Law School's vice dean in July, succeeding Mary Elizabeth Magill, who was named dean of Stanford Law School.

The vice dean oversees academic matters and helps enrich the intellectual life of the Law School, including by organizing the curriculum and overseeing the recruitment of new faculty. Geis, an expert in corporate law and contracts, said his first priority would be to "continue to support our students and faculty in their academic and scholarly pursuits."

New Clinic Gives Startup Companies a Legal Leg Up

A new UVA Law clinic launched this year in which law students provide free legal services to startup companies founded by students at UVA's Darden School of Business.

The Transactional Law Clinic benefits MBA students participating in Darden's Business Incubator program, as well as providing the law students with an opportunity to gain experience in advising companies.

"Many times, these companies are early stage enough that they really have not made many decisions yet," said Russell Schundler, the clinic's director. "It’s a stage when the law students can work with the Darden students on the legal implication of their business model and help the businesses build a strong legal foundation."

Cohen Leads Faculty Amid Leadership Crisis

Following Rector Helen E. Dragas announcement in early June that UVA President Teresa Sullivan had resigned, the Faculty Senate — led by UVA law professor George Cohen — stepped up as an important voice in the movement that helped lead to Sullivan's reinstatement 17 days later.

Cohen, who had been named chair of the Faculty Senate just days before the crisis erupted, told UVA Today that the group "felt an obligation to do something and to speak as best we could."

He added that he hoped the events of June will herald a new era for the Faculty Senate. "It's a virtuous cycle," he said. "If faculty members see the Faculty Senate as a place that has a voice, a role, people will be interested in participating and serving and seeing what healthy faculty shared governance is about."

 A Record-Breaking Year for Public Service

Public service continued to play an important role at the Law School in 2012, with law students breaking several records for pro bono and public interest service.


Alternative Spring Break

Over the winter break, 200 UVA law students volunteered with 164 organizations and contributed more than 10,000 hours of pro bono service, far surpassing the record set a year earlier.

Then, during spring break, a record-setting 60 law students spent their vacation volunteering in legal aid, indigent defense and prosecutors' offices. The participants in the Alternative Spring Break program logged more than 2,000 hours of service at sites in North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Orleans, New York, Charlottesville, Richmond and Washington, D.C.

In May, the Law School and the student-run Public Interest Law Association announced that they had awarded a record $483,074 to 109 students to fund their public-interest jobs over the summer — a 35-percent increase over the previous year.

And in November, PILA raised more than $68,000 for public service grants at its annual auction and dance, drawing an estimated 580 attendees who bid on more than 280 items and services — perhaps most notably including a candlelight dinner with UVA President Sullivan and her husband, UVA law professor Douglas Laycock, which sold for $1,200.

Three Alumni Elected to U.S. Senate

Three UVA Law alumni were elected to the U.S. Senate on Nov. 6, including Angus King '69, an independent who won the seat vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Angus King

Angus King

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse '82, a Democratic incumbent from Rhode Island, won his first re-election bid. And Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson '68 won a third term representing Florida.

Several alumni were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, as well, including Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney '92, who unseated an incumbent Republican in New York's 18th Congressional District. Rep. J. Randy Forbes '77, a Republican who represents Virginia's 4th Congressional District, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee '75, a Democrat who represents Texas' 18th Congressional District, both won re-elected.

The political season also sparked commentary among the Law School's faculty, notably including UVA law professors and public speaking experts Molly Bishop Shadel and Robert Sayler. Shadel and Sayler, co-authors of the book "Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion," analyzed the presidential candidates' rhetoric throughout the campaign on their blog, Tongue-Tied Applied.

A Few More Top Stories from 2012