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Posted April 13, 2011

Former Dean Richard Merrill's Work Honored by Colleagues, Former Students

Merrill
Richard Merrill, left with Michael Taylor ’76 at a panel discussion in Merrill's honor.

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Mary Wood

Students who had drafts edited by Professor Richard Merrill carried home papers hemorrhaging red ink, but they learned a new appreciation for the power of language and the focus and guidance of their teacher.

Several alumni and former colleagues gathered at the Law School on Friday to honor Merrill at a panel sponsored by the American Bar Association Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice. Merrill, the dean of the Law School from 1980-88 and a faculty member from 1969-2007, also served as chief counsel to the Food and Drug Administration during 1975-77.

As a scholar, Merrill made his mark with articles on administrative law, such as the regulatory processes involved in food and drug law, and also with work on issues at the forefront of science and law, such as cancer policy, cloning and genetic testing.

“Dick is one of those unique public officials who really was present at the creation of much of our nutritional labeling, and many of the issues that came up in his seminal articles on the architecture of food safety, the architecture of medical products and his work with the Institute of Medicine have been truly remarkable in that FDA and Congress have each paid attention to Dick Merrill’s views,” said James O’Reilly ’74, a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and former student of Merrill’s.

“One person can make a big difference in administrative law, and Dick has made a big difference in food labeling and food safety and other regulated product categories,” O’Reilly said.

Former Virginia Law professor Jerry Mashaw, who, like Merrill, taught the course Legislation and Administrative Law, co-authored their seminal administrative law textbook and other works. Merrill brought “incredible laser-like focus” to his work as a scholar on the “difficult marriage” of law and science, Mashaw said.

Merrill studied institutional conduct, be it that of the FDA, Congress or bodies such as presidential commissions. “Constantly, he paid attention to the question of how procedure or process affects both meaning and outcome,” Mashaw said.

Panel

From left: Richard Pierce Jr. '72, Michael Taylor '76 and Jerry Mashaw participated in a panel discussion honoring former Law School dean Richard Merrill.

While overseeing the FDA’s legal role during the debate over saccharin and DES (a synthetic estrogen, eventually shown to cause cancer), among others, Merrill established precedent-setting policies combining sound scientific and regulatory principles, said Stuart Pape ’73, a leading food and drug law attorney who is a partner with Patton Boggs.

“Ultimately, risk assessment became incorporated as the norm in regulatory proceedings involving food and many other things,” Pape said. “Dick played a critical role in establishing the sound legal footing for this.”

Former student Richard Pierce ’72, now a leading administrative law professor at George Washington University Law School, served as a research assistant while Merrill was writing his textbook on administrative law.

“Everything I’ve accomplished in my professional life I owe to Dick,” Pierce said, adding that Merrill has positively influenced thousands of lawyers.

One of Merrill’s most convincing teaching methods was his favorite editing tool. “You just haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the Merrill red pen,” Pierce said.

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor ’76 said Merrill gave him his first job out of law school as a staff attorney at the FDA.

“If you want to understand what we do, what we’re about and the nature of our decision-making, you’ve got to read Dick’s stuff,” he said.

“We have to ground everything we do in a rigorous understanding of the law,” Taylor said, and “science informs everything we do.”

In response, Merrill said listening to his friends speak about him felt like his life was being replayed “with improvements.”